The review, carried out by Swedish corporate communications consultancy Hallvarsson & Halvarsson (H&H), also shows that the variable compensation paid to Swedish company chiefs is much lower than that paid to CEOs in other countries.
The heads of Sweden’s 23 largest listed companies, excluding investment firms, earn an average of 13.5 million kronor ($1.87 million) in salary each year, not counting pension contributions.
The figures comes in somewhat lower than the 16.8 million kronor average salary earned by CEOs in the Nordic region, and well below the 36.6 million kronor paid to the heads of other companies throughout Europe.
Adjusted for the fact that Swedish CEOs lead smaller companies than many of their European counterparts, the H&H study reveals that Sweden’s top managers earn about 43 percent as much as their colleagues in Europe.
“That doesn’t surprise me in the least. That’s just about how things look,” Christer Ågren, deputy head of the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise (Svenskt Näringsliv) told the TT news agency.
According to him, the appropriate pay level for a CEO is something that must be decided by each company’s board of directors.
“Companies shouldn’t pay more than they need to attract quality people to the job,” he added.
Carina Lundberg Markow, head of corporate governance with the Folksam insurance company, goes a step further in her analysis.
“If you want to have a career abroad, all you have to do is move to another country,” she told TT.
At the same time, she thinks it’s hard to compare between countries based on salary listings without taking other considerations such as price levels, the pension system, and social benefits into account.
“The entire cost situation needs to be included,” she said.
According to Ågren, one consequence of Sweden’s low CEO salaries could be difficulties recruiting foreign management talent.
But Lundberg Markow disagrees.
“If you want to have a specific competence, you simply have to pay for it,” she said.
Lena Westerlund, chief economist with Sweden’s main trade union organization, LO, thinks it more important to compare CEO salaries with what other workers earn in a country.
She’s also concerned about the increasing earnings disparities around the world.
In her eyes, the international success of Swedish companies is evidence that CEO salaries are high enough.
“I can’t see how the salary levels in Sweden can be a problem given the needs we have,” she said.
The H&H study, which was carried out ahead of a workshop on CEO salaries scheduled for next year, also shows that the heads of Sweden’s largest companies have a substantially lower percentage of variable compensation in their total earnings package compared to their European counterparts.
About one third of Swedish CEOs’ compensation consists of variable compensation, compared to about half for other Nordic countries, while variable compensation accounts for about 73 percent of annual earnings by CEOs in other European countries.
According to the survey, Ericsson’s Carl-Henric Svanberg is Sweden’s highest earning CEO, pulling in 24 million kronor last year, excluding pension contributions.