Are CEOs Paid Too Much? Not All of Them

James Dimon
James Dimon

When Americans read about CEOs getting compensated to the tune of tens of millions of dollars, they think of what their local teachers or firemen make and wonder what those executives could possibly be doing to earn so much. When shareholders see those compensation packages, they're concerned for a somewhat different reason: They wonder why CEOs should make so much when the returns they produce for stock owners are often so modest?

The JPMorgan Chase proxy filed Thursday shows that CEO Jamie Dimon, one of the most highly regarded financial firm chiefs in the world, made $20.8 million last year. That was up from just $1.3 million in 2009, when his compensation shrank due to pressure on JPMorgan (JPM) because of its horrible earnings in the Great Recession that followed the credit crisis. Last year, Dimon also got privileges to use the company plane -- but he had to reimburse the bank for most of those costs.

Back in 1930, when baseball great Babe Ruth was asked why he made more money than President Hoover, he supposedly told the press: "I had a better year." That probably seemed like an entirely fair comment at a time when Hoover was marching the American economy deeper into the Great Depression.

Today, Dimon might say the same thing to justify what he made in 2010 compared to his peers. Over the past year, JPMorgan's stock has thrashed Goldman Sachs (GS), Morgan Stanley (MS) and Bank of America (BAC). In March, the bank raised its dividend from $.05 to $.25. And JPMorgan also beat earnings estimates for the fourth quarter of last year.

The large business magazines and newspapers will soon come out with their lists of CEO compensation for 2010, and the annual uproar about executive pay and bonuses will begin anew. Dimon's pay package, though, will be a hard one to challenge.

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