The top 10 highest-earning Irish executives of listed companies shared €59.7m last year, down 9.5 per cent on the 2011 figures.
The drop in overall earnings was down to a stock market tumble in the second half of the year which effectively wiped out paper profits on stock options held by a number of the well-paid bosses at Elan and CRH. The top 10 paid executives of ISEQ- listed companies still earned an average of €5.97m.
However, when the share and options portion of remuneration is stripped out, the top earners still made big money from their basic packages. The top 10 earners shared €23.52m in core salary, bonus, pension and benefits. This compares with €19.75m last year – representing a 19 per cent pay increase.
Irish bosses are rewarded well in comparison with their international peers. Apple boss Tim Cook was paid €3.2m last year. Despite heading up what was briefly the world's most valuable company, Cook was paid less than Smurfit Kappa chief Gary McGann. Apple is 104 times more valuable than Smurfit based on market capitalisation. Microsoft's Steve Ballmer earned €1.01m last year. HP's Meg Whitman would have landed in second place on the Irish list with earnings of €11.8m last year.
Across the water, FTSE 100 bosses earned an average of €4.91m, according to the Manifest/MM&K salary survey – this was up over 12 per cent on the previous year.
However, we're still well below the super leagues of pay. Last week it emerged that four of the five highest-paid executives in S&P 500 companies all worked at Apple. Bob Mansfield, who runs Apple's hardware engineering group earned €65.54m, largely in share awards, with legal head Bruce Sewell pocketing €52.9m. Senior Apple executives Jeffrey Williams and Peter Oppenheimer both earned about €52m each. Oracle chief Larry Ellison earned €73.7m.
Outside the top 10 Irish earners, Ireland's executives are also bagging huge pay packets. Elan's Kelly Martin has traditionally been one of the best-paid bosses in the country. Last year he earned just €2.06m. Mr Martin was awarded over 700,000 options or conditional share awards in 2012 but a falling share price left them badly under water. He is likely to be close to the top of the list for 2013, having been awarded €9m worth of options earlier this year. Much will depend on the takeover battle with Royalty Pharma.
Other big earners outside the top 10 include Smurfit Kappa's finance chief Ian Curley who earned €2.25m in salary and share gains. DCC boss Tommy Breen received a basic pay deal of €1.337m but earned a further €466,000 having exercised options. Tullow's Ian Springett earned close to €1.83m. C&C chief executive Stephen Glancey was around €1.71m better off, with a core pay of €1.46m boosted by paper profits on options. Fyffes chairman David McCann earned almost €1.6m due to gains on a big options grant. Aer Lingus chief Christoph Mueller picked up about €1.546m, as his core pay of €1.293m was boosted by paper profits on vested bonus shares.
While the Sunday Independent pay list assesses the gains and paper profits made on option awards and vested shares it does not include dividend payments as all shareholders receive the payments rather than just the executives. Ryanair's Michael O'Leary would top pay scales if dividends were included as he bagged €17.3m last year when Ryanair returned cash to shareholders. Given that he's grown the low cost airline spectacularly with profits and share price rising sharply, Mr O'Leary is extraordinarily badly paid compared with his ISEQ listed peers. He earned €1.27m in fees from the €9bn valued company.
While the executives at top companies are bagging millions of euro in salaries and bonuses, their employers do not feel that remuneration levels are high enough. Companies ranging from Kerry, CRH and Tullow have all hired external consultants to advise on new pay packages for their executive directors.
Executive pay has been under the microscope since the financial crisis. Last year saw an unprecedented investor revolt against high levels of pay. The "shareholder spring" saw major votes against the board at Aviva, Citigroup and Barclays, while Irish firms such as Kenmare and Tullow also suffered a backlash. As the AGM season kicks off later this week, Irish shareholders will get their chance to hold boards to account over pay.