Life in the executive suite is sweet indeed, according to the latest data on Hudson Valley corporate chieftains.
The region's best-paid executive in 2011 was money manager Mario Gabelli at $61.7 million, followed by leaders from IBM, PepsiCo and ITT. The Hudson Valley produced two of the nation's most highly rewarded female executives.
Upper-echelon executives of publicly traded companies in Westchester, Rockland, Orange and Dutchess counties whose compensation could be tracked from year to year got an average raise of 32 percent in 2011. The year-over-year comparison excludes executives whose 2011 compensation could not be compared with 2010's because they changed jobs or companies.
The average salary increase among executives was more than 11 times the 2.7 percent growth rate for U.S. personal income in 2011.
AboveNet was arguably the most generous company. In a year when the company's stock rose 11.2 percent, the White Plains-based provider of fiber-optic networks tripled the compensation for three executives, and octupled it for one, based mostly on lavish awards of restricted stock.
In 2012, AboveNet was acquired by Colorado-based The Zayo Group for about $2.3 billion.
Overall, the 204 top executives of publicly traded companies in Westchester, Rockland, Orange and Dutchess counties hauled in an average compensation of $2.6 million. The average was skewed by mega-earners like Gabelli.
The median -- or middle -- compensation for the group was $960,938. That was about 23 times the average per capita income for Americans -- $41,663 -- according to figures from the Department of Commerce and the Bureau of Economic Analysis.
Hector May, a New City-based executive compensation consultant, said the reason executives attract such hefty paychecks is that top managerial talent in corporate America is in short supply. May said clients are willing to pay top dollar for a Mario Gabelli.
"He has the ability to see growth," May said. "Unlike any other money manager, he has vision. He doesn't get the same publicity that the Warren Buffetts gets . . . but he's worth every dollar."
Gabelli's Rye-based Gamco Investors Inc. had a recent market cap of $1.2 billion, a fraction of the size of corporate giant IBM, at $220.8 billion. Gabelli's windfall comes despite a 7.2 percent decline in the price of his company's stock in 2011. The 69-year-old Gabelli controls 99.4 percent of the company's class B super-voting shares.
Samuel Palmisano, who stepped down as chief executive and chairman of IBM, hauled in $31.8 million, a mere .3 percent more than the previous year, but good enough to place second on the list. IBM's compensation committee cited Palmisano's leadership in guiding IBM to a record profit, making five acquisitions and selecting a slate of successor CEO candidates, leading to the appointment of Virginia Rometty as CEO on Jan. 1, 2012 and her appointment as chairman on Oct. 1.
Rometty, with total compensation of $8.4 million, placed No. 24 on the list. With No. 3 Indra Nooyi, PepsiCo's chairman and chief executive, the region boasts two of the most prominent female executives in the country.
Nooyi's $17.1 million in total compensation, a 5.8 percent raise, came despite an increase of under 2 percent in profits and a 4.7 percent increase in PEP's stock price, better than the Standard & Poor's flat finish for the year, but short of the Dow Jones Industrials' 5.5 percent gain.
Though PepsiCo's leadership has come under pressure after the company lost ground in the soft drink wars, the 56-year-old Madras native remains one of the country's highest-paid female executives.
Behind Nooyi is Steven Loranger, who was chairman and chief executive of White Plains-based ITT until the October spinoff of its defense business and water technology unit Xylem, where he is now chairman emeritus.
Loranger pulled in $16.1 million, a shade ahead of Eric Foss, the CEO of PepsiCo's Pepsi Bottling unit. Foss made $15.6 million before exiting the company to take the top job at Philadelphia's Aramark.
Commenting on the growing disparity in income between CEOs and the average wage earner, May compared top executives to professional athletes.
"Companies still need top talent, and top talent is a limited pool," May said. "The difference between football and baseball is in that arena, publicity is enormous. In corporate America, they have a draft. It starts when the guys get out of graduate school. It's pedigree: Harvard, Yale, Princeton."
No. 6 on the list is Alberto Weisser, chief executive of global agribusiness company Bunge Limited, whose profits slid 60 percent. Taking out the one-time $1.9 billion after-tax gain on the sale of a Brazilian fertilizer business in 2010, however, pushed Bunge's year-over-year profits up 73 percent.
The company's stock price slumped 11.5 percent, but Weisser still took home a 39.2 percent raise, bringing his pay package to $13.6 million. His salary is based on a formula of 70 percent equity-based awards, 18 percent cash incentives and 12 percent base salary.
In seventh place: Martin Ellis Franklin, executive chairman of Jarden Corp., the Rye-based maker of camping, sports and arts and crafts gear. Franklin took a 2.8 percent hit to his paycheck from 2010 in a year when Jarden's stock price fell 2.1 percent. Still, he raked in $13.3 million.
In the spots eight and 10 are two executives of Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, the biotech company based in Tarrytown, which is designing drugs to combat gout, rheumatoid arthritis, cancer and other ailments. CEO Leonard Schleifer took home $10.6 million in 2011, and chief scientific officer George Yancopoulos snared $10 million.
Sandwiched in between is Zein Abdalla, who became president of PepsiCo in September after a stint as chief executive of PepsiCo Europe. Abdalla took home $10.2 million.
Also on the list is MasterCard Inc. CEO Ajaypal Banga. At No. 15, he earned $8.3 million, a steep cut from the $11.9 million he snared in 2010. The pay cut came in a year when the stock of the credit card giant soared 66.7 percent.
Westchester County executives dominated the list, but Rockland, Orange and Dutchess counties also were represented. Dutchess had executives from two companies, CH Energy Group and Command Security Corp. Orange had Balchem Corp. and Warwick Valley Telephone. Executives listed with headquarters in Rockland County are those from Ascena Retail Group, Provident New York Bancorp, LeCroy Corp., Presidential Life Corp., Vision-Sciences and Hudson Technologies.
Notable earners include David Jaffe, CEO of clothing retailer Ascena, and Michael Rayden, CEO of the company's Justice brand. Both made more than $5.5 million in 2011.
Gabelli did not respond to a request for comment.
(Ken Schachter owns mutual funds and exchange-traded funds in investment and retirement accounts that may include shares of IBM, PepsiCo and other companies mentioned in this article. Mario Gabelli's investment funds are holders of Cablevision stock. Cablevision owns Newsday and employs Schachter.)