Tenet Healthcare, a hospital chain, furloughed about 11,000 workers during the pandemic, but made nearly $399 million in profit. “The last 12 months clearly have been an extraordinary challenge and learning experience,” the company’s chief executive, Ronald Rittenmeyer, wrote in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. In the same document, Tenet revealed that Mr. Rittenmeyer earned $16.7 million last year.
And L Brands, the owner of Victoria’s Secret, cut 15 percent of its office staff and temporarily closed most of its stores during the pandemic. Andrew Meslow, who took over from Leslie H. Wexner as chief executive in February last year, still earned $18.5 million.
“They always talk about how their employees are the most important assets,” Ms. Minow said. “But they sure don’t treat them that way.”
Dozens of public companies have already reported paying their C.E.O.s $25 million or more last year, according to Equilar, an executive compensation consulting firm. Several companies that announced major layoffs last year, including Comcast and Nike, have not yet released executive compensation data for last year.
Many companies defended their executive compensation plans. In some cases, C.E.O.s took less than they were entitled to. Most top executives receive the bulk of their pay in shares, which may decrease in value and often vest over several years. And at many companies, the stock price was up despite the turbulence in the economy and regardless of whether the company was profitable.
“At the end of the day, C.E.O.s end up getting rewarded for how they respond to these external occurrences,” said Jannice Koors, a compensation consultant at Pearl Meyer who works with companies to determine executive pay. “If you think about stores closing, furloughs, etc., C.E.O.s are getting rewarded for making those decisions.”
In many ways, the role of corporate chieftains has never been more pronounced. Beyond running their businesses, C.E.O.s have emerged as prominent voices in the national conversations around race, climate change and voting rights.