Top executives who have taken $1 salaries

Written by:
February 12, 2018

Top executives who have taken $1 salaries

The $1-a-year salary is a fabled status for executives in business and politics. For leaders who command massive organizations, the choice to cut salary to near-nothing can show an alignment between compensation and the success of the organization or in some cases, genuine altruism.

While these executives may not be seeing a weekly paycheck, they often receive lucrative alternative compensation in the form of corporate perks and stock options. Still, the circumstances that make leaders become members of the dollar salary club can offer revealing insights into the minds of these individuals and their organizations.

At Stacker, we analyzed SEC filings and historical news reports to discover executives who have taken notable pay cuts to a buck or less, digging into the key factors surrounding these decisions. From U.S. Presidents and Governors to CEOs, our list covers a wide range of famous leaders throughout the past century and their stories.

William Knudsen (Office of Production Management)

The $1-a-year legend starts during the early 20th Century, with William Knudsen playing a pivotal role. At age 21, Danish-born Knudsen moved to the United States and began working for a Buffalo-based bicycle and auto parts manufacturer. After an acquisition by Ford, Knudsen became an assembly line expert, eventually moving over to General Motors as President. Following the outbreak of WWII in 1939, President Roosevelt appointed Knudsen to lead the Office of Production Management where he paired public and private sector efforts to building the industrial war machine, in turn bringing creating a legion of “dollar-a-year” men from industrial corporations to work for the federal government.

Lee Iacocca (Chrysler Corporation)

After a 32-year career at Ford, Iacocca took the helm of Chrysler in 1979 as the iconic American company faced bankruptcy, taking an initial salary of $1. To start, Iacocca negotiated $2 billion in labor concessions paired with a $1.5 billion federal loan guarantee from the U.S. Government—a deal obtained by positioning the potential unemployment benefits tied to Chrysler’s bankruptcy as a greater cost to the U.S. government than a guarantee for Chrysler’s borrowing. In the year immediately following, Iacocca’s salary increased to $868,000 (equivalent to $2 million today).

Elon Musk (Tesla Motors, SpaceX)

Elon Musk was born in South African and taught himself computer programing before attending Queen’s University and Stanford University for his doctorate. After dropping out of Stanford, Musk became part of the elite “Paypal Mafia,” a group of early Paypal employees that would go on to create some of the world’s most transformational companies including LinkedIn, YouTube, Palantir, and Yelp.

Musk has launched a series of futuristic companies, including SpaceX in 2002 and Tesla in 2003, with the former recently successfully launching the massive Falcon 9 into space. Musk reportedly earned no money at Tesla in 2014, turning down compensation of $35,360, though his net worth is still estimated to be $20.7 billion.

In early 2018, a massive Tesla compensation plan was laid out that would reward Musk an estimated $55.8 billion in stock over ten years—provided he meets a series of incredibly aggressive milestones.

Jack Dorsey (Twitter)

Jack Dorsey dropped out of NYU and became involved with fashion design, but soon shifted his focus to tech while teaching himself to code. In 2006, Dorsey co-founded Twitter with Ev Williams, Biz Stone, and Noah Glass, serving as CEO for two years before stepping back from the top role. After a relatively busy respite—co-founding the now-public payment company Square—Dorsey returned to the CEO role in 2015, declining any salary but receiving a nearly $70,000 annual allocation for “residential, security and protective detail.” Dorsey currently owns 3.4% of Twitter worth $419 million and has an estimated net worth of $3.4 billion.

Robert Duggan (Pharmacyclics)

After losing a son to brain cancer, Robert Duggan took a risk and invested in biotech drug maker Pharmacyclics. He took over as CEO in 2008 in the midst of the company becoming a penny stock, and declined an annual salary. While the brain cancer drug failed to break through, by 2013 the company had invented a breakthrough drug to treat lymphocytic leukemia, eventually leading to the sale of Pharmacyclics for which earned Duggan a pre-tax payout of $3.4 billion.

David Filo (Yahoo!)

In 1994, David Filo and Jerry Yang created “Jerry and David's Guide to the World Wide Web,” an early internet directory in the early days of the web which would soon rebrand to Yahoo!. In 2014, Filo reportedly received an annual salary of $1 with no other incentives for his role as “Chief Yahoo” while forgoing board compensation. In 2017, Yahoo! was sold to Verizon for $4.8 billion. Filo and his wife are founders of the Yellow Chair Foundation in effort to support the environment, gender equality, and education.

