Top US CEO collected $US702 million in 2008: survey

The highest-paid US chief executive collected $US702.4 million ($842.56 million) in compensation in 2008 as the recession deepened, a report by a shareholder rights organisation shows.

The top honour went to Stephen Schwarzman, CEO of investment firm Blackstone Group, who received $US699.7 million ($839.32 million) in shares vested after the company's public offering, according to the report by the Corporate Library, which was released on Thursday.

Schwarzman's stock holdings are subject to "a performance-based clawback provision," which means he might have to give back some of that, and at least 25 per cent of the shares must be retained, according to the report on the top 10 CEO compensation packages.

But the Corporate Library, which monitors corporate governance on behalf of shareholders, said Schwarzman's entire compensation package "was decided not by a compensation committee but by Mr Schwarzman himself".

Second on the list for 2008 was business software giant Oracle Corp founder and CEO Lawrence Ellison, collecting a total of $US556.9 million ($668.03 million) including stock options exercised for $US543 million ($651.35 million).

Occidental Petroleum CEO Ray Irani ranked third with total compensation of $US222.6 million ($267.02 million), of which $US184 million ($220.72 million) came from exercising stock options, according to the report.

The report noted that the high levels of compensation for the top-earning CEOs came even as their share prices fell sharply, going against the principle of performance-based pay.

Energy companies dominated the rest of the top 10.

Fourth on the list was Hess Corporation CEO John Hess ($US159.6 million/$191.45 million); followed by Ultra Petroleum Corp's Michael Watford ($US116.9 million/$140.23 million); Chesapeake Energy's Aubrey McClendon ($US114.3 million/$137.11 million); XTO Energy's Bob Simpson ($US103.5 million/$124.15 million); EOG Resources CEO Mark Papa ($US90.5 million/$108.56 million); and Nabors Industries's Eugene Isenberg ($US79.3 million/$95.12 million).

Rounding out the top 10 was retailer Abercrombie & Fitch Co CEO Michael Jeffries, with a total package worth $US71.8 million ($86.13 million).

The report comes with the US Congress and White House increasingly scrutinising CEO pay.

The US House of Representatives last month passed legislation aimed at curbing Wall Street pay packages, amid deep public outrage over lavish compensation at firms bailed out by the US government.

The House measure, dubbed "Say-On-Pay", gives shareholders the right to cast annual non-binding votes on top executives' pay and give government regulators the ability to curb some forms of compensation they see as harmful.