Rani Molla is a Bloomberg Gadfly columnist using data visualizations to cover corporations and markets. She previously worked for the Wall Street Journal.

Median compensation for 341 CEOs at the largest U.S. companies rose 4.5 percent last year to $10.8 million, according to a recent Associated Press study -- even though the share prices of the same S&P 500 companies that those CEOs oversaw remained stagnant.

But not all CEOs are raking in piles of money while their companies’ stocks plummet. Using data from the Bloomberg Pay Index, Gadfly compiled a list of companies that boasted above average total returns on their shares but also still managed to keep CEO compensation at bay -- including keeping increases below average over the past three years. (The data include only companies that had the same CEO the whole time. In total, 55 companies fit that bill.)

Pay Scale
Compensation paid to S&P 500 CEOs and equivalent
Source: Bloomberg
Note: Data include companies with multiple CEOs.

Delta led the group with top total returns of 337 percent in that three-year period, as airlines overall enjoyed a massive boost from falling fuel prices:

Total Return
S&P 500 companies with the greatest difference in the change in total returns and CEO pay from 2012-2015. Ranked by greatest return:
Source: Bloomberg Pay Index

TripAdvisor’s CEO Stephen Kaufer saw the smallest pay increase -- in this case a decrease of 79 percent -- thanks to a $38 million option award in 2013 that made his pay unusually high that year compared to 2014 and 2015.

Change in Pay
S&P 500 companies with the greatest difference in the change in total returns and CEO pay from 2012-2015. Ranked by smallest increase in pay:
Source: Bloomberg Pay Index

Of course, CEO pay is a moving average. While compensation growth has decelerated in recent years, average CEO pay grew in leaps and bounds in the 1980s and 1990s. So current averages represent an already sizable figure, which may dampen the enthusiasm of investors otherwise concerned about executive compensation levels.

This data comes from proxy statements, in which the summary compensation tables include potential CEO pay (and thus may not be what executives actually end up getting). Stock and option grants currently make up about 60 percent of total compensation for CEOs in the S&P 500. So, in theory, CEOs are meant to be in the same boat as investors: making or losing money depending on stock performance. And as oil CEOs would have told you last year, stock options don’t always pan out.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Rani Molla in New York at

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Timothy L. O'Brien at