Decoding the 4 Types of Executive Compensation: Maximizing Rewards‍

Casey Fenton


January 4, 2024

In March 2023, Financial Times reported that in the past years, as Silicon Valley Bank embarked on its daring quest for greater profitability, top executives Greg Becker and Daniel Beck found themselves at the helm of an opportunity-laden ship. Multiyear bonus awards, intricately linked to the bank's return on equity (RoE), propelled their paychecks to remarkable new peaks. The bank's RoE, a critical measure of profitability, witnessed a sharp surge between 2017 and 2021—a period that saw Becker's cash bonus surge to an awe-inspiring $3 million, and Beck's bonus reach an astounding $1.4 million, both eclipsing their earnings from previous years.

In the dynamic realm of corporate leadership, understanding the intricacies of executive pay has emerged as a vital key to unlocking the path to prosperity. Silicon Valley Bank stands as a compelling testament to this truth, as its strategic maneuver to bolster profitability through riskier assets sent executive compensation soaring to unprecedented heights. This riveting tale not only sheds light on the immense significance of comprehending executive pay but also highlights how well-structured compensation packages can serve as potent catalysts for a company's triumphant journey.

This financial revelation magnifies the undeniable importance of executive pay structures. A well-designed compensation package can serve as a powerful incentive, aligning the interests of top-level executives with the company's long-term goals. By motivating executives to think strategically and make decisions that drive the company's success, such packages become instrumental in steering the ship of corporate prosperity.

Understanding Executive Compensation

Executive compensation is a specialized form of remuneration designed for top-level management, including CEOs, CFOs, and other key executives. These packages are intended to motivate, retain, and attract highly skilled individuals who can drive the company's success. As businesses have evolved, so has executive pay. 

Initially, executive compensation was relatively straightforward, primarily consisting of a fixed salary. Over time, it has become more complex, including various performance-based incentives that link pay to the company's overall performance and shareholder value.

The Big Four: Components of an Executive Compensation Package

As an executive or a startup founder, you are well aware that a compensation package extends beyond a simple paycheck. It's a well-crafted ensemble of rewards designed to recognize your leadership, incentivize exceptional performance, and align your interests with the company's long-term success. In this section, we explore the four major components that make up an executive compensation package, shedding light on each element's significance and impact on your journey to excellence.

1. Base Salary

At the core of your compensation package lies your base salary—a fixed amount that acknowledges your experience, expertise, and responsibilities as a key leader. This consistent income serves as the foundation of your compensation, providing financial security and stability. 

Your base salary reflects the value placed on your skills and expertise in the competitive market. It not only acknowledges your contributions but also demonstrates the company's commitment to your role as a vital leader. As you progress in your career, your base salary may be subject to upward adjustments, recognizing your ongoing impact on the company's growth.

2. Bonuses

As an influential driver of your company's success, performance-based bonuses play a pivotal role in motivating and rewarding your exceptional achievements. These bonuses are tied to specific short-term or long-term goals, ranging from financial targets to strategic milestones. The thrill of achieving and exceeding these objectives fuels your determination to lead the company to new heights.

Performance-based bonuses serve as potent incentives, driving you to achieve your full potential. The thrill of meeting and surpassing targets motivates you and your fellow executives to go above and beyond in driving the company's success. As a result, your compensation becomes a tangible reflection of your exceptional performance.

3. Benefits

Your compensation package encompasses a range of executive benefits aimed at enhancing your overall well-being and work-life balance. These perks may include comprehensive health insurance, retirement plans with employer contributions, access to exclusive clubs or memberships, and generous vacation allowances. These benefits acknowledge your dedication to the advancement of the company.

Executive benefits cater to your holistic well-being, ensuring that you have access to valuable resources that promote a healthy work-life balance. From comprehensive health insurance plans that prioritize your wellness to retirement benefits that secure your future, these perks exemplify the company's commitment to your welfare and overall job satisfaction.

4. Equity Compensation

Perhaps the most potent component of your package, equity compensation grants you a stake in the company's future success. It aligns your interests with those of shareholders, fostering a sense of ownership and commitment to long-term growth. Equity compensation often comes in the form of stock options, restricted stock units (RSUs), or stock appreciation rights (SARs).

