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Can You Guess Which Automaker's CEO Is the Most Overpaid? (Hint: It's Not GM)

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Of course, Musk is an otherwise wealthy man, and no one is saying executives shouldn't accept their salaries, or even be well paid for the job they do. It's only when companies lavish pay and benefits on CEOs beyond reason or proportion that they become the target of activist and shareholder ire.

Driven to succeed

The automaker that As You Sow identifies as paying its CEO the most is Ford Motor Company . Former CEO Alan Mullaly received $23.2 million in total compensation in 2013.

The Blue Oval came in at No. 17 on the shareholder activist's top 100 list, behind such luminaries as ExxonMobil 's Rex Tillerson at No. 13, with $28.1 million, but well ahead of Marillyn A. Hewson at defense contractor Lockheed-Martin , who ranked 32nd, with $25.2 million in total compensation. General Motors' CEO, Mary Barra, received $14.4 million in total compensation for last year, and didn't crack the top 100 list -- making Ford the only automaker on it..

Ford's blue oval logo may make its competitors green with envy over how the automaker paid its executives.

As You Sow also found that if pay had been really based upon company performance, executive compensation would have been greatly reduced. Mulally's pay would have been around $10.8 million less than what he actually received, while Tillerson would have received $16.3 million less. Hewson, meanwhile, was found to have received $13.3 million in "excess pay."

Maybe it's not all about the stock

Some might reasonably counter that Mulally's pay at Ford was fully deserved. Maybe it was fortuitous, but he had the foresight to take out a big "$23.5 billion home improvement loan," as he called it, ahead of the financial crisis that got the automaker through the worst parts of the economic downturn. It allowed Ford to avoid being bailed out by taxpayers, and helped the automaker turn profitable again in 2013, when it earned $7.2 billion.

Of course, Mulally retired last summer as Ford's CEO and was replaced by the company's COO, Mark Fields, so it's not likely Ford will be making a repeat on As You Sow's survey next year. Even with the 33% raise Fields received with the promotion, his total compensation in 2013 was $10.2 million, including stock grants and options.

For 2014, Fields was to be paid a salary and bonus of as much as $5.3 million, along with some $3 million in stock options. As Gary Hewitt, the compensation analyst at GMI Ratings, told Bloomberg last year, "This is not jaw dropping for the executive compensation world."

Even after Ford's disappointing effort in 2014 that saw profits cut in half after fourth-quarter earnings were almost completely wiped out, investors would still probably give the automaker the benefit of the doubt. The results were still better than analyst expectations, and with the prospects for continued improvement in Europe, where losses are already narrowing (Ford says it will be profitable next year), investors are willing to wait to see it return to form. Shares of Ford have risen 26% from the lows they hit back in October.

No longer up on blocks

For an industry and a company that were on the brink of oblivion, former Ford CEO Alan Mulally's proven ability to turn the automaker around and drive it to profits -- and an overall stronger financial position -- means you won't find too many investors upset with what the company paid him. With his successor being paid more or less in line with the rest of the industry, Ford's reputation for bestowing excess compensation on its executives is probably at an end for the foreseeable future.

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The article Can You Guess Which Automaker's CEO Is the Most Overpaid? (Hint: It's Not GM) originally appeared on Fool.com.

FollowRich Duprey's coverage of all the most important news and developments in the leadingbrand name products you use. He has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Ford, General Motors, and Tesla Motors. The Motley Fool owns shares of ExxonMobil, Ford, and Tesla Motors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days . We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy .

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The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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