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Top Bosses in County Rank Low on Pay : Study Finds CEOs Here Younger, Less Affluent Than Most in State

November 02, 1987|JOHN TIGHE | Times Staff Writer

He's 54 years old, receives $183,500 in annual pay and oversees a $62.5-million enterprise. Even so, he's younger, less affluent and runs a smaller operation than most of his colleagues across the state.

That's the composite portrait of the Orange County chief executive officer, according to a newly released study of 468 public companies across California.

The study, which includes data from 100 of Orange County's largest public companies, was prepared by the Economic Research Institute in Newport Beach and sponsored by the accounting firm of Arthur Andersen & Co.

The average annual compensation of Orange County chief executives was 39% less than the state median of $303,000 and 52% below the median income of $383,000 for executives at Los Angeles companies, which reported the highest average pay.

The compensation figures are based on salary and bonuses only. Income from other sources, such as executive stock ownership, is not included.

Management and compensation experts said because most Orange County companies are relatively young growth companies that have not yet achieved consistent profitability, their chief executives are expected to work for smaller salaries. In turn, they typically receive stock options that will become potentially lucrative if their companies prosper and their stocks increase in value.

In addition, county executives, more than counterparts in other areas, tend to be major shareholders in their companies and rely on their stock ownership for a portion of their income, according to David J. Thomsen, director of the Economic Research Institute.

"These executives say to themselves, 'If I pay myself $250,000, I've got to pay my second guy $190,000. But if I pay myself less, I can pay him and everyone else less, too.' " Thomsen said.

The dependency on future stock gains means that even though Orange County executives might be excellent managers, their future net worth is influenced in part by overall market fluctuations, such as the record-setting decline of recent weeks.

Western Digital's chief executive, Roger Johnson, "might be making good decisions, but that doesn't mean the stock is going to do well," said Jone Pearce, associate professor of administration at the Graduate School of Management at UC Irvine.

Executive recruiters said the lower median compensation might make Orange County less attractive to potential chief executives.

"From outside the state, there's still a big attraction to Orange County," said Mark Bregman, manager of the executive search division of D.L. Weaver & Associates of Santa Ana. "But within the state, there is no big magic. When people see that they make less here, it will be less attractive."

While $183,500 per year might sound like a lot of money to most people, Thomsen said chief executives of publicly owned companies often earn less than their counterparts at comparable private firms.

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