2021 Private Equity–Backed Chief Executive Officer Compensation Survey Report
Private Equity

2021 Private Equity–Backed Chief Executive Officer Compensation Survey Report

This report on compensation trends for CEOs explores data from private equity professionals around the world on demographics, organizational structure, and compensation.
2021 Private Equity–Backed Chief Executive Officer Compensation Survey Report

Welcome to our 2021 Private Equity–Backed Chief Executive Officer Compensation Survey, which gathered data on these leaders’ compensation in countries around the world. Together with our surveys of private equity investment and operating professionals and PE-backed chief financial officers, these reports help to create a comprehensive picture of the compensation that key executives are currently receiving in PE firms and portfolio companies.

For this report, Heidrick & Struggles compiled compensation data from 879 CEOs around the world in a survey fielded in March and April of 2021. Because there were relatively small numbers of respondents in countries other than the United States, this public report only includes full data on the 654 CEOs in the United States.

Who are the CEOs?

The CEOs who responded to the survey most often had less than 10 years of experience in the CEO role and in the private equity industry. And, as is typical across PE, the vast majority of CEOs were male and white.

It is important to note, however, that PE firms of all sizes are making increasing efforts to increase both gender and racial or ethnic diversity in their own ranks and at their portfolio companies. Indeed, we see increasing competition, and often higher offers, for diverse investment professionals at these firms and senior executives at the companies they back. On the portfolio company side, more and more female leaders, in particular, are thriving. (For more on the perspectives of three female CEOs at PE-backed companies, see “Insights from women CEOs at PE-backed companies.”)

In terms of their backers, a strong majority of firms had direct investors. Their companies ranged across industries and sizes.

US CEO compensation

The median base compensation among US CEOs surveyed for this report was $476,000 in 2021, and the median cash bonus received in 2020 was $294,000, for a total median cash compensation of $800,000. (Eleven percent of CEOs said they received no cash bonus in 2020.) By company size, base, bonus, and total cash compensation all rise as revenue does, with total median cash compensation coming in at $1,639,000 at companies with revenue above $1 billion. By industry, CEOs at financial services firms are paid the most: $1,013,000 in median total cash compensation. 

Forty-one percent of US CEOs reported that they received no equity in 2020. Among those who did, the median value was $876,000.

About the authors

Todd Monti (tmonti@heidrick.com) is the global managing partner of Heidrick & Struggles’ Private Equity Practice; he is based in the New York office.

Jeffrey Sanders (jsanders@heidrick.com) is a vice chairman in the Stamford, New York, and San Francisco offices and co-managing partner of the CEO & Board of Directors Practice.


The authors wish to thank Mohd Arsalan and Daria Sklyarova for their contributions to this report.

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