What Is Executive Compensation?

Executive compensation differs substantially from typical pay packages for either hourly workers or salaried management and professionals in that executive pay is heavily biased toward rewards for actual results. Hence if a company underperforms, the executives typically receive a smaller fraction of their potential pay. Conversely, if a company meets its annual objectives and the stock price responds long term, the executives stand to receive a much larger payout.  

This section of the site describes the typical Executive Compensation program and explains the most commonly used terms. It includes several charts, including one below that shows the share of compensation that is at risk by executives, as compared with managers and hourly employees.

The pay packages given to the senior executives of corporations often consist of six components:

  • Base salary
  • Performance based annual incentive (bonus)
  • Performance based long term incentive
  • Benefits
  • Executive perquisites
  • Contingent Payments

Executive pay is structured to reward company performance and align executive pay with shareholder value. As a result, unlike most other employees, a majority of executive pay is at-risk; in other words, executives may never receive it. However, if executives and the company perform well, they along with the company's shareholders stand to gain much more from superior performance.