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Canada’s Top 5 Highest-Paid CEOs

2012 was a good year to be E. Hunter Harrison, who was wooed out of retirement to head Canadian Pacific Railway (TSX:CP)(NYSE:CP) after activist shareholder Bill Ackman applied enough pressure to oust previous CEO Fred Green.

Harrison, who was credited for turning around competitor Canadian National Railway, received almost $49 million in total compensation from his new employer, including personal use of the company’s private jet. He was easily Canada’s highest paid CEO.

In second place was James C. Smith, CEO of Thomson Reuters Group (TSX:TRI)(NYSE:TRI) who took home a mere $18.8 million for his 2012 efforts, which seems pretty impressive until you compare it to Harrison.

Rounding out the top five were John A. Manzoni of Talisman Energy (TSX:TLM)(NYSE:TLM) who earned $18.67 million, Paul N. Wright of Eldorado Gold (TSX: ELD) who was just slightly behind at $18.66M, and Donald J. Walker of Magna International (TSX: MG)(NYSE:MGA), who finishes out the top five at $16.85 million.

Magna founder and longtime CEO Frank Stronach — who is perhaps the poster child of excessive CEO compensation in Canada — would have made the list, except he left the company. Don’t feel too bad for Stonach though — he did get a $40 million severance package.

As an investor, I have a mild dislike of excessive executive compensation. I realize that overpaying a by a few million dollars isn’t that big of a deal to a company like CP Rail, which has a market cap of over $28 billion, but those few million dollars would slightly enhance my returns. I’m more than willing to pay for performance, even though we all know that a stock’s performance isn’t solely dependent on the CEO.

Still, I thought it might be interesting to see how each stock performed over 2012 and 2013, and compare that return to the TSX Composite. From the beginning of 2012 to the end of 2013, the ETF that tracks the TSX Composite (TSX:XIC) was up 17.84% during that time, including dividends. Here’s the results of the companies with the highest paid CEOs.

  • Canadian Pacific: +137.2%
  • Thomson Reuters: +57.6%
  • Talisman Energy: -3.7%
  • Eldorado Gold: -58.7%
  • Magna International: +164.0%

If an investor had taken equal weights in each of the stocks with the highest paid CEOs, they’d be up 59.3%, crushing the TSX Composite during the same time period. While there were some major underperformers in that group, the majority of CEOs did oversee nice gains for shareholders.

Foolish bottom line

Of course, investing isn’t quite as simple as picking the highest paid CEOs and blinding buying their company’s shares, especially since data on CEO salaries is a year behind. While one can make the argument that some of the highest paid CEOs may have earned that compensation, the link between high executive pay and stock performance is spotty. It’s up to investors to determine what level of CEO compensation makes them uncomfortable, and ultimately the quality of management of the company in general.

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Fool contributor Nelson Smith does not own shares in any company mentioned at this time.

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