Read “A Multifaceted View of CEO Compensation and Performance: A Case Study”. Answer each Stop and Think section (there are 9) and submit (on one document). Number of label each section so it is clear which specific questions/prompts you are addressing.
Journal of Social Change
2018, Volume 10, Issue 1, Pages 49–60
DOI: 10.5590/JOSC.2018.10.1.04

Thanks to the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and suggestions.
Please address queries to: John Nirenberg, Stamford International University. Email: [email protected]
A Multifaceted View of CEO Compensation and
Performance: A Case Study
John Nirenberg
Stamford International University
This case addresses CEO pay, a topic that annually stimulates the question of whether or not
executive compensation is based on performance or something else and why it is so high in
absolute terms. The societal impact of the new class of extremely high-paid executives in the
United States inflames resentment among workers, widens an already unfathomable
distance between those at the top and the rest of us, and endangers the social amity among
citizens. Positive social change might result from the justification and recalibration of
salaries to align more sensibly with actual differences in experience, knowledge, and talent
among all workers. However, first, we must become aware of the impact of differences that
now alienate much of the working class population from workplaces that enable such a wide
salary gap between top executives and average workers. This case is designed to help
learners think through the various elements constituting the excessive CEO pay issue.
Keywords: executive compensation, CEO, CEO pay, pay, income disparity, organizational justice,
executive performance measurement, agency theory, labor market, CSR (corporate social
responsibility), extrinsic motivation
The Case Overview and Purposes
Each spring, as new compensation packages are announced, a question arises about the widening
disparity between top-executive compensation and that of average workers. According to the
American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO, 2018), the CEO-
to-worker pay ratio was 347:1 (para. 1). The Stop and Think questions embedded throughout the
case are to stimulate learners’ thinking about the various issues raised along the way, which include
the nature of the neoliberal economic system in the United States, pay disparity, economic
justice/fairness, performance measurement, the economic value of labor, and the role of personal
responsibility and negotiation skill on one’s compensation, and agency theory.
Learning Outcomes
By completing this case, learners will have an understanding of the multifaceted issues surrounding
executive pay. By focusing on CEO compensation in particular (because top-tier managers’ salaries
are usually geared to the CEO’s), students will understand (a) the challenges of defining and
measuring executive performance, (b) the disparity between the CEO and average workers in the
organization, (c) the underlying values that allow what most observers call excessive compensation,
and (d) the impact this has on individuals, organizations, and society. Most importantly, the primary
outcome of using this case is that learners will develop their own reasoned position on this situation
and be able to defend it with references from the literature.
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Journal of Social Change 50
This interactive case asks learners to think about CEO compensation from various perspectives and
to determine what they think and why about the many aspects of this issue. One question that
remains unanswered in this case, which students of management will enjoy tackling, is “How is
executive performance measured?” Likewise, a second key challenging question is “If boards of
directors are paying for performance, why is there an inverse relationship between the two?”
(Cooper, Gulen, & Rau, 2014, p. 2). Both of these questions can also serve as short research projects
for learners at all levels.
The Case
There are about a baker’s dozen Dunkin’ Donuts shops along the New Jersey Routes 27 and 21
corridor that parallels I-95 for a few miles until the interstate then heads into New York City. On
any given day, Maria Fernandez worked a shift in up to three of those donut shops. She was very
responsible and did not want to be late to work, so she kept a fuel can on the backseat of her car
because she occasionally ran out of gasoline, at least according to a report in The New York Times
(Swarns, 2014). The 32-year-old made ends meet constantly running herself from one donut shop to
another until she was found dead in her car while resting on an August day between shifts. An
autopsy report said fumes from the fuel can killed her (Haydon, 2014). Jobs like hers start at the
minimum wage and hardly improve for years. The minimum wage in New Jersey for 2018 is $8.60/hr
(, 2018). If Maria could have worked three 8-hr shifts 7 days a week at today’s
wage, which would be physically impossible, of course, it would have taken her 118 years to earn the
$5,355,035 that Nigel Travis, CEO of Dunkin Brands Group, made in 2016 (AFL-CIO, 2018; last
available data).
Stop and Think: What is your reaction to this situation? How would you explain
why this situation exists where Nigel made 177 times Maria’s salary if she worked
two complete shifts 5 days a week? If you were Maria’s friend, and you were having
coffee with her before her tragic end, how would you assess her situation? What
advice would you have given her, if any? Is there any reasonable explanation Maria
could have provided regarding her particular employment situation other than
needing the money?
