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TMFEditorsDesk (< 20)

Who makes more: Top-10 CEO's or Top-10 Athletes?



August 19, 2009 – Comments (11) | RELATED TICKERS: BX , ANF , ORCL

Both lists were surprising...I will be impressed if you guess more than 5 correct in either list (if you haven't peeked already). I hadn't heard of two of the top 10 athletes.

Top 10 CEO's (2008 total realized comp): 

Blackstone Group, Stephen Schwarzman, $702.4M

Oracle, Larry Ellison, $557M

Occidental Petroleum Ray Irani, $222.6M

Hess, John Hess, $159.6M

Ultra Petroleum, Michael Watford, $117M

Chesapeake Energy, Aubrey McClendon, $114.3M

XTO Energy, Bob Simpson, $103.5M

EOG Resources, Mark Papa,  $90.5M

Narbors Industries, Eugene Isenberg, $79.3M

Abercrombie & Fitch, Michael Jeffries, $71.8M

Top 10 Athletes (2009 Forbes list includes earnings, sponsorships, etc.):

Tiger Woods, Golf,  $110M

Kobe Bryant, Basketball, $45M

Michael Jordan, Basketball -- retired, $45M

Kimi Raikkonen, Formula One, $45M

David Beckham, Soccer, $42M

LeBron James, Basketball, $40M

Phil Mickelson, Golf, $40M

Manny Pacquiao, Boxing, $40M

Valentino Rossi, Motorcycle, $35M (really?!?!)

Dale Earnhardt Jr., NASCAR, $34M

Unlike most sports radio callers (I'm looking at you, Bob in Newark), I don't have much problem with the athletes' earnings (which, you'll notice, are dwarfed by their CEO counterparts): 1) They provide real value to sports fans and companies who pay for their endorsements. 2) They must rise to the top of their sports to generate these outsize earnings. 3) Most athletes have a very limited window in which to earn. 4) A lot of athletes pay huge physical tolls later in life (especially football players, none of whom cracked the top 10). 

As for CEO comp, I'm more critical (not of them for taking the money, though...who wouldn't?): 1) The value they provide is debatable, variable, and hard to measure. I differentiate entrepreneurs from non-founding CEO's...if you've taken the risk and started a company, you deserve the spoils. 2) You don't hear about too many CEO's blowing their arms out in college or wasting away in the minors, hoping to get their shot. The middle managers who never make CEO make some good scratch. 3) Unlike most athletes, business folks can earn money their entire lives. 4) In terms of physical tolls, a lot of CEO's suffer from tennis elbow.

- Anand (TMFBomb), who's off to learn how to ride a motorcycle. 

The Corporate Library's CEO rankings (via Tech Ticker)

Forbes Athlete rankings 

Our blog feedback survey, for those inclined.


11 Comments – Post Your Own

#1) On August 19, 2009 at 2:41 PM, SuperPicks (28.45) wrote:

Hah, we share the same first name

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#2) On August 19, 2009 at 2:50 PM, TMFEditorsDesk (< 20) wrote:


Now if we share the same last name of Chokkavelu, I'm going to be floored...many conceited Google searches by me have come up with only my immediate family. 

-The other Anand (TMFBomb)

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#3) On August 19, 2009 at 3:21 PM, awallejr (51.69) wrote:

How much does Oprah make?

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#4) On August 19, 2009 at 5:10 PM, TMFEditorsDesk (< 20) wrote:


A TV Guide issue from last year had Oprah making $385 million...not sure what all was included in that. She's on my "deserved" list, though. Empire-builders get paid. Semi-relatedly, Dr. Phil should pay a bigger vig to her than his agent.

-Anand (TMFBomb)

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#5) On August 19, 2009 at 5:37 PM, madcowmonkey (< 20) wrote:

Abercrombie & Fitch, Michael Jeffries, $ run a clothing company. GTFOOH! Unbelievable.

Madcow will now be going out and printing words on t-shirts and putting them on every  guy I can. The little ab market has already been taken and I bet there are more overweight guys in this country.

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#6) On August 19, 2009 at 6:31 PM, mcraghead (< 20) wrote:

Valentino Rossi being on the list is only surprising if you don't follow MotoGP. Add that MotoGP is far more popular in Europe than in the US (think NASCAR like following). He has t-shirts, caps, hoodies, jackets, signature helmets, etc. He is the greatest rider ever. He has something like 7 world titles in the 13 years he's been riding in MotoGP. He got his 100th win this year. He's on pace to win his 8th title this year. He's HUGE!!!...OK, the last few items was just about how great he is, but really, he is as popular as Dale Earnhardt, Sr. or Richard Petty, and possibly more so.

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#7) On August 19, 2009 at 6:57 PM, streetflame (29.24) wrote:

I'm surprised how many oil & gas executives are on the list.  I would think finance and tech executives would beat commodities.  Is being the CEO of Hess or XTO really rocket science?  Just "Drill, baby, drill", when in doubt do whatever Exxon does, and make gobs of money.

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#8) On August 20, 2009 at 10:24 AM, TMFEditorsDesk (< 20) wrote:

@madcowmonkey and streetflame,

Yeah, those were both surprising to us as well.  I think the CEO list includes exercised options...I'd be curious if the oil & gas execs got out near the $147/barrel peak in 2008.

I think you've found a great niche, madcow...what's the name of the clothing line? My first suggestion: BRATS, after the delicious meat substance not the annoying kids.

-Anand (TMFBomb)

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#9) On August 20, 2009 at 2:59 PM, USNHR (29.63) wrote:

I would guess that your list includes exercised options. Their real salaries are proably anywhere from 1 to 5 million. Just my guess, as I think the "top 10" paid CEO's changes every year depending on who exercises what options and how the company is performing.

 So to be a top paid CEO for one year or a top paid athlete for 8-10 years. Hmmm.  less headaches being an athlete... less physical injury/demand being a CEO.

 After much deliberation, I would choose.... either. It certainly beats my measley salary.

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#10) On August 20, 2009 at 10:47 PM, OneLegged (< 20) wrote:

MotoGP motorcycle racing has a huge worldwide following (not so much in the U.S.)  Valentino Rossi is that rare sports hero with the perfect personality for fans to be able to relate, an  INCREDIBLE level of skill (aguably the best ever), and he has been relatively free of scandal (save one minor incidence of tax evasion (settled for pennies on the dollar)). 

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#11) On August 20, 2009 at 10:58 PM, awallejr (51.69) wrote:

Not to derail but what's with the overwrite's in many threads?

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