Your stake in the company's equity sets your journey apart from other forms of compensation. As you gain equity, you become personally invested in the company's long-term growth. This alignment of interests ensures that your focus extends far beyond short-term gains, driving strategic decisions that benefit both you and the company in the long run.

Reasons Why It is Important to Discuss Executive Pay

As a leader at the forefront of your company's success, the importance of discussing executive pay cannot be overstated. Engaging in transparent conversations about executive compensation serves as a powerful catalyst for growth and prosperity. In this section, we’ll explore the compelling reasons why embracing open discussions on executive pay is a strategic imperative for your company's continued triumph.

1. Aligning Interests

When executive pay is linked to the company's performance, your interests become inherently aligned with those of the organization and its shareholders. This alignment fosters a sense of shared purpose, inspiring you to make decisions that contribute to the long-term success of the company.

2. Attracting and Retaining Top Talent

Attracting and retaining exceptional executives like yourself is essential. A robust and competitive compensation package is a magnetic force that draws top talent to your company, ensuring a leadership team capable of driving innovation and seizing opportunities.

3. Motivating Performance

Performance-based pay structures act as a powerful motivator, driving you and your fellow executives to push boundaries and achieve strategic goals. By rewarding your contributions based on tangible results, the company fuels a culture of excellence and continuous improvement.

4. Ensuring Accountability

Openly discussing executive pay promotes a culture of transparency and accountability. As a leader, your compensation becomes a visible representation of your commitment to achieving the company's objectives, inspiring confidence among stakeholders and shareholders alike.

5. Cultivating Trust

Trust is the bedrock of successful relationships in any organization. By engaging in discussions about executive pay, you foster an environment of trust and respect among all stakeholders, nurturing a collaborative atmosphere that drives collective success.

6. Promoting Fairness

Transparency in executive compensation ensures that all employees, from top-level executives to frontline staff, understand the rationale behind pay decisions. This commitment to fairness enhances employee morale and engagement, driving overall organizational performance.

7. Strategic Decision-Making

Knowledge of executive pay structures empowers you to make informed and strategic decisions that positively impact both your professional growth and the company's financial success. A deep understanding of your compensation package allows you to align your personal goals with the company's long-term vision.

8. Addressing Shareholder Concerns

As a publicly traded company, your shareholders take a keen interest in executive pay. Transparent discussions about compensation alleviate shareholder concerns and demonstrate your commitment to maximizing shareholder value.

9. Navigating Regulatory Compliance

The landscape of executive compensation is often subject to regulatory scrutiny. Open discussions about executive pay demonstrate your company's commitment to adhering to applicable laws and regulations, ensuring compliance and ethical practices.

10. Fueling Innovation

Executives who are confident in their compensation structures are more likely to focus on driving innovation and taking calculated risks. A well-designed compensation package encourages entrepreneurial thinking, pushing the boundaries of what's possible.

Equity Types Usually Offered as Executive Pay

As an executive poised to drive your company's triumph, your compensation package goes beyond a mere paycheck. It holds a transformative element that connects you intimately with the company's journey to greatness—equity compensation. It’s a powerful incentive that intertwines your interests with the company's long-term success. Equity compensation grants you a stake in the company's future, transforming you into a vested partner on the journey toward growth.

Here are some of the commonly used equity types for executive pay:

1. Stock Options

Stock options present you with the opportunity to purchase company shares at a predetermined price, known as the exercise price, within a specified period. These options become valuable when the company's stock price rises above the exercise price. As an executive, stock options align your interests with those of shareholders, providing you with a direct stake in the company's performance.

2. Restricted Stock Units (RSUs)

Restricted stock units (RSUs) grant you actual shares of company stock, but they come with a vesting schedule that determines when you gain full ownership. Typically, RSUs vest over a specific period, incentivizing you to remain committed to the company's success for the long term. Once fully vested, RSUs grant you the freedom to retain the shares or sell them on the open market.

RSUs offer a direct and tangible ownership stake in the company. As you gain ownership of the shares, you become more closely aligned with the interests of shareholders, fostering a sense of dedication to the company's future.

3. Stock Appreciation Rights (SARs)

Stock Appreciation Rights are similar to stock options, but they don't require you to purchase the shares initially. Instead, SARs provide you with the right to receive appreciation in the company's stock value over a specified period. When the stock price rises, you can exercise the SARs and receive the difference in value as cash or additional shares.

