LendingTree CEO gets another big pay day — making him among the top-paid U.S. execs

The CEO of Charlotte-based LendingTree received another large pay package last year, as his total compensation was mostly boosted by stock awards issued as part of a retention deal.

Doug Lebda was awarded $42.3 million in compensation in 2018, a figure made of base salary, cash bonus, stock and other components. His compensation was down about 29 percent compared with $59.5 million in 2017, when the bulk of the retention package was awarded, according to regulatory filings by the company late last month.

LendingTree, which is based in Ballantyne, lets consumers comparison-shop online for mortgages, personal loans and other financial products. Lebda launched the company in Charlotte in 1996. Last week, it announced plans to relocate its headquarters to South End.

The retention pay comes as LendingTree, which Lebda took public in 2000, continues to post strong financial results. Last year, its stock price set new records and it announced acquisitions of other companies as it pushed to keep diversifying its revenue sources.

Lebda’s new compensation figure ranks him among the highest-paid CEOs in America, according to Equilar, a California firm that tracks CEO compensation.

Lebda is fifth, just behind James Murdoch, former CEO of 21st Century Fox, Equilar’s report shows. Murdoch’s total compensation is $44.4 million, Equilar said.

The analysis is based on companies that disclosed executive compensation before March 31, Equilar said. That means Lebda’s ranking could change when Equilar releases an updated study, expected this month.

No. 1 on Equilar’s list is Oracle Corp. co-CEO Mark Hurd at $108.2 million. In second and third places are Oracle co-CEO Safra Catz and Walt Disney Co. CEO Robert Iger at $108.2 million and $65.6 million, respectively.

LendingTree spokeswoman Megan Greuling said Lebda’s compensation is part of a new employment agreement the company and the CEO entered into in 2017. That agreement includes the retention package.

Greuling refused to comment further.

What’s in Lebda’s pay

Lebda’s 2018 pay package includes $750,000 in salary, a $491,089 bonus and $300,054 in other compensation.

That other compensation includes $5,768 in country club dues in connection with LendingTree’s use of the club for business purposes, as well as $281,014 for personal use of company-provided aircraft, LendingTree said in the regulatory filing.

In explaining the compensation for the company’s highest-paid executives, the filing highlighted accomplishments the company achieved last year. Those included LendingTree’s further diversification of revenue streams, resulting in revenue from non-mortgage products representing 68% of total revenue, up from 55% in 2017, the filing said.

“We believe our financial performance and total stockholder return demonstrate the success and effectiveness of our past compensation decisions,” the filing said.

In 2016, Lebda’s total compensation was about $1.8 million.

Retention deal

The bulk of the 2018 package is composed of stock awards and options to buy the company’s stock, both part of the retention package.

The stock and option awards totaled about $40.7 million. The purpose of the retention deal is to keep Lebda with LendingTree through September 2022, the company has said.

Even though Lebda has been given the awards, he’s not guaranteed to benefit from all of them.

For example, his stock options are tied to increases in the company’s stock price.

LendingTree has said that it employs around 500 in the Charlotte metro area.

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Deon Roberts has covered Charlotte’s financial services industry for The Charlotte Observer since 2013. His beat includes Bank of America and Wells Fargo. He attended Loyola University in New Orleans and is a native of Lafitte, La.