Here’s what CEOs around Charlotte earned in 2018. A familiar name tops the list again

LendingTree’s Doug Lebda topped the list of the Charlotte area’s highest-paid CEOs for the second year in a row in 2018, despite seeing a significant pay cut, according to an annual Observer analysis.

Lebda’s total compensation dropped 29%, from $59.6 million in 2017 to $42.3 million last year. The bulk of his compensation comes from stock awards and options to buy company stock, issued as part of a retention deal.

Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan came in second, earning $22.4 million, largely in the form of restricted stock awards tied to company performance. The bank said in a securities filing that it had record earnings last year. The company declined to comment on Moynihan’s compensation.

And steel maker Nucor’s CEO, John Ferriola, had the third-highest pay package, $15.6 million, after seeing a compensation hike of 28.7%. Ferriola’s pay is performance-based, and the company posted record revenue, earnings and steel shipments in 2018, Nucor spokeswoman Katherine Miller said in an email.


In its annual analysis, the Observer reviewed securities filings for 23 publicly traded companies based in Charlotte and nearby counties, including salaries, bonuses, stock grants, options grants and perks, such as supplemental payments for cars and use of the corporate jet.

The median pay for the local CEOs was $6.7 million. That’s up about 13% from 2017’s median.

Still, other executives around the country were making a lot more than the median for CEOs in Charlotte: The national median pay for CEOs who have served in their roles for at least two years at companies traded in the S&P 500 is $12 million, according to compensation research firm Equilar.

Large equity awards like those that Lebda and Moynihan received are becoming more common nationally for executives, Equilar project manager Charlie Pontrelli said. He said the goal of the stock-related incentives is to encourage CEOs to stay in their roles, and to motivate them to work toward shareholder interests.

“The more stock they have coming to them, the more incentivized they’ll be to increase the value of the stock,” Pontrelli said.

On the rise

The CEO who saw the largest increase in pay was Eric Steigerwalt at Brighthouse Financial. His pay surged 688%, from just under $2 million to $15.5 million, bringing him to the No. 4 ranking for overall compensation.

Brighthouse was created from insurance company MetLife’s spin off of its U.S. retail operations in 2017.

One key reason for the increase: Because the company wasn’t spun off until August 2017, Steigerwalt’s reported compensation in 2017 represents only about five months of compensation, Brighthouse spokeswoman Meghan Lantier said in an email.

Eric Steigerwalt
Eric Steigerwalt, CEO of Brighthouse Financial. Steigerwalt was the fourth-highest paid CEO in the Charlotte area in 2018. Courtesy of Brighthouse

A large portion of Steigerwalt’s 2018 compensation came in a “Founders’ Grant” valued at $9 million, with restricted stock units tied to the company meeting certain performance metrics. The grants for the executives were authorized in 2017 by the company’s board, but because they were subject to shareholder approval at last year’s annual meeting, they were reported for 2018, the company said in its proxy statement.

Steigerwalt’s achievements for the year included helping reduce corporate expenses and increasing sales, the company said.

Extended Stay America’s CEO saw the second largest percentage pay increase last year. CEO Jonathan Halkyard saw an increase of roughly 133% compared to his predecessor’s pay in 2017.

Halkyard was named CEO effective Jan. 1, 2018, replacing Gerry Lopez. Extended Stay spokesman Rob Ballew said Halkyard’s 2018 compensation of $4.9 million is higher than Lopez’s $2.1 million from 2017. But Halkyard’s compensation rate over several years is expected to be lower than Lopez’s.

Jonathan Halkyard Headshot.jpg
Jonathan Halkyard, CEO of Extended Stay America, earned $4.9 million in 2018. WAYNE ST. JOHN Courtesy of Extended Stay America

Lopez had received larger stock grants some years, and his 2017 pay was lower because he didn’t receive a stock grant that year, Ballew said.

Others CEOs with big increases were Curtiss-Wright Corporation’s David Adams (up 74%, to $6.2 million) and Cato Corporation’s John Cato (up 52.8%, to $4.3 million). Curtiss-Wright manufactures components for industries from nuclear power to aviation, and Cato is a women’s fashions retailer.

A compensation drop

Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good — one of two female CEOs on the list — saw the largest percentage decline in compensation among the CEOs, dropping her from the No. 3 ranking to No. 6 for total compensation.

Her compensation declined by nearly 35%, from $21 million to $13.8 million last year.


The change is because Good’s 2017 pay included a one-time, $7 million grant, said Duke Energy spokesman Neil Nissan. Her 2017 compensation was her highest in six years as CEO, the Observer reported last year. The $7 million grant was a retention incentive and to match compensation levels of similar executives, according to Duke Energy.

Nissan said about 90% of Good’s direct pay is stock or performance-based, and dependent on corporate and stock performance.

LendingTree’s CEO

Over at LendingTree, Lebda’s pay declined by 29% in 2018.

Here’s why. Because of Securities and Exchange Commission rules, LendingTree said in its proxy statement, the company is required to report the grant date fair value of equity awards in the year they are awarded, even though it is a multi-year program. That resulted in a “significantly greater proportion” of Lebda’s intended compensation for the next four years being reported in 2017, the company stated.

Nevertheless, he remains among the highest paid CEOs in the country, based on comparing his compensation with data from an Equilar report on CEOs at public companies with over $1 billion in revenue. Though LendingTree’s revenue doesn’t meet that cutoff, Lebda would rank 14th.

