Report: Top Trade Group CEOs See Salaries Increase

According to a recent study by CEO Update, some trade association executives are earning millions. However, many of these salaries are due to one-time charges or retirement payouts.

For large trade groups, chief executive salaries are on the rise.

That’s according to a report from CEO Update [paywall], which notes that 20 of the highest-paid association CEOs brought in $57.8 million in salary last year—with more executives earning salaries above $2 million.

Tom Kuhn of the Edison Electric Institute scored the largest paycheck in 2011, at $6.7 million. The total was padded by a supplemental executive retirement plan payment of $2.4 million.

Other highlights from the list:

The overarching trends: While very large payouts for association CEOs are on the decline, the number of CEOs with salaries of $2 million or higher is increasing, according to the survey. The average increase in salary for association CEOs was comparatively modest at 4.2 percent, but from a dollar-value standpoint, that’s a relatively high increase. For example, U.S. Chamber of Commerce CEO Thomas Donohue saw his salary jump by 4.2 percent, which meant an increase of $200,217 to his $4,916,571 salary in 2011.

Salaries not cut-and-dried: Politico, which covered the study, pointed out that these are not base salaries, and some of the executives ended up on the list due to one-time payments that boosted their 2011 incomes. “With the traditional trade executives, you aren’t going to see those salaries. They’ll increase, but not to any gigantic degree,” said David Karcher, CEO of the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery. He pulled in $2.6 million last year, making the list largely as a result of a one-time payment caused by IRS rules on deferred compensation.

Big names, big salaries: Expect the trend of high-paid trade group or nonprofit CEOs to continue, with big names such as former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty earning more. (Pawlenty is expected to earn $1.8 million as head of the Financial Services Roundtable.) Other political figures moving to the nonprofit side include Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), who announced his resignation from Congress last week to run the Heritage Foundation, where he is expected to receive a large salary.

Further down the list … ASAE’s Jim Clarke, speaking to Politico, noted that outside of the large, big-budget trade groups, salaries are rising as well—but on a different scale. “The vast majority of associations, I think, we’re seeing increases, but on a much different grade. They are more of a gradual ascent,” he explained.

Politico noted that few chief executives at trade groups were willing to openly discuss their earnings, though some organizations preemptively defended their executives.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, for example, noted in a statement that “Tom Donohue leads the largest, most active, and most influential trade organization in the world, and our board compensates him accordingly.”



Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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