The Tech Startup That Paid a Million for a CEO

Maryna Pleshkun

Last week, an interesting story in TechCrunch highlighted how a burgeoning technology industry is lifting the salaries of the chief executives tasked with managing everything from wet-behind-the-ears startups to publicly traded giants.

The TechCrunch article featured an anecdote about a hot startup offering a $1 million signing bonus to any chief executive willing to lead it, only to find that offer rejected in favor of another (and presumably richer) one. “We haven’t seen anything like this since 1999,” Brad Stadler, founder of executive-search firm True, told the publication, referring to the height of the dot-com bubble.

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Pair that with recent data from the Harvard Business Review suggesting that the pay ratio between CEOs and regular workers has grown larger than ever—the average chief executive makes a tad over $12 million, while the average worker collects an annual salary of $34,645—and it’s clear that it’s a very good time to sit at the top of the corporate heap, especially if you work in tech.

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While average salaries for tech workers of all stripes have risen over the past year, turning down million-dollar advances is another beast entirely. Some prominent venture capitalists believe that a system in which relatively untested startups pay out truckloads of investor cash for experienced personnel isn’t sustainable, and that we’re due for a “correction” at some future point—maybe within nine months, according to an email reportedly sent by Google Ventures advisor Wesley Chan.

If a “correction” hits, and startups have a harder time obtaining the cash they need to survive, those well-paid executives could have their work cut out for them. How much would you pay for a CEO who could guide your company through a downturn?

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