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CenterPoint Energy CEO David Lesar, whose 2021 pay package generated pushback by the utility’s shareholders earlier this year, was the highest-paid executive among Houston public companies last year and led a batch of CEOs whose collective pay rose slightly faster than that that of their companies’ workers.

The pay bumps for local executives illustrated both the economic recovery from COVID-wracked 2020 and the rebound of the energy industry, which has long been the backbone of Houston’s economy. Of the Houston’s 10 highest-paid corporate executives, eight ran energy companies.

The executives appeared to manage more than just a rising tide. The average return for shareholders in their companies reached 40 percent in 2021, or more than double the 19 percent gains in the Dow Jones Industrial Average and well above the 27 percent gains in the S&P 500.

“Executive succession and retention seem to be an important issue. With all of the oil and gas cycles in the past few years, the lack of executive talent is an issue,” said Wes Hart, a managing director in the Houston office of Pearl Meyer, an executive compensation consultancy. “When oil and gas were doing badly, it was hard to keep people.”

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