Larry Ellison (Oracle Corporation)

In 1977, Larry Ellison founded the software firm Oracle where he worked to create enterprise-level databases, rivaling the service of competitors Microsoft and Sybase. In 2010, Ellison started accepting salary of $1 paired with an extremely lucrative stock compensation plan which peaked at $96.2 million in 2012 to make him the highest paid CEO in the United States. Ellison has a net worth of over $60 billion and stepped down from the CEO role in 2014. He remains chairmen of the board and is major financial supporter of cancer research.

John Mackey (Whole Foods Market)

John Mackey co-founded Whole Foods in 1980 with the intention of making organic food readily available. While he once received an annual salary of $436,000, Mackey cut his salary to $1 per year a decade ago while electing to donate any expected additional compensation to Whole Foods foundations.

Sergey Brin (Alphabet Inc.)

Sergey Brin immigrated to the United States from Russia and obtained a PhD in computer science from Stanford University, where he met future business partner Larry Page. Brin made his fortune by co-founding the search engine giant Google with Page in 1998. Since 2004, Brin and Page have both earned $1 salaries. Currently, Brin has a net worth of $48.9 billion amassed through his significant ownership stake and is the president of Alphabet Inc., the parent company of Google, which has expanded its scope into areas like life sciences, self-driving cars, and virtual reality.

Darren Entwistle (TELUS)

This Canadian businessman gave up an annual salary in favor of company shares for three consecutive years, from 2009 to 2012. Darren Entwistle joined TELUS in 2000 as CEO and has since doubled the size of the company to revenues of $10.9 billion. When he is not running a successful business, Entwistle serves on a number of boards that include Canadian Board Diversity Council and the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. In 2015, Entwistle ranked 24th in Canada’s Top 100 highest-paid CEOs, with  $1,375,000 in annual salary and $8,752,702 in other compensation.

Richard Fairbank (Capital One Financial)

Richard Fairbank co-founded Capital One with business partner Nigel Morris in 1994 and has since led as one of the longest-serving bank CEOs in America. Fairbank does not take a salary but has averaged $18 million in compensation per year for the past three years. With a net worth of $1.1 billion, Fairbank is the fourth CEO of a U.S. bank to make the Bloomberg Billionaires index.

William Clay Ford Jr. (Ford Motor Company)

William Clay Ford Jr. is the great grandson of founder Henry Ford, and first joined the Ford company in 1979, where he worked in product development and financial services. Ford rose to CEO from 2001 to 2006 where he received over $5 million in restricted stock instead of a salary. After stepping down from CEO in 2006, Ford became executive chairmen , currently receives an annual salary of $1.65 million with a total estimated compensation of nearly $14 million

Richard Hayne (Urban Outfitters)

As a self-described hippie, Richard Hayne and his ex-wife opened a single Urban Outfitters store in 1976 with only $4,000. Since then, Urban Outfitters Inc. has grown its operation to over 400 stores and $3 billion in revenue. Hayne, who currently has a net worth of $1.51 billion due to his extensive ownership stake, started receiving a $1 salary in 2009 with the chance to earn performance bonuses as much as $500,000.

Herbert Hoover (former President of the United States)

Before Herbert Hoover was the 31st President of the United States, Hoover worked in the mining districts of California and Nevada during the gold rush where he served as geologist and engineer under harsh conditions, where he earning a starting salary of $5,000 (equivalent to $100,000 today) and soon amassed massive mining business operations. Eight months into Hoover’s presidency in 1929, the Great Depression struck the nation as markets crashed and millions lost their jobs. In light of his previous wealth and the crisis facing the nation, President Hoover donated his full salary to various charities and organizations.

Steve Jobs (Apple)

Steve Jobs famously co-founded Apple in 1976 with Steve Wozniak out of his modest Los Altos garage. After taking the company public but being forced to resign in 1985, he founded NeXT and Pixar (acquired by Disney), with the former being acquired by Apple in 1997 and returning Jobs to the company. Jobs received a $1 salary from 1998 until his death in 2011, at which point he had a net worth of over $10 billion and a legacy as one of the most iconic company leaders of all time.

John F. Kennedy (former President of the United States)

John F. Kennedy was born into a prominent Boston family and is regarded for his charismatic political leadership throughout pivotal moments in the civil rights era and cold war before his assassination. Given his family’s wealth (estimated to be $1 billion), JFK elected to donate his salary from his presidency and 14 years in Congress.

