The economic gap between many of Tampa's top business leaders and the rest of the work force is getting bigger.
Average wages in the bay area last year fell just over 1 percent to $38,382, the Tampa Bay Partnership reported recently.
Inside the corporate suites of Tampa Bay's biggest public companies, on the other hand, the financial news has been more uplifting.
At the 10 largest companies based in the bay area, the average CEO compensation package last year totaled $5.4 million, a Times analysis shows. Only three of the top 10 CEOs took in less money last year. Five received at least a double-digit percentage increase.
Among top performers, two nearly tripled their take-home pay, and one doubled it.
The highest paid among the top 10 was Mindy Grossman, CEO of HSN, whose compensation jumped 298 percent to $12.1 million, more than half of it tied to stock awards that surged in value thanks to HSN's high-flying stock.
The lowest-paid CEO in the group was John Byrnes of Lincare at $1.97 million. Byrnes, in fact, took the steepest pay cut last year, earning just a fraction of what he pulled down in 2009. But that huge drop only happened because Byrnes' 2009 payout blew all other local executives' out of the water. The Lincare executive made $19.8 million that year, thanks largely to one-time stock awards intended to carry him though until his contract ends after 2012.
Tampa Bay is hardly alone in seeing executive pay recover from the recession more quickly than that of most workers.
An Associated Press analysis this month found that executives leading the country's largest companies on average were paid better last year than they were in 2007, when the economy was booming and unemployment levels were roughly half of what they are today.
The AP study, using data provided by executive compensation research firm Equilar, found that the typical pay package for the top executive at a company in the Standard & Poor's 500 was $9 million in 2010, up 24 percent from a year earlier and up 7 percent from the previous high in 2007.
For many executives, last year's bounceback was tied to strong bonuses and stock awards reflecting both improved balance sheets and higher stock prices. Last year, stocks rose 13 percent on average.
Charles Elson, director of the Weinberg Center for Corporate Governance at the University of Delaware, cited surging stock prices as one of the main reasons for a growing discrepancy between workers and top managers.
"Rank and file get cash; they don't get stock," Elson said. "If they had gotten stock, they would have seen this (income rise) as well."
For the first time in a long time, shareholders are getting a chance to be more vocal about compensation concerns. They found their voice in part because almost all large public companies added "say-on-pay'' questions at their annual meetings this year, bowing to a new requirement under last year's Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.
Such shareholder votes are nonbinding, serving only as recommendations to rein in executive pay at some companies. But the added layer of public scrutiny might make boards — and their compensation committees, in particular — more sensitive to doling out huge payouts or questionable perks.
So far, about 1,100 companies have asked shareholders for their opinions on executive compensation. Only 25 companies failed to get majority shareholder backing for how they structured their compensation plans, according to Institutional Shareholder Services, a proxy advisory company based in Rockville, Md.
"Boards are at their peril to ignore results of the vote if they choose to," said ISS executive director Patrick McGurn. Based on reactions by some of those 25 that are re-examining their pay parameters, "it's pretty clear boards are taking this process quite seriously," he said.
Whether or not "say on pay" has been successful depends on the yardstick.
If the goal of members of Congress who pushed for the federal mandate was to lower overall CEO pay levels, "we have not seen evidence of that," McGurn said. However, he said, there has been a gradual move away from discretionary payments like car payments and health club benefits and toward directly aligning pay to executive performance.
Elson, for one, doubts that "say on pay" will be "the ultimate solution to the pay crisis." Rather, he advocates recruiting more independent board members who have no ties to management yet hold enough stock to be motivated by a company's overall financial performance. That would make them more likely to act in the company's interest instead of the CEO's, he maintains.
Elson is also critical of the common practice among compensation committees of tying executive pay to what executives at other companies make, rather than strictly on individual performance.
"It ultimately results in the ratcheting up of pay every year," he said. "There's a natural escalation that's unrelated to performance."
In determining executive pay, few criteria matter more than the performance of a company's stock. That certainly helped HSN's Grossman. Since the home shopping retailer's stock and market cap almost tripled, that boosted not only her compensation but that of three other top executives as well. Each earned more than $1 million in 2010, more than half of it in stock awards.
HSN's proxy statement said the company aims to pay to attract and keep talent "in a fast paced and highly competitive environment." In that vein, Grossman's take included a one-time payout of 200,000 shares of restricted stock that will be parceled out over the next three years — a "golden handcuff" arrangement to entice her to stay. She also received $113,776 for housing, $29,920 for an auto and $50,000 for her legal expenses renegotiating an extended employment contract.
Grossman still has a long way to go to top former CEO Barry Diller, the Hollywood mogul who parlayed HSN into an Internet conglomerate that made him a billionaire. In 2005, his $295 million compensation package made him the highest-paid CEO among chiefs of all publicly traded companies in the country.
Among other perks for the Tampa Bay CEOs noted in corporate proxy statements this year:
Byrnes, the head of Lincare, received $7,700 to cover golf club dues and $17,000 toward personal travel on company aircraft.
Bob Dutkowsky, CEO of Tech Data, was given a $20,000 contribution to his 401(k) plan and $11,000 worth of event tickets, family travel, food and lodging, or gifts in connection with business-related events.
Chuck Sykes, CEO of Sykes Enterprises, would have been eligible for a $7.4 million payout if he was terminated or there was a change in control of the company.
Times staff writer Mark Albright contributed to this report. Jeff Harrington can be reached at (727) 893-8242 or firstname.lastname@example.org.