Other similarly dramatic stories emerge almost daily about people barely surviving in the present
economic climate, even though unemployment is low. Margaret Mary Vojtko, 83, was an educator
who taught at Duquesne University for 25 years. As an adjunct professor, she contributed to the
growth and development of perhaps thousands of students as they prepared for exciting careers and
fulfilling lives. That was her passion. One mid-September day, she was found sprawled on her lawn,
dead of a heart attack; her dilapidated home, a sad commentary on her economic status, loomed
behind her. She was living on $10,000 a year from her job as an adjunct French teacher. She had
been struggling on that salary for several years but refused all efforts at charity and insisted on
taking care of herself. Days before her death, the university told her she would not get a contract
renewal. In her death, Margaret Mary, much as Maria Fernandez, became the voice of part-timers
everywhere. Sanchez (2013) estimated that “…today, 75% of college instructors are adjuncts making
between $20,000 and $25,000 a year …” (1:38), this at a time when university presidents are
breaking the million-dollar-a-year salary threshold and the student loan crisis reflects the ever-
rising cost of tuition.

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Journal of Social Change 51
Stop and Think: Maria and Margaret Mary are two very different people; one less
formally educated and one with all the credentials to teach at a prestigious
university, yet both were caught in economic hardship and marginalized, basically
struggling with disposable jobs indicative of how little they were valued. How would
you explain Margaret Mary’s situation and how she ended up destitute at age 83?
Hint: Embedded in these two vignettes are potential issues of gender, race, age,
education, and the restructuring of jobs now occurring throughout both blue- and
white-collar occupations. How might the university explain its actions? In light of her
dismissal from Duquesne, what alternative(s) did Margaret Mary face? What do you
see in these two people that speaks to your own life? How will you attempt to secure
your economic future upon graduation and into old age to avoid facing these kinds of
hardships? Does the larger society have a say in this, or is it entirely your
responsibility? Do organizations have a role to play in the wellbeing of those who
work for them? If not, explain why. If so, explain what that role should be.
Reminder: This interactive case is about CEO compensation and performance, but ultimately, it is
about the growing disparity among average workers and top executives. In addition, you will have an
opportunity to consider ideas about the supply and demand of labor, performance incentives,
motivation, competing values, organizational citizenship, and corporate social responsibility. The key
purpose of this case is to stimulate your thinking about major issues facing business today around
workforce compensation, especially that of CEOs, and its impact on individuals, the organization,
and society. Because it is an interactive case, from time to time, you will be asked to stop and think
(as you have been above) and to gather your thoughts about each topic. There are no right or wrong
answers, but you should be prepared to discuss your answers and your reasoning in class or in a
paper, so give each question some thought before reading further.
The Context of Pay Disparities
The CEO-pay-to-worker ratio in the companies comprising the Standard and Poor’s 500 stock index
has been growing through good times and bad over the last 50 years. In 1965, it was 20:1, while
today, it has ballooned to 347:1. According to the AFL-CIO (2018) Executive Paywatch that tracks
these data annually, this is an improvement over last year and was better still than in prior years
when the widest personal ratio hit 1,951:1 at Discovery Communications (Masunaga, 2015). Yet,
even though worker productivity has increased dramatically over those 50 years, workers’ wages
have not, and since 2000, they have been flat, according to the Economic Policy Institute (2018), an
economic think tank in Washington, DC. This kind of pay gap between top executives and everyone
else influences the character of the economy and standard of living for the majority of people.
Further, the underlying causes of the disparity have not been addressed except with outrage. Some
people want to reign in the salaries of top managers, while others think this is a natural outgrowth
of the competitive marketplace and the workings of the capitalist system, not a social problem.

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Journal of Social Change 52
Stop and Think: What is your perspective on this? Is this just the way the economy
works and an indicator of the talent of the CEO and his negotiating skills (McGregor,
2017; only 6.4% of the Fortune 500 CEOs are female)? Or do you think adjustments
can be made, such as raising the minimum wage to what is considered a living wage
so people like Maria will not have to take three or four jobs to make ends meet, which
is the result of being paid an inadequate minimum wage and not a living wage?1
The System
The debate among advocates and detractors of regulating or limiting “excessive CEO pay” raises
fundamental concerns about the nature of companies themselves. As private property, no matter
how big they are or the number of shareholders they represent, many argue they should be left alone
to decide whatever compensation they are willing and able to offer a CEO. On the other hand, some
people ask, what if large corporations are treated as societal instruments, or even public utilities,
subject to regulatory intervention including setting the upper limits of compensation? Just as a
minimum wage is set, should a maximum wage be set? Should no limits be set, but marginal tax
rates be used that might increase to reach 100% at the highest bracket determined by Congress? In
1977, Peter Drucker, who is sometimes called the father of modern management theory, suggested
that a ratio be established between the highest and lowest paid employee. He suggested a ratio of
20:1 or even 30:1, about the same level in practice in the 1970s.