SARs offer similar financial benefits to stock options without the initial purchase requirement. This allows you to benefit from the appreciation of the company's stock value without needing to invest your own funds.

4. Performance Share Units (PSUs)

Performance Share Units align your compensation directly with the company's performance against specific targets, such as revenue growth or profitability. If the company achieves these pre-defined goals, you receive additional shares or cash as a reward. PSUs motivate you to drive the company's success, as your rewards are directly tied to the achievement of strategic objectives.

Equity vs. Cash Incentives

Equity compensation stands as a beacon of long-term partnership between you and the company. It grants you a tangible stake in the organization's future, aligning your interests with those of shareholders and fostering a sense of ownership. Through stock options, restricted stock units (RSUs), or stock appreciation rights (SARs), you become invested in the company's performance and growth. As the company flourishes, so does the value of your equity, igniting your motivation to drive strategic decisions that contribute to sustained success.

One significant advantage of equity incentives is their ability to reward you for the company's enduring prosperity. As stock prices rise and the organization thrives, your financial gains are amplified, creating a powerful incentive to lead with a long-term perspective. Moreover, equity compensation encourages loyalty and commitment, as vesting schedules often extend over several years. This loyalty is a driving force behind your dedication to steering the company through challenges and triumphs alike, fostering a culture of continuity and sustained growth.

Cash incentives, on the other hand, offer immediate gratification for your contributions and achievements. Performance-based bonuses and other cash rewards recognize your exceptional efforts in driving short-term goals and objectives. Such rewards offer flexibility, as you have the freedom to allocate them as you see fit—whether reinvesting in the company or utilizing them for personal needs.

Cash incentives serve as a powerful motivator, fueling your drive to excel in your role and surpass targets. By rewarding your performance with immediate financial gains, the company reinforces a culture of excellence and recognizes your impact on its bottom line. This recognition, in turn, bolsters your confidence and reinforces your commitment to continued success.

Ultimately, the blend of equity and cash incentives creates a dynamic compensation package that harmonizes short-term achievements with long-term partnerships. The interplay between immediate rewards and lasting ownership stakes propels you to make bold decisions, embrace innovation, and steer the company toward a prosperous future. 

Difference between Equity Offered by Private Companies and Public Companies

Executive compensation in private companies often involves equity awards that are not publicly traded. These may include phantom stock or equity appreciation rights. In contrast, public companies usually grant traditional stock options, RSUs, or SARs. Public company executives often face more stringent regulations regarding the timing and reporting of their equity transactions, ensuring transparency and fairness for all shareholders.

What Makes a Good Executive Compensation Structure


An effective executive compensation structure should be tied to the company's performance and financial goals. It should reward executives for achieving measurable objectives.

Balanced Mix

A well-designed compensation package strikes a balance between base salary, bonuses, benefits, and equity incentives, aligning short-term rewards with long-term goals.

Retention Incentives

Equity awards with vesting schedules incentivize executives to remain committed to the company's success over the long haul.

Clear Communication

Transparency and clear communication about executive compensation foster trust and understanding among stakeholders.

Executive Pay Need Not Be Extravagant, Only Fair

Understanding executive compensation is vital for both executives and stakeholders. A well-structured executive compensation package can serve as a powerful tool to attract, motivate, and retain top talent while aligning the interests of executives with those of the company and its shareholders. By considering the different components of executive compensation, including base salary, bonuses, benefits, and equity incentives, companies can maximize rewards and create a winning formula for sustainable long-term success.

If you’re aiming to reward your executives the same way as your valuable talents, consider outsourcing equity management to Upstock. We design RSU plans that help all key players in your company to remain in alignment with collective corporate goals. To find out how we do it, book a demo with us today.

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Casey Fenton

Founder, Upstock & Couchsurfing, AI and Equity Innovator

Casey Fenton, the founder of Upstock & Couchsurfing and an AI and equity innovator, has revolutionized how we perceive and implement equity in the workplace. His foresight in creating platforms that not only connect people but also align their interests towards communal and corporate prosperity has established him as a pivotal figure in technology and community building. Casey speaks worldwide on topics including ownership mindset, worker equity, With Upstock and Couchsurfing, he has demonstrated an unparalleled expertise in harnessing technology for the betterment of community interaction and organizational benefits.

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