Jan Koum (Whatsapp)

In 1992, 16-year-old Jan Koum immigrated to Mountain View, California with his mother. After an impoverished childhood, Koum learned computer science and parlayed a role with Ernst and Young into working as an infrastructure engineer with Yahoo, where he met future business partner Brian Acton. The two launched mobile messaging platform WhatsApp in 2009 and saw explosive growth before being acquired by Facebook for $19 billion in 2014. Koum accepted a position on the Facebook board with a salary of $1 and stock options that he has since sold for $5 billion, bringing his current net worth to $9.1 billion.

Larry Page (Alphabet Inc.)

Larry Page describes himself during his childhood as being fascinated with computers and science, where he later pursued that passion through a PhD in computer science at Stanford University. Page co-founded Google with business partner Sergey Brin in 1998, and served as CEO until 2001. He has a net worth of $50.6 billion and has accepted a $1 annual salary since going public with Google in 2004.

Meg Whitman (Hewlett-Packard)

Meg Whitman was the CEO of Hewlett Packard Enterprise, and ranked 20th in Forbes List of the 100 Most Powerful Women in the World. She previously served as CEO of eBay from 1998 to 2008, where she grew the company from 30 people and $4 million revenue to 15,000 people and $8 billion in revenue. In 2014, Whitman took a $1 salary with stock options that totaled $15.2 million and currently has a net worth of $3.3 billion. Her salary rose to $1.5 million in 2016, part of a more than $35 million compensation package after streamlining the company.

Vikram Pandit (Citigroup)

Vikram Pandit taught economics at Columbia and Brock University before joining Morgan Stanley in 1983, where he later became managing director. In 2007, Pandit was named CEO of Citigroup, where he worked for two years with an annual salary of $1 as he helped pull the company out of the financial crisis. In 2009, he starting receiving a $1.75 million salary with total compensation of $7.72 million. Pandit eventually resigned from the CEO position in 2012.

Mark Pincus (Zynga)

Mark Pincus was a an early investor in Facebook and Twitter before founding his own company Zynga in 2007 where he served as CEO until 2013. He returned for a short time in 2015, but stepped down the following year. In 2013, he decided we would earn a $1 annual salary, but later chose a salary of $1 million and $30 million in stocks. Pincus currently has a net worth of $1.5 billion.

Richard Riordan (Mayor of Los Angeles)

Richard Riordan is a businessman and investor who served as the Mayor of Los Angeles from 1993 to 2001, where he received a salary of $1 for his time in office.  Riordan made his fortune investing in technology startups and by creating the equity firm Riordan, Freeman & Spogli. Riordan would later run for Governor of California in 2002, but didn’t get the nomination, though he later served as Secretary for Education under Governor Schwarzenegger

Eric Schmidt (Google)

Eric Schmidt served as CEO of Google from 2001 to 2011, where he maintained Google’s rapid growth while building out the company’s infrastructure. In 2004, Schmidt agreed to cut his $250,000 salary to $1, along with Larry Page and Sergey Brin. Schmidt transitioned from CEO to Chairman in 2011, with his salary rising significantly In December 2017, it was announced that Schmidt would be stepping down from the role of Executive Chairman to become a technical advisor to the company.

Arnold Schwarzenegger (former Governor of California)

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s unbelievable rise from Austrian immigrant to bodybuilder to movie star took an incredible turn when he became Governor of California in 2003. During his eight years in office, Schwarzenegger only received a salary of $1, choosing to live off his previously acquired wealth.

Jeremy Stoppelman (Yelp)

Jeremy Stoppelman is the co-founder and CEO of the crowd-sourced review app Yelp. The tech entrepreneur said he first started investing in stocks at the age of 14 and had a passion for computers that fueled his dream of being a game developer, which lead him to study computer engineering at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. After a successful run with the “Paypal Mafia,” Stoppelman launched Yelp in 2004. In 2013, Stoppelman cut his $300,000 salary to a buck while receiving a two-year stock plan worth an estimated $2 million. In 2016, a confessional of a low-wage Yelp employee ripped through social media, renewing the conversation on minimum wage work and increasingly cost-of-living for metros like the Bay Area.

Jerry Yang (Yahoo!)

Jerry Yang co-founded Yahoo with business partner David Filo in 1994, which acted as an internet directory before navigation was simplified. Yang took over as CEO after Terry Semel’s departure in 2007, and served until 2009. While serving as CEO, Yang received a salary of $1. Yang left Yahoo in 2012 and currently funds over 50 tech startups; his net worth is valued at $2.7 billion.

Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook)

Through the influence of Facebook, Zuckerberg has become one of the youngest ultra-billionaires in the world, with a net worth of $72 billion. In 2013, Zuckerberg cut his $500,000 salary in favor of a $1 salary, stating that he has enough money and wants to focus on doing good with the money he has. 

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