NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The issue of CEO compensation is a contentious one, and it is about to get a bit more interesting.
Updated to reflect additional information
On August 5, the Securities and Exchange Commission finalized a mandate from the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law that requires companies to provide investors with a CEO-to-worker pay ratio. When the rule goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2017, shareholders will get a clear view of what corporate executives bring in each year compared to their rank-and-file employees.
"It's going to be ugly," said Charles Elson, director of the John L. Weinberg Center for Corporate Governance and a professor at the University of Delaware. "If it wasn't ugly, no one would object to it."
Many of the figures already available on CEO-to-worker pay ratios are pretty shocking. Some experts believe that because it's so large, required disclosure may actually help rein in rising executive pay, according to The New York Times.
According to executive compensation and governance data provider Equilar, median CEO pay for the S&P 500 hit $10.3 million and for the leaders of S&P 1500 companies reached $5.3 million in 2014. Meanwhile, median employee income for full-time wage and salary workers in the U.S. was $41,132.
The Economic Policy Institute, a nonprofit think tank based in Washington, DC, estimated the CEO-to-worker compensation ratio among the largest 350 publicly-owned companies in the United States to be 303-to-1 in 2014. According to the AFL-CIO, it is 373-to-1 among the largest companies.
Some, however, say pay ratio figures are exaggerated because they deal with such small sample sizes.
"It is a really distorted comparison, because it is such a small number," said Mark Perry, professor of economics and finance at the University of Michigan's Flint campus and scholar at center-right leaning think tank the American Enterprise Institute.
He believes the actual CEO-to-worker pay ratio to be low as 4-to-1 when considering all U.S. chief executives as defined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Even among the biggest 100 U.S. companies, he argues that the average ratio is 84-to-1, based on data from a 2013 analysis from PayScale.
Others say pay ratio figures may be higher, due in part to a reliance on international workforces.
Dean Baker, co-director of the Washington, DC-based Center for Economic and Policy Research, performed an analysis with the The New York Times in April of the pay ratios of a dozen executives. He found some ratios to be in the thousands.
"The hard part is getting a good sense of what the median pay is. There's a number of places where we can get CEO pay, sometimes from their own reporting," he told TheStreet. "We tried to make a judgment on worldwide ratios, and they will almost invariably be lower. If a company has positions in Europe, it doesn't change the story that much, because pay scales aren't necessarily lower. In fact, they can be higher, in many cases, than in the U.S. But many large companies, of course, have operations in the developing world, and then when you bring those in, then their median employee would either be a high-paid person in a developing country or maybe one of the very lowest-paid people in the United States."
Compensation information company PayScale has put together its own list of CEO-to-worker pay ratios based on data from 2013. It compares only cash compensation executives because, as PayScale research analyst Katie Bardaro told TheStreet, including equity data wouldn't be "apples to apples."
So which CEOs are on the high-end of the pay ratio scale when compared to their workers? Here is a look at 10 from PayScale's list, in order of ascending CEO-to-worker pay ratio.
10. Randall Stephenson, 100:1
AT&T (T - Get Report) brought in a record $128.8 billion in consolidated revenue in 2013. Its workers made a median $71,300 that year, and its chief executive, Randall Stephenson, made about 100 times more, earning $7.2 million in cash.
Including stock and option awards as well as change in pension value, Stephenson's total compensation reached $23.2 million in 2013. In 2014, it increased to $24.0 million.
AT&T representatives declined to comment.
9. Mark Parker, 115:1
Parker made $7.7 million in cash compensation in 2013 and $15.4 million total. Median employee wage at the footwear and apparel giant he runs was $67,300, meaning he made 115 more than his workers. That year, Nike's revenue was $26.1 billion.
The executive earned even more in 2012, when he received a $20 million stock award in recognition of his leadership and role in the company's growth strategy in future years.
Nike representatives declined to comment.
8. Frederick Smith, 145:1
FedEx (FDX - Get Report) CEO Frederick Smith missed out on his annual incentive compensation in 2013 due to the company's weaker-than-expected financial results. In its proxy statement, the firm points to "weakness in international air freight markets, pressure on yields due to industry overcapacity and shifts in demand to less expensive and slower-transit services" as issues.
However, Smith still earned $7.0 million in cash in the company's fiscal 2013, ending in May -- 145 times more than FedEx workers' median annual pay of $48,300.
In 2013, Smith earned $5.6 million in option awards, putting his total compensation at $12.6 million. In 2014, he earned even more, bringing in $14.2 million.
FedEx representatives did not respond to request for comment.
7. Samuel Allen, 150:1
CEO of Deere & Company (DE - Get Report) since 2009 and chairman since 2010, Samuel Allen earned a total $19.1 million in 2013. Of that amount, $8.7 million was in cash. Deere workers, on the other hand, earned a median $57,900 during the period.
