U.S. taxpayers, the little people in the unforgettable words of the tax cheat Leona Helmsley, are rushing to complete their 2011 returns by April 17.
Hardly anyone else had as good a year as Timothy D. Cook, CEO of Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) since Aug. 24, whose salary, bonus, 401k and term life insurance payments amounted to $1.64 million.
Considering the median annual earnings for full-time wage and salary earners last year was $39,312, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Cook, 51, had a good year.
How about his stock bonanza? After Steve Jobs quit as CEO, Apple's compensation committee that included former U.S. Vice President Al Gore handed Cook a million restricted stock units (RSUs), equal to a million Apple shares. Half vest in August 2016, the rest in August 2021.
When they were awarded, Apple shares were trading around $376, so the award was valued around $376 million. Of course, everyone knows Apple shares have traded as high as $644 recently, making Cook's RSUs valued higher.
Based on Friday's closing price of $605.23, they're now worth $605 million.
Of course, Cook has skin in the game now. While some analysts have published target prices for Apple as high as $1,001, the shares could fall sharply by 2016.
Jobs, who sold all his Apple shares after being fired in 1985 and then rewarded himself when he came back in 1997, died owning 5.5 million shares now valued at $3.3 billion. He also held shares of Walt Disney Co. (NYSE: DIS), now valued at $5.8 billion. All shares are now in the Steven P. Jobs Trust, administered by his widow.
Even at his exalted compensation rate, Cook still isn't as rich as some other technology bigwigs. Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook got $500,000 with options of $1.46 million last year. Once the company completes its initial public offering, though, he plans to take only $1. But he'll control nearly 58 percent of the equity, valued around $28 billion.
Then there's the Google trio, CEO Larry Page and co-founder Sergey Brin and Chairman Eric Schmidt, whose 2011 compensation will be disclosed this week. Page and Brin both own shares valued around $16.9 billion; Schmidt's stake is only about $5.7 billion.
All might be invited to the yacht of Oracle (Nasdaq: ORCL) CEO Larry Ellison, whose 2011 pay was $14.9 million but owns shares valued at $32.4 billion. Or to the Texas home of Dell (Nasdaq: DELL) CEO Michael Dell, who gets a $950,000 salary but owns shares valued around $4 billion.
Other technology executives who didn't found their companies didn't do badly, either. Virginia Rometty, the new CEO of International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE: IBM), had total compensation of $8.3 million. Chairman Samuel Palmisano, who preceded her, got $31.8 million, so it might be reasonable to assume she'll do better this year.
At Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ), new CEO Meg Whitman got $1 as new CEO, along with options valued around $16.5 million. Whitman's already a billionaire due to her prior leadership of eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY), but her fortune failed to get her elected governor of California in 2010.
Some other new CEOs did well, too. New Advanced Micro Devices (NYSE: AMD) CEO Rory Read signed for a $1 million salary, a $1 million sign-on bonus, an apparent $333,000 cash bonus plus RSUs valued at $14 million. Read may not be driven around in a Rolls-Royce like AMD founder Jerry Sanders, but he's not doing badly.
Clearly, there's an air of unreality here. One can only hope all these executives will take a leaf from the book of Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) Chairman Bill Gates, whose stake is worth about $16.7 billion and who's already given away billions.
Since 1994, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has made grants exceeding $26.1 billion to health, development and education. Lots more could be earmarked to fight disease, ignorance and poverty.
David Zielenziger is a veteran editor and journalist who has written for newspapers including the Baltimore Sun, Asian Wall Street Journal and EETimes, as well as for...