Core Values and the Market
The debate also touches on core values. Are we a nation of individuals and families or a nation of one
people in shared communities? In terms of the individual relationship to the organization, should
employee compensation reflect each person’s financial situation (e.g. number of children one has, or
disability, or student debt) or just labor market forces, merit, and performance? Or should other
factors—based on an artificial internal determination consisting of job value, unemployment rates,
geographic mobility, and the ability to resettle or not or sheer economic power determined by local
competitors—influence worker compensation? CEO compensation is not similarly constrained. The
market is theoretically global, but candidates are employed and establish their legitimacy for a place
in the strictly limited market encompassing only one or two levels of executive jobs below the CEO in
organizations of equal or larger size. One study showed that the so-called market for executive talent
really does not operate as a true market because the number of candidates is artificially low due to
experience requirements, the tendency to promote from within (upwards of 80% according to the
High Pay Centre, n.d.), and the lack of transparency. Further, the tendency to “benchmark” against
industry competitors and demonstrate to investors that one has the best CEO by virtue of having
and paying the highest relative salary keeps raising the stakes in the compensation game—a
psychologically driven process, not a market one. Plus, according to Lorsch and Khurana (2010), the
idea of negotiating one’s compensation package belies the existence of the market and cannot explain
the “make whole” provision in new CEO contracts that guarantees any compensation lost by moving

1 A living wage is the idea that every full-time job should be sufficient for one to live on without needing a
second job or public assistance. Seattle’s 2014 vote to raise the city’s minimum wage to $15/hr was an attempt to
ensure that its citizens earn a living wage and are able to participate economically in the community. The living
wage in Seattle was calculated by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to be $13.34 for one adult (Living
Wage Calculator, 2018); all calculations of a living wage are made on the basis of local costs.
Nirenberg, 2018

Journal of Social Change 53
to the top spot from another company or the provision of a “golden parachute”—a payment to the
successful candidate if he is forced to leave the company for underperforming or simply retires.
In a famous example of this, when Jack Welch retired in 2001, he received $417,361,902, a New York
apartment, box seats at Red Sox games, and $9,000,000 a year for the rest of his life (CNN Money,
2002). All of this accrued to the man once called “Neutron Jack” and derided in the business press for
the number of people laid off at GE during the early years of his tenure. These benefits are not the
result of market conditions but hard negotiating. In many cases, such as when someone leaves in
disgrace or is pushed out, the payout, negotiated or not, still remains unconscionable to the working
person. According to Wile (2012),
Stanley O’Neal presided over Merrill [Lynch’s] collapse in the subprime crisis. Board
members allowed him to retire in 2007, but though he forfeited pension, perks and deferred
compensation worth $54 million, he walked away with equity profits worth over $160
million. (p. 9)
For comparative purposes, both Jack Welch and Stanley O’Neal received more money when they left
their organizations than the American people pay their national legislative, judicial, and executive
leaders in a year. The total salaries of the U.S. president, vice president, all 535 members of
Congress, the 15 cabinet members, all nine Supreme Court justices, and the governors of the 50
states combined come to $105,000,000 (Janssen, 2018).
Stop and Think: Not only is the CEO–worker disparity glaring, but what do you
think of the kind of golden parachutes executives have been given whether or not
they left on the crest of their success or shamefully, having contributed to one of the
biggest economic crises in American history? If you were a board member in either
Jack’s or Stanley’s case, how would you have acted? Would you have been in favor of
or opposed to their exit packages? Please explain your answer.
Given the nature of the economy, questions about justice, fairness, and equity in the current
economic climate are not priority issues and may seem irrelevant because of the little attention they
receive in the national mass media. Indeed, under the current rules of the game, it seems our society
is one in which it is each person for him- or herself. It is solely a matter of one’s having the right
parents or the right connections and the ability to be in the right place at the right time—and the
right education helps, too, of course. In that regard, luck comes into play as a major influence in the
compensation sweepstakes.
According to Cremers and Grinstein (2014), pay for luck occurs when a CEO’s compensation is tied to
factors outside his or her control. For example, they point out that when personal performance is tied
to industry performance, it is a matter of luck because the CEO can rarely, if ever, control the future
of an industry.
Stop and Think: Is this just the way the world works, reflecting the “true” nature of
society, or are the people behaving in accordance with the rules that govern their
economic lives? Explain your position and support it with additional sources.