Deere's 2013 revenue was $37.8 billion, up from $36.2 billion in 2012. The company's proxy statement notes the firm's share price dipped 4.2% during its fiscal year.
In 2014, Allen made $20.3 million total -- more than in 2013. However, he made less in cash. He requested Deere's board of directors reduce his cash incentive plan compensation in 2014, which it did by 25%.
Deere representatives did not respond to request for comment.
6. Daniel Amos, 157:1
Daniel Amos has been the chief executive of insurance company Aflac (AFL - Get Report) since 1990 and as such is compensated well. In 2013, he earned $6.4 million in cash. Workers at his company made a median $40,800, meaning the executive brought in 157 times more.
In 2013, Amos also landed a $10.8 million stock award. It, along with other factors, resulted in total compensation of $18.6 million. The same year, Aflac's operating revenues climbed 5.7% to 27.2 billion, and it repurchased $800 million of its shares.
Amos' total compensation dipped in 2014, as he received $2.1 million in stock awards for the year. His cash pay, however, remained about the same.
Aflac representatives did not respond to request for comment.
5. Martin Barrington, 175:1
Martin Barrington, CEO of tobacco giant Altria (MO - Get Report), earned $12.1 million cash in 2013. The company's employee's earned a median $69,000 that year, meaning its CEO-to-worker pay ratio was 175-to-1.
However, most years, the ratio is less.
Barrington, who has been employed at the companies and its subsidiaries since 1993, earned an extra bonus of $8.1 million in 2013 -- the result of a three-year, long-term incentive plan.
"It's important to point out that PayScale is using 2013 reported compensation for our CEO," wrote Altria spokesman Bill Phelps in an email. "2013 is not a representative year because it included a lump sum payment earned over a three-year performance period. PayScale's methodology for 2014 or 2012 would show dramatically lower compensation and likewise a much lower ratio. As to median pay, Altria offers a top tier compensation and benefits package for its employees."
Barrington earned $4.4 million in cash in 2014.
4. James McNerny, 198:1
Boeing's revenue's climbed to $86.6 billion in 2013 from $81.7 billion in 2012. Its earnings per share increased to $5.96 from $5.11, and it delivered a shareholder return of 84.7%.
McNerny's compensation is also boosted by stock and option awards. In 2013, he earned a total $23.3 million. And in 2014, he made $28.9 million.
Boeing representatives did not respond to request for comment.
3. Robert Iger, 283:1
Walt Disney (DIS - Get Report) CEO Robert Iger made $17.0 million in cash in 2013 -- 283 times more than his employees, who made a median $60,300. Iger's pay for the year included a $2.5 million base salary and $13.7 in non-equity incentive compensation.
Disney's revenue increased 8% in 2013; however, Iger's total compensation fell by 15%. The explanation: the company's results did not beat the board of directors' performance ranges, and his pension value changed. Still, the executive's total compensation for 2013 was $34.3 million.
In 2014, Iger's total compensation climbed to $46.5 million. It is also worth mentioning that the company of which he is at the helm boasts one of the most valuable brands in the United States.
Disney representatives did not respond to request for comment.
2. Richard Kramer, 323:1
Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company (GT - Get Report) has a CEO-to-worker pay ratio of 323-to-1. In 2013, Goodyear employees made a median $46,700. The company's CEO, Richard Kramer, earned $15.1 million in cash. And including stock and option awards as well as other factors, his compensation reached $19.2 million.
Kramer's total compensation fell slightly in 2014 to $17.9 million. He had a boost in salary, stock awards and pension changes, but his non-equity plan compensation dropped to $9.5 million in 2014 from $14.0 million in 2013.
Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company representatives did not respond to request for comment.
1. Larry Merlo, 422:1
Larry Merlo, the CEO of CVS Health (CVS - Get Report) -- previously named CVS Caremark -- made $12.1 million in total cash compensation in 2013. Meanwhile, employees of the pharmacy company made a median $28,700. The CEO-to-worker pay ratio: 422-to-1.
Including stock and option awards as well as deferred compensation earnings (namely, changes in pension value), Merlo's total compensation for 2013 was $31.3 million.
2013 was a strong year for CVS, which produced a total shareholder return of 50.4% and generated $126.8 billion in revenue. The following year, 2014, was solid as well, with total shareholder return reaching 36.3%. Merlo's total compensation climbed as well to $32.4 million total, including $13.5 million cash.
"CVS Health is committed to providing employees with comprehensive and competitive pay and benefits. Throughout our employees' careers, we encourage career advancement through training, development and other programs that provide opportunities to be promoted into positions with increased responsibility and correspondingly higher pay," Mike DeAngelis, Director of Public Relations at CVS, told TheStreet. "Consistent with our pay-for-performance philosophy, annual compensation for our CEO and other executives is in line with industry standards and closely reflects the company's financial performance and success, taking into account the company's achievement of short-term strategic, operational and financial goals as well as progress toward our long-term objectives."