Doug Lebda, CEO of LendingTree, was the highest paid CEO in Charlotte last year, earning $42.3 million. Courtesy of LendingTree

Lebda’s compensation comes as LendingTree posts strong financial results, and has acquired other companies to diversify its revenue sources. In a statement, LendingTree spokeswoman Megan Greuling said the pay package was designed to align with increases in stockholder value, and is “highly dependent” on future performance of the company.

Corporate changes

There are a few changes on this year’s CEO list for the Observer, as two companies dropped off and one was added, because of corporate deals.

Fast-food chain Bojangles’ announced in November that it had agreed to be taken private in an all-cash deal by two New York firms estimated to be worth over $700 million, the Observer reported.

Industrial conglomerate Babcock & Wilcox Enterprises announced last September it would move its headquarters from Charlotte to Akron, Ohio, the Observer reported at the time. And industrial manufacturer NN, Inc., previously based in Tennessee, said in 2017 it would move its headquarters to Charlotte.

There will be even more potential changes to the list next year, as other companies have announced expansions or moves in Charlotte, including formerly New Jersey-based Fortune 100 company Honeywell. The manufacturing tech company – not included in the Observer’s review this year – officially became a Charlotte-based company Aug. 1.

BB&T and SunTrust announced plans to merge and put their new Truist bank’s headquarters in Charlotte in an approximately $66 billion deal.

And in a deal worth over $734 million, the Smith family wants to take Speedway Motorsports Inc. private, according to an April securities filing.

CEO switches

This year’s list also has several new faces.

JELD-WEN Holding Inc., which manufactures windows and doors, named Gary Michel president and CEO last year, after the departure of former executive Mark Beck.

David Smith took over as CEO at Sonic Automotive in September after his brother Scott stepped down.

At Lowe’s home improvement chain, former J.C. Penney CEO Marvin Ellison replaced Robert Niblock as top executive in July 2018.

Marvin Ellison Courtesy of Lowe's

Bubble Wrap maker Sealed Air got a new CEO last year too, after former boss Jerome Peribere stepped down. Ted Doheny took over as Sealed Air CEO in January 2018.

Sealed Air CEO Ted Doheny, who took over in January 2018. Courtesy of Sealed Air

In March, manufacturer EnPro Industries’ then-CEO Stephen Macadam announced he would retire at the end of July. Marvin Riley, former chief operating officer for the company, has taken over the top job.

Macadam was No. 18 on the ranking of Charlotte-area CEO 2018 compensation, with a total compensation of $4.6 million. Riley’s salary was not reviewed in the Observer’s analysis of 2018 compensation.

Planes, cars and country clubs

Many of the CEOs get additional compensation for perks like relocation costs, use of corporate planes and country club memberships.

Coca-Cola Consolidated’s J. Frank Harrison III saw the most compensation devoted to perks, $1.8 million. He’s the only CEO the Observer reviewed to top $1 million in this category.

Part of Harrison’s perks was a $45,000 executive allowance – money he can spend any way he wishes, without informing the company, according to Coca-Cola Consolidated’s proxy filing. The majority of Harrison’s compensation for perks, $1.1 million, comes from company contributions to a savings plan including a 401(k). The company declined to comment on his perks.

Frank Harrison
J. Frank Harrison, III, CEO of Coca-Cola Consolidated, had the most compensation devoted to perks. Courtesy of Coca-Cola Consolidated

The next highest compensated CEO in perks is NN Inc.’s Rich Holder, with $856,434, including for relocation expenses, personal use of company aircraft, automobile allowance and country club dues.

Eleven of the 23 top executives get money for personal use of corporate-owned or -leased planes.

Bank of America’s Moynihan tops that list, with $334,139 devoted to personal use of the company plane. Moynihan also got $6,446 dedicated to business-related gifts and guest travel.


Other CEOs able to use corporate jets for personal use include LendingTree’s Lebda, Coca-Cola Consolidated’s Harrison, Duke Energy’s Good, Speedway Motorsports’ Marcus Smith, Lowe’s Ellison, Domtar’s John Williams, JELD-WEN’s Michel, Albemarle’s Luther Kissam IV, NN Inc.’s Holder, and Sonic’s Smith.

Three companies reviewed by the Observer compensated top executives for memberships to country clubs or other organizations.

Paper company Domtar’s Williams got $11,505 for a club membership. Holder with NN Inc. got $7,884 for country club dues and Lebda got $5,768 for a portion of monthly country club dues. The companies’ filings did not report which country clubs the executives belong to. In its most recent proxy, NN Inc. said it had discontinued its compensation program for country club dues starting last fall.

Lowe’s and Sealed Air paid less than $100,000 for the relocation of their top executives – far below NN Inc., which gave Holder close to $800,000 for relocation after the company announced its move from Johnson City, Tenn.

And finally, Williams, Holder, Adams and Smith all get money for personal use of corporate vehicles or an automobile allowance.

Former reporter Katherine Peralta contributed to this story prior to her departure from the Observer in July.

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Danielle Chemtob covers economic growth and development for the Observer. She’s a 2018 graduate of the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill and a California transplant.
Hannah Smoot covers business in Charlotte, focusing on health care, aviation and sports business. She previously covered money and power at The Rock Hill Herald in South Carolina. She is a lifelong North Carolinian and graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.