August 17, 2011 Practice Points

A Woman Is Top Earner in General Counsel Compensation Survey

By Joanne Geha Swanson

Salary and bonus payments totaling nearly $6.5 million have catapulted a woman into the spot of top-earning general counsel, according to Corporate Counsel’s survey of general counsel compensation. It is the first time a woman has held that position since the survey began in 1994, Corporate Counsel reports. Corporate Counsel—Report of 2011 SurveyDenise Keane, the chief legal officer for Altria Group, rose to the number one cash compensation ranking from 34th place in last year’s survey. A 34-year veteran of the Altria family of companies, Keane received a $5,724,700 non-equity incentive payment in 2010, in addition to a salary of approximately $731,817. Corporate Counsel—Top 100

According to Corporate Counsel, a 2010 survey conducted by the Minority Corporate Counsel Association shows that women hold the title of general counsel in 94 Fortune 500 companies, or roughly 19 percent. Fourteen women were among the 100 highest paid general counsel and seven were in the top 50, according to Corporate Counsel’s survey. In addition to Keane, they include Carol Petren (Cigna Corporation) in 11th place, Laureen Seeger (McKesson Corporation) in 14th place, E. Julia Lambeth (Reynolds American Inc.) in 26th place, Laura Schumacher (Abbott Laboratories) in 31st place, Kim Rucker (Avon Products, Inc.) in 37th place, and Stacy Fox (Sunoco, Inc.) in 49th place. Other top 100 women include Sandra Leung (Bristol-Myers Squibb Company), Suzanne Bettman (R.R. Donnelley & Sons Company), Candace Cummings (V.F. Corporation), Leila Vespoli (First Energy Corp.), Ellen Fitzsimmons (CSX Corporation), Theresa Lee (Eastman Chemical Company), and Ellen Kaden (Campbell Soup Company). 

The 14 women in the top 100 is up from 13 women last year, 10 women in 2005, and 6 women in 2000, Corporate Counsel reports. Corporate Counsel—Movin On Up. Women in the survey received average total cash compensation of about $1.96 million, compared to a $1.84 million average for the survey subjects overall. Bruce Sewell, general counsel for Apple, was the top stock earner, receiving awards worth $28.4 million. According to Corporate Counsel, general counsel compensation reflects individual performance and the overall success of the company.

Keywords: women, corporate, general counsel

Joanne Geha Swanson works at Kerr, Russell and Weber, PLC in Detroit, Michigan.


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