Inside Executive Comp In 2024

When it comes to pay in the year ahead, expect only modest growth across the C-Suite, according to Chief Executive Group’s annual survey of more than 1,600 companies. 

Striking the right compensation balance that allows a private company to measure up when competing with peers for leadership talent can be difficult. The data, after all, isn’t public, and most headlines focus on CEO compensation at the largest public companies in the country, hardly a reference point for those operating in the middle market. 

For that reason, every year, Chief Executive Research collects and compiles CEO and senior executive compensation data at more than 1,600 private companies in the U.S. and presents it across various peer groups to help you better inform and align your pay strategy. Here are the key highlights of Chief Executive Group’s 2023–24 CEO & Senior Executive Compensation Report for Private Companies.

CEO Compensation

In 2023, the median CEO base salary rose 4.1 percent. While that’s a reasonable bump, it’s lower than the median increase of 4.9 percent paid out in 2022—and preliminary data for 2024 shows the CEO base salary will continue to grow slowly. More than 70 percent of companies surveyed project minimal (<5 percent) to no change to CEO base salary this year. In fact, 31 percent of companies reported planning no change to their top chief’s base pay in 2024.

The good news? Performance incentives are likely to round out the difference. After a decline of 18 percent in 2022 (versus 2021), median CEO bonus pay for 2023 is projected to increase by 28.4 percent year-over-year. This puts the projected median CEO bonus payout 5.3 percent higher in 2023 than it was in 2021, one of the strongest years on record when it comes to achieved bonuses, according to our data.

In absolute terms, this means private company CEOs are projected to receive a median award of $100,000 for fiscal year 2023, bringing the median total cash compensation package (base plus bonus) for a private company CEO to $412,250 if performance targets are hit, representing an increase in total cash compensation of nearly 10 percent from the prior year. 

And while there seems to be renewed optimism about 2024, more than half of the companies surveyed said they are planning to either reduce bonus target amounts or keep them the same as 2023. Of those who said that they still plan to increase bonuses in 2024, 38 percent said they will cap increases at 5 percent.

The Equity Piece

Equity is a big differentiator when it comes to comparing the earnings of public and private company CEOs in the U.S. Unlike their public company peers, a majority of private company CEOs do not receive new equity grants each year. In fact, for 2022, the median private company CEO did not record any equity grant or appreciation. Based on data gathered from our sister organization, Chief Executive Network, only modest increases in median equity gains are expected in 2023 for CEOs. 

However, the median private company CEO owns approximately 10 percent of their company’s equity, for a value of $1.5 million. But while that’s a sizable interest, the challenge for private companies is determining the appreciation of this equity stake. Unlike public companies, which can easily track market cap on a daily basis, private companies lack a straightforward way to assess the value of a CEO’s ownership stake and many—particularly family-owned companies—shy away from sharing what valuation information they do have. This can make it challenging for private company CEOs to get a clear account of the full value of their total compensation package. Plus, when seeking to benchmark compensation against peers, size, industry, location, ownership type, growth rate and other factors must also be considered.  

 

Senior Executive Compensation

C-level executives at private companies also saw a median base salary increase in line with the latest inflation data in 2023, though at a slightly slower click than CEOs: an average of 3.5 percent. The bump represents a notable decline from the year prior, when the average senior executive base salary increased 4.8 percent. 

Those increases, however, vary by role within the C-Suite. For example, after seeing only a 1.4 percent boost in their median base salary in 2022, presidents’ median base salary rose 4.1 percent in 2023—the same rate as CEOs. CSOs (or senior sales executives) also received a notable increase, with median base pay increasing 6.3 percent between 2021 and 2022 and then another 4 percent in 2023. COOs and CFOs were among executives whose salaries rose more modestly (compared with inflation), at 5 percent and 4.3 percent in 2022, respectively, and then 3.3 and 3.7 percent in 2023, respectively. 

As with CEOs, C-Suite executives received much larger increases in performance-backed incentives, with an increase of 30 percent in their bonus targets in 2023 as compared to payouts for achieving targets in 2022. The median target bonus for all senior executives combined for fiscal year 2023 was $39,000, bringing median total compensation to $239,000 for senior executives, excluding presidents. (Note: Presidents are excluded from calculations of the median total cash compensation for senior executives because they are typically significantly more highly compensated than other senior executives, causing the median to inflate.)

Looking ahead, more than 80 percent of companies surveyed said they will increase their C-Suite’s base salaries in 2024. Only 17 percent project keeping base salaries unchanged for their senior executives in 2024. The caveat: Almost two-thirds of those planning to give C-Suite execs base pay bumps in 2024 said those increases would be modest, at less than 5 percent.

The data shows a similar trend when it comes to bonuses, with more than half of companies projecting increases in their senior executives’ 2024 short-term incentive targets—though the rate of increase is modest, at less than 3 percent. According to the data, the median senior executive did not receive any new equity grant or increase in 2022, in line with the trend witnessed in recent years. Historically, only presidents, COOs and CFOs at the top quartile consistently receive equity grants or increases.

Workforce Trends

Moving down the organizational chart, companies have been doubling down on getting compensation right for employees, from middle managers to front-line and back-office workers. Our data shows that these groups saw their base salaries increase by the largest margin in 2023: 4.2 percent. Respectively, this represents a median increase of 4.0 percent for middle managers and 4.4 percent for frontline and back-office workers.

The higher increases at this level suggest companies struggling for talent have had to go back to the negotiating table and ensure they are offering appealing packages. Employers expect that trend to continue, with 92 percent of CHROs and 76 percent of CEOs reporting that, based on internal data, employees expect similar or higher increases in 2024.

While middle managers and frontline and back-office workers are much more likely than CEOs and senior executives to receive base pay bumps in 2024, those increases are expected to be smaller than what we’ve seen in recent years. Nearly two-thirds (62 percent) of private companies surveyed said they plan to offer employees below the C-Suite increases in base pay of less than 5 percent. Nearly half said they don’t expect to make any change to bonus targets for their middle managers and front-line and back-office workers in 2024.

It’s important to note that company size, growth rate, region, profitability and ownership type are all factors that can influence a private company’s compensation practices at various levels. Ultimately, compensation plan design at private companies entails considering external and internal context to develop a program tailored to a company’s unique situation—and will always differ vastly from the compensation programs in place at the largest public companies in the country and reported in the media. A thoughtful approach that factors in peer groups and potential sources (and erosion) of talent remain the cornerstones of a healthy compensation program.


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