Some of the best CEO’s take the lowest salaries. For instance, Marc Benioff of Salesforce took a salary of $1 at IPO, Patrick Shiong of Nant Health took no salary, Jack Dorsey at Square took only $3,750, and Jeff Bezos at Amazon took only $64,333. There is a caveat: these individuals were independently wealthy before the IPO and they do get large annual options packages.
Other forms of comp include options and bonuses. Note the median bonus was $139k and median option grant had a value of $70k. It’s not unreasonable to take a bonus and it’s also expected that a founder will be granted stock as the Company matures and becomes more successful, especially if their salary is low.
Salaries have gone up over time. The median level of CEO ownership has risen since 1998. From 1996 to 2007, the median during that period was $214k. In 2019 and 2020, the medians were $394k and $400k respectively.