A US website recently released a list of its 5 CEOs Who Are Worth Their Fat Paychecks based on a report produced by governance group, the Corporate Library. Given that Crikey tends to take aim at CEO remuneration, we sat down and tried to come up an Australian list of CEOs who provide value for shareholders.

It wasn’t easy, but there were some standout performers in Australian boardrooms in 2009. Here are our top five:

1. Richard Uechtritz — JB Hi-Fi
Since Uechtritz led a private equity buy-out and subsequent stock market listing, JB Hi-Fi’s performance has been sublime. Brilliantly run, JB is efficient and brutal as it expands its low-cost, big-box model across the country. Since 2004, net profit has increased from $13.8 million to $94.4 million and its share price has risen from $2 to more than $23 since listing. While Uechtritz owns shares worth almost $50 million, he is paid a relatively low (in executive terms) $2.9 million a year.

2. Andrew Bassat, Paul Bassat — Seek.com
The Bassats’ performance at Seek.com — in pioneering the online job classified in Australia and later creating a highly profitable education business has been outstanding. While profit dipped last year (Seek’s major business, online employment classifieds was affected by slowing job growth) its education segment delivered before-tax profit of $19.5 million, up from $11.5 million in 2008. Since listing in 2005, Seek’s share price has risen from $2.25 to $6.29 with revenue increasing from $71 million to $208 million. Last year, the Bassats were paid $844,000 each — less than 10% of what most Big Four bank executives receive.

3. Andrew Forrest — Fortescue
One of the most polarising figures in corporate Australia — while Forrest was sacked by laterite nickel miner, Anaconda in 2001 and faced Federal Court action in April this year after ASIC alleged Forrest misled investors, he has certainly delivered outstanding value for Fortescue shareholders. Fortunately, one of those shareholders is Forrest himself, who has accumulated wealth of almost $5 billion. Regardless of that, Forrest was paid a miserly $175,907 last year (and $137,623 in 2008). CEO since 2003, Forrest has presided over an increase in the company’s share price from 3¢ to more than $4, with Fortescue currently having a market value of more than $13 billion — a remarkable achievement for a company which didn’t exist 10 years ago.

4. Sue Morphet — Pacific Brands
A controversial choice perhaps, given not long ago Morphet required security guards to protect her from angry Pacific Brands workers, sacked by Morphet as the company was forced to shut down its Australian operations to avoid collapse in late 2008. Since taking over from long-time CEO Paul Moore, Morphet’s performance has been outstanding, with the company’s cost-savings ahead of plans and on track to be $150 million by 2011. Pac Brand’s share-price has recovered from 14¢ in March to $1.30 now, largely thanks to Morphet’s initiatives and a recovering Australian dollar. Last year, Pac Brands reduced debt from $743 million to $453 million and generated free-cash flow of $81 million. While Morphet’s remuneration was heavily criticised, she was paid a relatively low $1.07 million in 2009 (down from $1.86 million in 2008). Previous CEO Paul Moore, who drove Pac Brands to the brink of death, received pay and termination benefits of $5.86 million in 2008.

5. Robbie Cooke — Wotif
Wotif has strongly withstood the global financial crisis as Australians look online to book their holidays. Last year, profit rose by 26% while revenue increased 29%. Wotif’s share price continues to strengthen, increasing from $3.50 in June 2006 to $6.23 today. CEO Robbie Cooke, who became managing director in 2007 (taking over from founder Graeme Wood), was paid a meagre base salary of $637,317 last year and received total remuneration of $1.7 million.

Peter Fray

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