The Most Overpaid MBA CEOs

It’s easy to be wowed when you see the salaries of the CEOs at the some of the world’s top companies, regardless of whether you think their recipients deserve them.

In the list of the 100 Most Overpaid CEOs compiled annually by the nonprofit As You Sow, the numbers are simply staggering. The top three CEOs alone — at Live Nation, Oracle, and Alphabet, Google’s parent company — make more than half a billion dollars per year. The top 10 combined make nearly $900 million per annum.

And the numbers keep going up every year. When As You Sow compiled its first overpaid CEOs list 10 years ago, the average pay of the 10 Most Overpaid was $56 million. This year, the average of the top 10 was nearly $89 million — an increase over that time period of 59%.

HARVARD IS THE MOST-REPRESENTED MBA PROGRAM IN THE RANKING

It’s easy to be wowed by CEOs’ mammoth paydays — and even easier to be envious of them. Many an MBA and MBA candidate has dreamed of making it to the very top of their industry and acquiring obscene wealth in the process. But is business school even necessary to make it big? Do you need an MBA — or even an undergraduate business degree — to get to the top?

Poets&Quants wanted to know how many of the titans of industry on As You Sow’s list went to business school, and how many earned MBAs. The answer to the first question is: most. The answer to the second: fewer than half.

Using LinkedIn, Wikipedia, Bloomberg, Google, and various company websites, P&Q found that 14 of the CEOs at the top 25 companies have MBAs; across the entire 100 — which includes a total of 106 CEOs because six companies have co-CEOs — 42 earned an MBA. Among those, seven went to Harvard Business Schoolincluding two Baker Scholars — three went to Columbia Business School, three graduated from Northwestern Kellogg School of Management, and three went to UC-Berkeley Haas School of Business. Two got MBAs from Chicago Booth School of Business. Only one got his MBA from Wharton: Sundar Pichai, CEO of Alphabet, who also happens to be both the highest-ranked CEO with an MBA and the highest paid by far, earning $225,985,145 in 2023. He is one of four CEOs whose earnings in 2023 reached nine digits.

Plenty of smaller MBA programs are represented on As You Sow’s list, too: Manhattan College, Iona University, Adelphi University, Rensselaer Polytechnic, and many others. But as P&Q‘s analysis shows, it’s possible to rise to the top with only a business bachelor’s degree, as 20 of the 106 did. Thirteen others reached the corporate pinnacle after earning both a bachelor’s and an MBA. A few have only executive degrees or other executive credentials. In total, 70 of the 106 CEOs on the 2023 list have a business degree of some kind. Interestingly, there are only six women on the list, and only one of them has an MBA: Karen Lynch of CVS Corporation, who earned a bachelor’s in accounting from Boston College before getting her MBA at Boston University.

See page 2 for the complete ranking, with business degrees (or lack of them) included for every CEO.

TOP 10 OVERPAID CEOs WITH MBAs

As You Sow Most Overpaid Rank Company CEO Business Degree? CEO Pay Amount of

Overpay – As You Sow

CEO:Worker

Pay Ratio

Median

Worker Pay

3 Alphabet Inc. Sundar Pichai MBA – Wharton $225,985,145 $210,613,728 808:1 $279,802
4 American International Group, Inc. Peter Zaffino MBA – Stern $75,314,199 $60,519,535 894:1 $84,240
5 Western Digital Corporation David V. Goeckeler MBA – Haas/Columbia $32,137,338 $18,068,125 3332:1 $9,644
6 American Express Company Stephen J. Squeri MBA – Manhattan College $48,029,631 $32,793,343 972:1 $49,409
9 Simon Property Group, Inc. David Simon Bachelor’s; MBA – Columbia $35,667,783 $21,166,438 538:1 $66,313
11 Prologis, Inc. Hamid Moghadam MBA – Stanford $48,152,756 $32,811,350 403:1 $119,453
12 Copart, Inc. A. Jayson Adair & Jeffrey Liaw Liaw: BBA Texas-Austin; MBA – Harvard … Adair: No $31,298,740 $15,453,717 751:1 $41,662
13 Broadcom Inc. Hock E. Tan MBA – Harvard $60,606,971 $44,545,639 338:1 $179,156
14 NVR, Inc. Paul C. Saville BBA – College of William & Mary; MBA – Pittsburgh $42,887,000 $27,506,477 600:1 $71,500
15 Equifax Inc. Mark W. Begor BS in Finance & Marketing; MBA – Rensselaer Polytechnic $37,255,853 $21,977,967 347:1 $107,256
Source: As You Sow Top 100 Most Overpaid CEOs, 2023. Sources for MBA info: LinkedIn, Wikipedia, various business sites

‘OVER A DECADE, OVERPAID CEOs UNDERPERFORMED’

As You Sow was founded in 1992. The nonprofit promotes environmental and social corporate responsibility through shareholder advocacy, coalition building, and innovative legal strategies. It wants investors and companies to use the ranking to “hold executives to higher standards of individual and corporate performance moving forward.”

