What’s the top CEO-to-worker pay gap? 1,951 to 1, study says

David Zaslav

Discovery Communications CEO David Zaslav was paid $156 million last year in total compensation.

(Larry Busacca / Getty Images for Women in Cable Telecommunications)

Discovery Communications topped a list of companies with the largest pay difference between their chief executives and median workers, according to a new study by jobs and recruiting company Glassdoor.

The ratio between CEO David M. Zaslav’s pay and the median pay of Discovery workers is 1,951 to 1, according to the study. In 2014, Zaslav made $156 million, while median pay was $80,000.

Discovery Communications, which owns popular U.S. cable channels including Discovery Network, TLC and Animal Planet, did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. came in second, with a pay ratio of 1,522, and CVS Health was third with a ratio of 1,192.


In a statement, CVS spokesman Michael DeAngelis said annual compensation for its CEO and other executives is “in line” with industry standards, and “closely reflects” the company’s financial performance and success.

Glassdoor called the study a “sneak preview” into the CEO pay ratio disclosure rule approved this month by the Securities and Exchange Commission. The new rule requires the nation’s 4,000 publicly traded companies to disclose the ratio of the CEO’s annual total compensation to the median compensation of the company’s employees.

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The rule applies to reporting for financial statements for 2017 and later, meaning the first official glimpse of the numbers will come in spring 2018.


Although Glassdoor is not the first to publish estimated CEO pay ratios, the company said it has collected “thousands” of salary reports over the years from employees to encourage pay transparency in the workplace, giving it a “unique window into worker pay.”

It’s unclear whether the various studies on CEO pay have influenced public or shareholder opinion, experts say. But the ratio alone may not say everything about the pay difference, said Robert Jackson Jr., a professor at Columbia Law School.

Investors should also look at the compensation ratio in relation to other information, such as performance disclosures, he said.

“Most Americans don’t mind so much when CEOs make a lot of money if they perform,” Jackson said. “What bothers them is if they get paid when they fail, and this ratio alone doesn’t tell you anything about that.”

Glassdoor’s information is not exactly what the SEC will require. While Glassdoor used SEC proxy statement filings to determine CEO compensation information, which is publicly disclosed, the company relied on its employee surveys to calculate total compensation for employees. Only companies with 30 or more Glassdoor employee surveys were included on its list. 

Workers often underreport bonuses and stock options in these surveys since many do not know or do not remember their nonsalary compensation, Glassdoor said. This means their total pay is probably underreported, which can drive the pay ratio up.

The salary reports also might not represent the full distribution of jobs at the company, Glassdoor said, which makes it impossible to ensure that all positions are represented when calculating median pay.

The company based its analysis on 441 large, publicly traded companies listed in the Standard & Poor’s 500 index.


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