Elon Musk got his mega-pay package, but Marc Benioff might not be so lucky

CEOs’ cups runneth over, largely because they’re serving themselves. And the billionaire CEO of Salesforce, Marc Benioff, is no exception. But it seems as if Benioff’s spree is slowing down ever so slightly, as his shareholders just pumped the brakes on his latest hefty compensation package.

Alongside the suggested pay plans of other Salesforce executives, Benioff’s proposed compensation was rejected by 404.8 million votes (versus 339.3 million in favor), according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing published on Monday. 

Like many bigwigs, Benioff’s real worth comes from his stock options. His base salary stayed at $1.55 million, but he raked in $39.6 million in the 2024 fiscal year. The prior year, Benioff made $29.9 million, and his worth ballooned as Salesforce offered him yet more stock grants, including a $20 million equity opportunity in the plan shareholders just rejected, according to a Salesforce proxy statement.

While the board encouraged shareholders to accept said proposal, two shareholder advisory companies, Glass Lewis and Institutional Shareholder Services, suggested otherwise, according to CNBC. The shareholders’ vote, however, is not binding, meaning Benioff could still get his million-dollar bonus.

Salesforce did not immediately respond to Fortune’s request for comment.

Both executives and shareholders have made out quite nicely in the shadow of the pandemic. Shareholder payouts and CEO pay have “risen to record levels,” according to nonprofit Oxfam’s report analyzing more than 200 of the largest U.S. corporations. CEO pay has jumped by 31% from 2018 to 2022, per said study.

“The rules are being rigged and the companies are helping to rig them,” Irit Tamir, senior director of Oxfam America’s private sector department told Fortune in March, adding that “we are essentially in a new Gilded Age.” 

Look no further than Elon Musk’s recent victory to see how the game is played. Earlier this year, a judge in Delaware ruled that Musk’s proposed pay package for Tesla, worth a record $55 billion, wasn’t justified and called it an “unfathomable sum.”

“The process leading to the approval of Musk’s compensation plan was deeply flawed,” Chancellor Kathaleen McCormick wrote, adding that the CEO “had extensive ties with the persons tasked with negotiating on Tesla’s behalf.”

Even so, the board pushed back against this decision and asked shareholders again to vote on the package. They overwhelmingly sided with Musk, granting back a pay plan now valued at $44.9 billion, per the Associated Press. That’s even though Musk has been criticized for splitting his attention among too many projects, even being called an “absent CEO” by Gerber Kawasaki CEO Ross Gerber. 

Gerber, a shareholder himself, excoriated the Tesla board ahead of its second vote. “Not only is the board not independent, they basically work for Elon,” he told Fox Business. “At some point, you’ve just got to say, this board needs to be replaced.”. 

Even so, Musk’s absence appears to be worth billions in the pandemic era of the CEO. The same can’t be said for Benioff as of yet—but that could change.

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