But the annual ranking, now in its 10th year, is about more than doing business for good — it’s also about doing good business. In an accompanying report, As You Sow found that companies with the most overpaid CEOs have had lower returns to shareholders than the average S&P 500 company. The typical S&P 500 firm made 8.5% per year annualized from February 2015 to September 2023, while the 100 Most Overpaid CEOs’ annual returns lagged at 7.9% and the worst 25 dragged at 6.0% — while the 10 worst were behind at 6.5% per year. The list contains many repeat offenders and underperformers, including three companies with a negative five-year total stock return: Discovery Communications, now part of Warner Brothers Discovery (10 of 10 times on the list); Fidelity National Information Systems (8 of 10 times on the list); and Walt Disney (9 of 10 times on the list). “As a group, over a decade, overpaid CEOs underperformed,” the nonprofit declares.

Many famous names populate the list, only a few of which have MBAs: Zuckerberg, Zaslav, Fink, Pichai, Benioff, Dimon, Murdoch. Notable omissions include Tesla’s Elon Musk, Disney’s Robert Iger, GM’s Mary Barra, Blackstone’s Stephen Schwarzman, and Goldman Sachs’ David Solomon. P&Q also found 15 on the list who have retired or stepped down in the last year, including Frank Del Rio of Norwegian Cruise Lines, Richard Beckwitt of Lennar, Bret Taylor of Salesforce, Daniel Schulman of PayPal, and Kevin Johnson of Starbucks.

In all, the list includes 35 CEOs with no business degree. Engineering is the most-represented non-business degree, including electrical, mechanical, and computer; other degrees that appear more than once include law, computer science, economics, history, and political science. A few — notably Mark Zuckerberg — did not get a college degree at all.

TOP 10 OVERPAID CEOs WITH BBAs

As You Sow Most Overpaid Rank Company CEO Business Degree? CEO Pay Amount of

Overpay – As You Sow

CEO:Worker

Pay Ratio

Median

Worker Pay

1 Live Nation Entertainment, Inc. Michael Rapino Bachelor’s of Administration – Lakehead University $139,005,565 $123,765,001 5414:1 $25,673
2 Oracle Corporation Safra A. Catz Bachelor’s – Wharton; Lecturer in accounting at Stanford GSB $138,192,032 $122,500,250 1842:1 $75,043
17 Caesars Entertainment, Inc. Thomas R. Reeg BBA in Finance – Notre Dame $31,349,920 $16,480,026 865:1 $36,252
23 Estee Lauder Companies Inc. Fabrizio Freda Bachelor’s in Economics & Business Administration – University of Naples Federico II $25,480,056 $10,506,855 872:1 $29,236
26 Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. Frank J. Del Rio BS in Accounting – University of Florida $21,209,333 $7,261,395 866:1 $24,484
28 Fidelity National Information Services, Inc. Gary A. Norcross BS in Business Administration & Management – University of Arkansas $45,321,374 $31,170,441 724:1 $62,591
36 Salesforce, Inc. Marc Benioff & Bret Taylor Benioff: BSBA in Entrepreneurship – USC … Taylor: No $53,585,596 $38,543,495 269:1 $199,130
37 Booking Holdings Inc. Glenn D. Fogel BS in Economics & Finance – Wharton $30,774,922 $15,883,717 404:1 $76,175
41 D.R. Horton, Inc. David V. Auld BBA in Accounting – Texas Tech $29,996,862 $14,212,438 259:1 $116,088
42 Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc Christopher J. Nassetta BS in Finance – Virginia McIntire $23,532,938 $8,300,522 539:1 $43,702
Source: As You Sow Top 100 Most Overpaid CEOs, 2023. Sources for MBA info: LinkedIn, Wikipedia, various business sites

‘INFURIATING & DISHEARTENING’

What does it mean to say a CEO is “overpaid”? Rosanna Landis Weaver, executive compensation program manager at As You Sow and lead researcher for the 2023 ranking, calls the inexorable rise in pay for CEOs “both infuriating and disheartening,” as well as “unnecessary for recruiting, retention, or competition. There are more than 250 companies — half of the S&P 500 companies — that didn’t appear on these overpaid CEO lists in any of the past 10 years,” she says. “That undermines the ‘everyone is doing it, so we have to’ justification that boards often give when presenting outrageous pay packages.” Weaver adds that in 2022, nearly 300 S&P 500 companies had CEOs whose total disclosed compensation was under $15 million.

R. Paul Herman, CEO and founder of HIP (Human Impact + Profit) Investor Inc., says outrageously high CEO pay represents a missed opportunity for companies to

“Besides lagging returns for investors, companies also missed an opportunity to strengthen employee pay, allocate funds to new innovations, or pay dividends to shareholders — all due to the effects of overpaid CEOs, which include distortion of corporate priorities and unfulfilled promises for expected higher performance,” Herman says. “Boards, CEOs, and shareholders need to pay closer attention to avoid underperformance from overpaid CEOs, and rather pay more appropriate amounts for real results.”

And Robert Reich, professor, author, and former Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, says the rising CEO pay contributes to widening inequalities of income and wealth in America. “Shareholders,” Reich says, “can and should take action on this. European pension funds have the right idea. U.S. pension funds need to step up.”

See the next page for the entire list of 100 Most Overpaid CEOs, including salaries and median pay of workers in their companies, with each CEOs’ level of education noted by P&Q. Click here to see As You Sow’s full report.

AND DON’T MISS MBA PAY BY OCCUPATION & INDUSTRY: HERE’S HOW MUCH YOU’RE WORTH and HIGH & LOW MBA SALARIES AND BONUSES AT THE TOP 100 B-SCHOOLS

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