THE accountant-turned-mining boss Tony Poli last year enjoyed a $169 million windfall from Aquila Resources, the iron ore interest he oversees, even as its annual accounts show he was paid only $572,000 for his role.
Mr Poli's pay day, which came after he cashed in on options issued five years earlier, is a stark example of the real pay packets of corporate bosses, compared to disclosures in filings.
The figures are contained in an analysis by the Australian Council of Superannuation Investors, which advises the biggest superannuation funds, of the top 200 companies.
Other gaps in reported and realised pay include the chief executive of BHP Billiton, Marius Kloppers, who last year was Australia's highest paid chief executive on $11.8 million. But after taking account of a deferred bonus payment, his realised pay was $17.3 million. Last year the ANZ chief, Mike Smith, realised $4.36 million more than the $10.03 million disclosed.
The chief of Commonwealth Bank, Ralph Norris, was reportedly paid $8.64 million but in fact realised $12.69 million.
Minimum disclosures fail to take into account the upside chief executives often receive from extra packages such as deferred bonus shares or cashing in on options, which is a right to acquire shares in a company often at a heavily discounted price.
The report, released today, reveals that during the past decade, the pay of chief executives has grown at twice the pace of the average Australian and more than three times as fast as inflation.
Since 2002, the fixed pay of the average chief executive of $1.94 million is up 120 per cent compared to the 60 per cent rise in average incomes. The average total pay for a chief of a top-100 company is $4.72 million.
But signs of austerity are emerging. The study shows that fixed pay for the bosses of the top-100 companies has held steady for the past year but bonuses fell as profits slipped.
The chief executive of the council, Ann Byrne, said: ''I think there is a mood for change on executive pay. In the market conditions, it is clear that boards have been listening to investor views.''
Not all chief executives enjoyed the upside, particularly those at companies with a high bar for option-based benefits. Nicholas Moore at Macquarie Group realised only $6.21 million last year, compared to the $8.69 million the investment bank said it had paid out.
Rowen Craigie of Crown received less than half the $7.71 million the gaming company had set aside to pay him.
Ms Byrne said there was a recognition that options were part of the pay of most chief executives but they should be designed to reward excellent performance.
''They need to be rewarded with really demanding hurdles. We also think there should be the potential for investors to claw back benefits if something substantial changes.''
In Mr Poli's case, he exercised the options in December 2010, paying about 95¢ a share. Aquila shares were then changing hands for more than $9.20. But the value of the shares has since plunged, closing yesterday at $2.77. Mr Poli could not be reached for comment.
Ms Byrne said that while Mr Poli's windfall was likely to have fallen this year on the lower Aquila share price, investors did not want to be ''surprised'' about the size of the payments.
BRW estimates Mr Poli's wealth fell to about $600 million last year from more than $1 billion in 2009 and 2010.