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Journal of Social Change 54
Psychological Factors
Besides working in a compensation system that is exaggerated by the magnitude of both competitive
forces among a relatively few upper-level managers, and the size of the companies able to pay
enormous salaries, psychological factors also combine to make salary more symbolic than a strictly
economic decision for a company. Clearly, we connect size of company with presumed stature and
with CEO compensation. We have come to expect large salaries for the CEO given the economic
impact, social utility, presence in the community, and the power and responsibilities of the position
holder. Doug McMillon, the CEO of Walmart, made $22.4 million in 2016 (Bose, 2017). According to
Walmart’s corporate website, “Walmart operates over 11,700 stores under 65 banners in 28 countries
and e-commerce websites. We employ approximately 2.3 million associates around the world—1.5
million in the U.S. alone” (Walmart, 2018, “Our Business,” para. 1). If each of those 1.5 million
“associates” was the breadwinner for two others, 4.5 million people would be dependent on the
success of Walmart for their economic livelihoods. That would make the population of Walmart
larger than that of the United States at the time of its independence from the United Kingdom.
Given the size of Walmart, the biggest retail chain in the world, one would expect the CEO salary to
be significant. By way of contrast, the U.S. government employed 9,100,000 people in all categories
(full and part time including Department of Defense; Gunter, 2017, para. 3) and the CEO (i.e., the
president) made only $400,000 plus an expense account of $50,000, a $19,000 entertainment account,
$100,000 travel account, plus a residence for use while in office. A new associate at Walmart would
need to work 1,120 hr to equal a single hour’s pay for CEO Doug McMillon.
As the relative position of one individual is measured against another in the same industry, much
distortion occurs in assessing one’s true worth, if it is possible to determine at all—especially when
one is chosen without any experience as a CEO. Charter’s Thomas Rutledge, the highest paid CEO in
2016, was given a 499% raise from his 2015 salary of $16.4 million (Huang & Russell, 2017).
Revenues were only 3.9% higher than in 2016 (Charter Communications, 2018).
Stop and Think: If you were a Charter board member, how might you consider the
success or failure of Rutledge’s tenure at Charter so far? How would you justify the
499% pay raise? Do you think his current compensation is high or low? What other
outcome measures might be important to the board in assessing his success or
failure? Once you have answered these questions, consider this: The stock price rose
from $168 to $298 per share from January 2016 to January 2017. How would that
influence your decision?
The highest performing professional sports figures and highest grossing box-office celebrities in
Hollywood earn astronomical salaries inclusive of minimums, percentages, endorsements, and other
financial rewards for their efforts. Some actors’ incomes in a single year dwarf those of CEOs; critics
cite the ephemeral nature of their work and the fact that, in the big scheme of things, they have less
of an impact than, for example, Rutledge. But the reach of a single movie can be global, not only in
selling tickets, but in merchandising, employment, and inspiration. Clearly, the economic impact of
Black Panther (Coogler, Feige, & Grant, 2018) has been huge. Domestic ticket sales alone hit $600
million and rising, as of April 1, 2018, early in its life cycle. With international sales, the total
surpassed $1.2 billion, making it one of, if not the, biggest box office hits of all time according to Box
Office Mojo (2018). The lead actor, Chadwick Boseman, is poised to become one of the biggest action
stars to rival Robert Downey, Jr., star of the Avengers and Ironman series who made $75 million for
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Journal of Social Change 55
the year ending in June 2014 (Pomerantz, 2014). He made even more for the Avengers: Age of Ultron
(Whedon & Feige, 2015) movie, the last in the series but part of the Marvel cosmology that consists
of multiple characters and storylines that fuel a huge action adventure cinematic universe (for
complete details, see “List of Marvel Cinematic Universe Films,” n.d.). Is performance measured
differently for actors? Is the box office draw really just a matter of one’s personal appeal? No doubt it
has something to do with it, but how would you separate that from the writing, the production, the
long familiarity with the characters and story line drawn from Marvel Comics? Now that Chadwick
is the hero, his bargaining power, especially because the financial results were so great, is
strengthened, leading some to claim he, like Downey, will make upwards of $100 million next year.
