Striking the right compensation balance that allows a private company to measure up when competing with peers for leadership talent can be difficult. The data, after all, isn’t public, and most headlines focus on CEO compensation at the largest public companies in the country, hardly a reference point for those operating in the middle market.
For that reason, every year, Chief Executive Research collects and compiles CEO and senior executive compensation data at more than 1,600 private companies in the U.S. and presents it across various peer groups to help you better inform and align your pay strategy. Here are a few highlights of our 2023-24 Chief Executive Group’s CEO & Senior Executive Compensation Report for Private Companies. (Order the full report to access the complimentary bonus report on compensation trends for 2024).
• In 2023, the median CEO base salary rose 4.1 percent, tracking ahead of the latest 3.2 percent inflation figure released in November.
• While that’s a reasonable bump, it’s lower than the median increase of 4.9 percent paid out in 2022—and next year, CEO’s base salary increase may fall even further.
• When looking at what’s shaping up for 2024, more than 70 percent of companies surveyed project minimal (<5 percent) to no change to the median CEO base salary in 2024.
• In fact, 31 percent of companies reported planning no change to their top chief’s base pay in 2024.
The good news? Performance incentives are a different story. After a decline of 18 percent in 2022 (vs. 2021) due to a particularly difficult year for the U.S. economy, the median CEO bonus pay is projected to claw back all of those losses in 2023 and increase by 28.4 percent year-over-year. This puts the projected median CEO bonus payout 5.3 percent higher in 2023 than it was in 2021, one of the strongest years on record when it came to achieved bonuses, according to our data.
In absolute terms, this means private company CEOs are projected to receive a median award of $100,000 for fiscal year 2023, bringing the median total cash compensation package (base plus bonus) for a private company CEO to $412,250 if performance targets are hit, representing an increase in total cash compensation of nearly 10 percent from the prior year.
For 2024, however, the data shows a slowing of that trend, with 52.5 percent of companies surveyed saying they plan to decrease expected bonus payouts or keep them the same. Another 18 percent reported that they plan to raise bonus targets for CEOs but cap the increase at 5 percent.
Equity is a big differentiator when it comes to comparing the earnings of public and private company CEOs in the U.S. Unlike their public company peers, a majority of private company CEOs do not receive new equity grants each year. In fact, for 2022, the median private company CEO did not record any equity grant or appreciation. Based on data gathered from our sister organization, Chief Executive Network, only modest increases in median equity gains are expected in 2023 for CEOs.
However, the median private company CEO owns approximately 10 percent of their company’s equity, for a value of $1.5 million. But while that’s a sizable interest, the challenge for private companies is determining the appreciation of this equity stake. Unlike public companies, which can easily track market cap on a daily basis, private companies lack a straightforward way to assess the value of a CEO’s ownership stake and many, particularly family-owned companies, shy away from sharing what valuation information they do have. This can make it challenging for private company CEOs to get a clear account of the full value of their total compensation package. Plus, when seeking to benchmark compensation against peers, size, industry, location, ownership type, growth rate and other factors must also be considered.