12 Leaders Who Took $1 Salaries — and How They Fared
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On "60 Minutes" this weekend, President-Elect Donald Trump said that he would refuse the $400,000 annual salary allocated for the job of commander in chief. "I think I have to by law take $1, so I’ll take $1 a year," Trump said.
Wealthy CEOs and political leaders choose to give up paychecks for many reasons. Among tech executives like the late Steve Jobs, bypassing a salary is the ultimate way to bet on oneself: If the companies they run do well, they can earn a fortune. In some cases, there are also tax advantages in forsaking a salary in favor of stock options or other forms of compensation. Trump himself appears to have declared little or no salary over the years from many of his companies in order to avoid paying taxes.
As for how those CEOs and presidents actually perform on the job while collecting next to nothing in salary, it's a mixed bag. The absence of a fat salary doesn't mean that an executive or politician will be a bust, just as a huge paycheck is no guarantee of outstanding work. Most of the leaders who are bold enough to take on such situations are already highly successful people who aren't motivated by money—or rather, not just by money.
What's more, skipping a salary also sends a powerful "we're all in this together" message to employees, investors, and constituents—all while demonstrating how stinking rich you must be to turn down income.
Michael Bloomberg, New York City Mayor
The New York Times estimated that being mayor of New York City cost Michael Bloomberg somewhere in the neighborhood of $650 million. That's because Bloomberg rejected the $2.7 million worth of salary he was supposed to collect as mayor from 2001 to 2013, and he personally dropped hundreds of millions more on campaigns, travel, and various city programs and charities.
Bloomberg is a self-made billionaire who founded the media and global financial data company Bloomberg LP. He is ranked among the world's 10 richest people, with a net worth over $40 billion. As mayor, Bloomberg guided the city through the shaky post-9/11 landscape, and after eight years of strong jobs growth and plummeting crime rates, the financial crisis hit and Bloomberg circumvented term limits to be elected for another four years in office. As the Wall Street Journal put it, Bloomberg is credited for bringing "a businessman's sensibilities, obsessed with data and accountability and armed with almost unlimited resources" to City Hall. But critics point out than under Bloomberg's reign, the city became much less affordable to the poor and middle-classes, and his campaigns to step up gun control and ban soda were largely failures.
In any event, New York City taxpayers got quite a deal: Bloomberg collected a grand total of $12 in salary—$1 per year—during his time in office.
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Richard Hayne, Urban Outfitters
In 2011 and 2012, Urban Outfitters' CEO Richard Hayne earned in the low $30s annually. That's low $30 thousands, not millions. Hayne's salary is just $1 per year, but he generally earns more than that thanks to some other forms of compensation, including a $5,000 holiday bonus in 2012. According to Morningstar, Hayne's compensation has surpassed $100,000 only once in the past five years, and even his 2015 earnings ($535,000) were a pittance compared to the typical big company CEO.
Hayne's compensation is directly tied to the company's revenues, and while stunts by the retailer such as a faux bloody Kent State sweatshirt and a tapestry reminiscent of the Holocaust have generated controversy, they haven't yielded strong sales. The youth-focused retailer has also been relentlessly mocked on social media for absurdly high prices. Like many upscale apparel sellers, Urban Outfitters has struggled to compete with cheap fast-fashion retailers like H&M. The trajectory of Hayne's earnings and his company's profits may be changing, though, as Urban Outfitters' sales rebounded in 2016, and its stock has doubled in price over the past 12 months, after dropping 35% in 2015.
Herbert Hoover, U.S. President
Eight months into his presidency, Herbert Hoover had the misfortune of being in charge of the country when the stock market crashed in 1929. The event ushered in the Great Depression, and doomed Hoover, who had run for president in 1928 with the promise of "a chicken in every pot and two cars in every garage." Ironically, Hoover also predicted during his campaign that "We in America today are nearer to the final triumph over poverty than ever before in the history of any land. The poorhouse is vanishing from among us."
Instead of eliminating poverty, Hoover is best remembered for the shantytown "Hoovervilles" that were built by out-of-work Americans in the 1930s on the outskirts of cities with nowhere else to live. What's mostly forgotten is that Hoover, who grew to great wealth in the mining industry and was one of America's richest presidents, was the first to donate his salary to charity each year.
John F. Kennedy, U.S. President
Joseph Kennedy, Sr., made a fortune in the liquor business early in the 20th century, and his wealth hit new heights because he timed the stock market perfectly—liquidating much of his portfolio just before the 1929 crash, and then reinvesting when prices were hitting bottom during the Great Depression. So when his son, John. F. Kennedy, got into politics, it wasn't particularly difficult for him to donate his salaries to charity when he was a member of Congress and the president. (When JFK was president, the annual salary was $100,000, or about $800,000 in today's dollars.)
