Most Top Florida GCs Make $1 Million-Plus a Year

Source: Daily Business Review

By Michael Seemuth

Many general counsel at Florida-based public companies have joined the seven-figure compensation club.

A statewide survey (see the Daily Business Review's full chart here) of 30 publicly held companies shows 23 paid their general counsel more than $1,000,000 in total compensation including salary, perks, bonus income, incentive pay and equity awards last year.

But compensation for top in-house counsel dropped last year from 2014 levels at most Florida companies reporting salary data to the Securities and Exchange Commission, including several coming off a poor performance in 2015.

The Daily Business Review's annual review of GC compensation found the general counsel at 19 of 30 Florida-based publicly traded companies took cuts in total compensation. Sixteen of the companies have headquarters in South Florida, and 11 of the 16 lowered pay for their top legal officers last year.

But general counsel at the 16 South Florida-based companies aren't going hungry: All 16 got more than $1 million in total compensation, including three who collected $2 million to $3 million and three others whose take totaled more than $3 million.

"It's like anything else: The top sports stars and the top movie stars negotiate the best deals," said Robert Graff, an Atlanta-based partner of Major, Lindsey & Africa, a legal talent recruitment agency. "If a company is sold or somebody cashes out, or you're coming in for the first time, there might be unusually high [stock] awards."

Experienced general counsel like Sabatino often surrender unvested stock awards from a previous employer when they move to a new job. So the new employer may make unusually high stock awards to a new GC as an offset.

"Sometimes what happens is they have to buy him out if he has a million of unvested equity at his old company," Graff said. "As sort of a signing bonus, they'll give him a lot of equity coming in to try to even it out."

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