Process and Operations

What the boss makes


May 25, 2006

They’re not the glamour boys of big business and most of them have surprisingly modest (by comparison) paychecks. Nevertheless, the CEOs of the largest publicly held food companies probably don’t have to clip their own coupons to pay for groceries.

Forbes magazine published its annual listing of CEO pay in the May 8 issue. Pay for the big food guys ranged from the $18.61 million gross of General Mills’ Stephen Sanger (that’s 18,610 Big G’s) to the modest $1 million flat for Gary Rodkin, who just took over at ConAgra. (Rodkin’s pay is misleading. He just joined ConAgra last October and apparently has a minimum annual bonus of $2 million, which hasn’t been paid yet.)

Sanger’s big paycheck, like that of most of the CEOs, includes a lot more than just salary. The General Mills chairman/CEO (not everyone on the list also was a board chairman) has a stated salary of $2.47 million, an 8 percent increase from the previous year, plus $348,000 in other income and nearly $16 million in stock gains, according to the magazine. Forbes figures into compensation stock grants only as they vest and realized gains from exercised stock options.

Sanger’s total of $18.6 million ranked him 69th on the Forbes list of 500 executives from all industries. The magazine said he earned $35 million over the past five years and holds $43 million worth of stock.

“We don’t begrudge big pay packages — provided the chief is delivering returns to shareholders,” the magazine wrote.

And some are, but apparently not the foodies. Leading the list of top performers is John Buscksbaum of General Growth Properties, a real estate investment trust. Paid an average of $624,000 over the past six years, he’s delivered a 37 percent annual return to shareholders. “Give this guy a raise,” the magazine says.

None of the 10 CEOs on the top performers list was from our sector. Fortunately, neither was any of the 10 worst.

However, Joseph Luter III of Smithfield Foods made Forbes ’ “20/20” club, a list of 10 executives who produced at least 20 percent returns annually over 20 years. So seniority and the feeling that you own the company may help performance. The 66-year-old Luter is chairman and CEO and the third Joseph Luter to head the company (his grandfather founded Smithfield in 1936).

“That [annualized] 20 percent is no small feat. … These companies are worth, on average, 700 times what they were when the company listed or the current chief executive took office,” Forbes wrote about the 20/20 club. Luter, who’s been at the helm 31 years, produced a 29 percent annualized return, second highest on the list (Lawrence Ellison of Oracle delivered 31 percent). That puts Luter two steps above one Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway.

Name Company Pay ($ millions) Rank
Stephen Sanger General Mills 18.61 69
Alan Lafley Procter & Gamble 16.87 79
Steven Reinemund PepsiCo 13.33 105
William Wrigley Jr. Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co. 13.00 109
John Cahill Pepsi Bottling Group 12.23 119
Joel Johnson Hormel Foods 12.06 122
Joseph Luter III Smithfield Foods 10.80 132
Norman Wesley Fortune Brands 9.60 150
E. Neville Isdell Coca-Cola 6.49 220
John Tyson Tyson Foods 5.54 249
Douglas Conant Campbell Soup 5.32 259
Gregg Engles Dean Foods 4.75 1 275
James Jenness Kellogg 4.19 293
William Johnson H.J. Heinz 3.51 325
Richard Lenny Hershey 3.48 327
G. Allen Andreas Archer Daniels Midland 3.28 347
W. Leo Kiely III Molson Coors Brewing 3.17 1 356
Richard Sands Constellation Brands 2.30 392
Lowry Kline Coca-Cola Enterprises 1.92 2 422
Patrick Stokes Anheuser-Busch Cos. 1.89 425
Paul Varga Brown-Forman 1.79 2 430
Brenda Barnes Sara Lee 1.43 2 449
Gary Rodkin ConAgra Foods 1.004 78

1. Data from prior year
2. New chief executive, pay may be for a prior position
Source: Forbes, "Executive Pay," May 8