Michael got a lot at Dell ( DELL), but he earned it. Terry didn't earn it, but Yahoo! ( YHOO) pays him as if he did. And Steve just made the grade at Apple ( AAPL), but he got the most of all of them.

The bloom may have come off the rose in technology stocks, but bubble-era payouts for tech CEOs are alive and well. While the sector's stock performance has been abysmal, as the "ROE v. Paid: Technology" chart below indicates, it's hard to say tech executives earned their keep as measured by return on equity.

The "ROE v. Paid" chart below measures the average return on equity over the past five years for each of the 75 information-technology companies in the S&P 500. ROE is a handy measure of how effectively a CEO puts shareholder money to use.

For the chart, we set the bar for solid performance at 15% average ROE over the past five years -- an imperfect gauge because of apples-to-oranges comparison across some sectors and occasional one-year flukes that throw off a company's five-year average. Nonetheless, readers can compare ROEs within subsectors -- PCs, software, networkers, etc. -- to get a better sense of how a company stacks up.

As a comparison, the chart also lists how much the company's chief made in pay, bonus and options last year (or the most recent year available), according to compensation-tracker eComponline.com . Readers can decide for themselves whether the chieftains earned their keep.

Certainly, some tech bigwigs have turned in stellar ROE performance. Michael Dell, who netted more than $15 million in 2002 at his eponymous firm, according to eComponline, has led Dell to a 46.6% five-year ROE, among the top 20 of all S&P 500 companies. Others, such as Terry Semel -- the relatively new chief at Yahoo!, who earned more than $25 million in 2002 and more than $61 million the year before -- might raise eyebrows, considering the firm's 0.7% five-year ROE. And Steve Jobs? Well, Apple has a 15% ROE over five years -- right on the Mendoza line -- but his $89.9 million take, topping the pay list of the S&P 500 CEOs, is hard to fathom by any metric.

Want to know how the Chambers, Ballmers and the rest of the tech sector's CEOs managed in 2002? Check the list.


Mo Problems, Mo Money
The information-technology sector brought up the rear in every area during 2002 -- except in executive compensation. Of the 75 tech stocks in the S&P 500, 20 had negative ROE over the past five years and only four -- Lexmark, Intuit, BMC Software and Symantec -- posted positive returns in 2002. Yet 16 tech CEOs were among the best-paid CEOs in 2002; four turned up in the top 10. Who's paying for all this? Shareholders don't need to ask. (Companies with five-year ROEs are in bold, as are CEOs in the Top 100 pay bracket; they don't always match up.)
Company (Ticker Symbol) 5-yr ROE 1-yr ROE Chief Executive Compensation Rank Among 500 Richest CEOs in '02 Stock Return in '02
Oracle (ORCL) 53.9% 35.89 Larry Ellison $38,622 Not in Top 500 -21.8
Dell Computer (DELL) 46.6 44.36 Michael Dell $15,923,480 #100-200 -1.6
Waters (WAT) 41.8 23.69 Douglas Berthiau $632,302 Not in Top 500 -43.8

Click here to see entire table.