Revealed: CIOs’ Salary Secrets

A new study by executive search firm Spencer Stuart has uncovered some secrets of CIO compensation.

The highest salaries, according to the survey, go to top IT executives in the financial services sector — and the larger the firm, the higher the salary.

About 31% of CIOs total compensation comes in the form of bonuses. According to the study, 80% of CIOs earn a base salary between $200,000 to $300,000.

The survey was based on data from over 800 CIOs whom Spencer Stuart had worked with during 2001 and 2002.

The study revealed several major trends, says Richard Brennen, who heads the chief information officer recruitment practice at the Chicago-based search firm.

First, says Brennen, company size does matter. “The bigger the company, the bigger the compensation.”

CIOs at companies with revenues under $1 billion averaged just over $300,000 in salary and bonuses, while those working for $10 billion or larger firms averaged about $536,000.

Industry is also important, says Brennen. CIOs in the financial services industry receive an average compensation of $459,123, according to Spencer Stuart. That’s 13% more than the next highest paid group of CIOs, those who work in the consumer goods sector.

At the other end of the scale, CIOs working in government, education, professional services or for non-profit organizations averaged about $300,000 in total compensation.

Surprisingly, says Brennen, the study also revealed that “geography doesn’t matter as much as we thought it did. We assumed that because the cost of living on the coasts was higher, that salaries would be higher as well. That’s not the case.”

The difference in average base salaries in different geographic regions, in fact, varied by only about $10,000 from highest to lowest.

Based on his experience working with CIOs and the companies hiring them, Brennen believes that CIOs have finally made it to the general manager category. “Companies are looking for people who are equally strong in business and technology,” he says. “They probably came up the technology route but they really understand business. In today’s tight economy, when clients have the benefit of a choice, really want somebody who understands their business.”