Sean Peyton, head coach of the New Orleans Saints football team, earns $8 million a year. He is the
third highest paid coach in the United States (Moton, 2018), yet his team wobbles between great and
terrible each year. The Saints have not been in a Super Bowl since 2010 and didn’t make the playoffs
again until 2017, when they lost. On the strength of the Super Bowl victory, he was able to skirt the
damaging impact of his 1-year suspension during the bounty scandal in which some team members
were paying other team members to disable a key opposition player. What are his performance
measures here, and can they be isolated from the effectiveness of his team and the ability of
Cristiano Ronaldo is the world’s highest paid athlete, making $93 million in 2017, the year the
Fédération Internationale de Football Association named him athlete of the year for the fourth
consecutive year. He has led teams to conference victories for years and Real Madrid has agreed to
pay him $50 million for each of the next 4 years. His performance is indisputable; it speaks for itself
(“Profile: Cristiano Ronaldo,” 2017).
And CEOs? It has been suggested all along that some CEOs are able to negotiate fantastic
compensation packages either because of past successes or even the promise of future successes. How
is success actually measured? Stock price? Market share? Profits? Return on investment? Profits per
employee? Some combination of these measures? Something else? Ron Johnson was the chief of retail
operations at Apple who surprised everyone by opening stores in major cities after other computer
companies closed theirs. Everyone doubted the plan, but it became one of the most successful
innovations in tech sales. Based on this success, JCPenny wooed him to work his magic on its
slumping retail business. But, after only 18 months on the job, he was fired; his performance was
seen as a disaster from the outset. Why do you suppose a superstar retailer had such a fantastic
Considering the large salaries companies are willing to pay, it turns out, according to Lin, Kuo, and
Wang (2013) “… that firm size appears to be the most important determinant of CEO compensation
and that there is a general lack of linkage between pay and performance” (p. 27). A year later,
Cooper et al. (2014) confirmed the earlier findings and noted that firms that pay their CEOs in the
top 10% did worse than others and that those companies lost more the longer the CEO was on the
job. The question is why? These authors suggest it is a matter of overconfidence.
Announcing large pay packages, boards often refer to incentives and performance (past or expected).
For example, Nike spokeswoman Mary Remuzzi said (referring to CEO Mark Parker’s 2012 pay of
$35.2 million, which was 1,050 times the median employee’s salary), “The compensation package is
designed to attract and retain top talent, reward business results and individual performance. The
bulk of the salary is incentive-based and tied to future financial results of Nike, which in turn
maximizes shareholder value” (Morais & Kakabadse, 2014, p. 382). Sometimes compensation also
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Journal of Social Change 56
considers the comparative value as understood by compensation committees in order to demonstrate
the board’s faith in their choice and to signal to the industry or the investment community that a
promising and very profitable future is in sight. Sometimes, the large packages are simply a product
of the power of individual negotiators. Just how are CEOs evaluated, and what are the performance
measures that account for their actual behavior? Most answers focus on financial returns, profits,
share price, earnings per share, return on investment, and so on. While the influence of the CEO is
felt in the construction of these results, it is not entirely within the individual’s capacity to single-
handedly influence these data.
Stop and Think: Measures are needed, nevertheless; so if you were a board
member, what would you do? Consider the types of compensation, the realities of
organizational life, markets, the position of any of the company’s products or services
in the competitive landscape, and the condition of the organizational ecosystem in
which it operates. Be prepared to discuss some ideas about the components of your
performance evaluation for the CEO and evidence supporting your case. How might
athletes, entertainers, and best-selling authors’ performance be calculated similarly,
or must theirs be calculated differently?
Management textbooks will tell you that money is not the best motivator, not when you are looking
for creativity, excellence, imagination, job competency, or even long-term job satisfaction. It seems
that money may even negate intrinsic motivation or lead to demotivation. Money in the amounts
given to CEOs has a different meaning that more closely resembles the symbolic value or even
speaks to the narcissism of the CEO. Famously, Fortune magazine noted on its November 13, 2000,
cover, “Larry Ellison is sick of playing second banana to Bill Gates. So what’s his plan to become
No.1—the next ‘richest man in the world’?” (Huey, 2000). This is purely about bragging rights and
symbolic value and has nothing to do with an attempt to “motivate” Ellison to do better next year. A
CEO will not change his skill set, think differently, or bring more insight to the performance of his
job simply because the money is greater or the stock options more plentiful. It might, however, serve
as an incentive to attract him to your company—if, of course, you can convince him to leave the
company he founded! On the other hand, if what a CEO is doing is so good, you do want to please the
incumbent but, at the same time, manage the compensation in the best interests of the stockholders.
One problem, however, is sticking with the same levels of excess (as in Ellison’s case) because the
precedent has been set. Here, it is not about performance but a personal competition. The value of
the actual compensation is relative.
Stop and Think: Consider your own motivation to do well. How is it influenced by
the financial payoff? …

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