May 2, 2022 - Business

Analysis: Triangle CEOs pay soared in 2021

Triangle area select CEO pay, 2021
Data: SEC filings; Chart: Erin Davis/Axios

Leaders of the Triangle's largest companies received substantial pay raises last year, according to an Axios analysis of financial disclosures from publicly traded firms in the region.

What's happening: Many of the raises totaled millions of dollars. They came as profits soared during an economic expansion last year.

  • On average, Triangle CEOs saw their total compensation grow by 50.6%.
  • Most of the gains came in the form of stock grants or options, which came while the stock market hit record highs.

Why it matters: As the stock market soared, CEOs were positioned to benefit significantly more than the average employee.

  • Top wage earners have significantly increased their purchasing power in the Triangle. The area has since seen sales of million-dollar homes jump to all-time highs.

Yes, but: The stock market has declined so far in 2022, meaning some compensation numbers are likely worth less now.

What they're saying: Gerald Cohen, chief economist for the Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise, said surging CEO pay is another sign of a “superstar effect” that has taken hold in the corporate world.

  • "The gap between a middle manager and the CEO has increased, even though they may have similar degrees," Cohen told Axios. "That's this kind of superstar effect.”

By the numbers: Ari Bousbib, CEO of the Durham clinical research company IQVIA, was the highest paid leader of a Triangle company. His total compensation last year was $28.6 million, an 11.9% increase from 2020.

  • The only CEO to report a decline in compensation was David Morken, of Raleigh communications tech firm Bandwidth. His salary dropped from $3.7 million to $3.4 million.
  • Laura Niklason, CEO of Durham biotech company Humacyte, saw the biggest raise. Her compensation soared from $201,283 to $10.8 million, after taking her company public in 2021 via a special acquisition company.

Median wages for workers at Triangle companies did not increase at nearly the same rate as CEOs.

  • Of the few companies that reported pay ratios between CEOs and median workers, Advance Auto had the largest, with CEO Thomas Greco making 204 times the median employee.
  • The gap was the smallest at Aerie Pharmaceuticals, where CEO Raj Kannan made 25 times the median employee.

Of note: Many of the Triangle’s largest employers are private companies or satellite offices for firms headquartered elsewhere.

  • For instance, compensation for SAS Institute CEO Jim Goodnight and Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney — two billionaire founders of private tech companies — are not available to the public.

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