Before Donald Trump, JFK was America's richest president by far, with a net worth of about $1 billion in today's dollars. In 2013, on the 50th anniversary of his assassination, JFK was named the highest-rated modern president in a Gallup poll, with 74% of survey participants naming his job in office as "outstanding/above average," compared to 61% for Ronald Reagan, 55% for Bill Clinton, and 21% for George W. Bush. On the other hand, a more recent survey of political scientists said JFK was our most overrated president.
Kennedy is remembered for being a dashing, charismatic leader who helped advance civil rights, founded the Peace Corps, and projected strength during some of the darkest days of the Cold War. But as Nate Silver wrote, it's hard to truly evaluate Kennedy as a president because he was killed before completing his first term.
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Edward Lampert, Sears
Sears Holdings, which runs Kmart and its flagship stores all over the country, lost $1.1 billion amid a 20% decline in revenues last year. But the company can't blame its struggles on fat paychecks going to the CEO: Edward Lampert, the hedge-fund manager who took over Sears' leadership role in 2013, collects an annual salary of $1. It must be noted, though, that he was compensated with $4.3 million in stock options last year.
In addition to forsaking a normal salary, Lampert's hedge fund has supplied hundreds of millions of dollars in financing to try to transform the company into a profitable retail operation. It hasn't been successful thus far. The company is closing 78 Sears and Kmart stores this year alone. As Lampert told investors in 2014, bleakly: "Closing stores is going to be part of our future."
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John Mackey, Whole Foods
Of the top seven executives at Whole Foods, six collect pay packages of at least $1.5 million annually. The other one, company co-founder and co-CEO John Mackey, has made a mere $1 annually since 2007. "I don't think of myself as particularly special or noble for doing it. It's just what I want to do," Mackey told the Wall Street Journal at the time regarding his unusual compensation. "I have enough money, and the deeper motivations for me are to do service and try to do good in the world."
When Mackey's company went public in 1992, there were only 10 stores and the chain was regarded mostly as a niche health-foods operation. Today, there are 462 stores in North America and the U.K., and over the years Whole Foods has proved enormously influential in the spread of organic foods to all major supermarkets.
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Larry Page & Sergey Brin, Alphabet
One way that Google's co-founders announced that they were major players in the tech world was by following the lead of Apple's Steve Jobs and paying themselves annual salaries of just $1 each as of 2005. Because Page and Brin own substantial chunks of Alphabet—the enormously successful parent company of their baby, Google—they have grown phenomenally wealthy.
Page, Alphabet's CEO, is worth $37.1 billion, while the net worth of Brin, the company's president, is slightly lower. Both are ranked among the top 10 wealthiest people in the world, and their company is #36 on the Fortune 500.
Elon Musk, Tesla
Elon Musk technically earns more than $1 annually, but that's only because of minimum wage requirements in California, where his company, the ground-breaking electric vehicle manufacturer Tesla Motors, is headquartered. So Musk's total compensation was $37,584 in 2015. Yet even that tiny minimum wage payout has been rejected by Musk year after year.
How Musk makes money isn't really determined by any mere paycheck. He owns more than one-quarter of Tesla, so as the company's value rises, so does Musk's net worth—estimated at $11 billion lately.
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Stoppelman joined the ranks of tech CEOs with $1 base salaries in 2013. The Yelp CEO's salary is still only a buck, but he's not really working for free. Last year, for instance, Stoppelman earned $919,315 in total compensation, thanks mostly to stock options.
With Stoppelman in charge at the popular user-review site, Yelp has repeatedly rejected buyout offers from the likes of Google and Yahoo. When the privately-held Yelp briefly put itself up for sale last year, it was estimated to be worth over $3 billion.
Meg Whitman, Hewlett Packard
Hewlett Packard Enterprise chief Meg Whitman may make only $1 a year in salary, but her total annual compensation is loaded with bonuses and stock options. As a result, she's generally one of the highest-paid executives in tech. For example, Whitman earned $17.1 million in 2015 -- a 13% from the previous year.
Whitman has overseen HP during trying times. The company's stock plunged to an 11-year low in 2012, and last year Whitman led the decision to split Hewlett Packard into two different businesses and cut tens of thousands of jobs in the process. The consensus is that HP is in much better shape than it was when Whitman took over as CEO five years ago, and that her time with the company may be nearing its end. (She was rumored to have been a candidate for Secretary of the Treasury in a Hillary Clinton administration, but we know that's not going to happen now.)
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook
"I've made enough money. At this point, I'm just focused on making sure I do the most possible good with what I have." That's how Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg explained in 2015—naturally, in a Q&A on Facebook—that he would be accepting a salary of only $1 annually while devoting himself to philanthropy.
As for Zuck's success, it's difficult to overestimate the incredible rise of TIME's 2010 Person of the Year and the company he founded in his dorm room. At last check, Zuckerberg is worth about $50 billion, making him the fourth richest person on the planet. In 2015, Facebook became one of the world's top 10 most valuable companies, bumping out Walmart.