America’s Highest Paid CEO: It’s Not Who You Think
Business + Economy

America’s Highest Paid CEO: It’s Not Who You Think

© Mike Segar / Reuters

Go ahead and guess: Who was the highest-paid executive at an American company last year?

Tim Cook? Larry Ellison? Microsoft’s Satya Nadella?

No, according to an analysis by Bloomberg News, it was 39-year-old Nick Woodman, the CEO of camera-maker GoPro (GPRO).

Shortly before the company went public last June, Woodman received a restricted stock grant valued at $284.5 million as of the end of the year.

The eye-popping payout ordinarily would have gotten the entrepreneur sent to Wall Street’s penalty box, especially since the company’s shares have plunged nearly 30 percent this year. Wall Street analysts, though, are willing to give Woodman the benefit of the doubt because they believe better times lie ahead for his San Mateo, Calif.-based company — even though it slashed its earnings outlook, battled rumors of activist investors getting involved and announced the unexpected departure of its Chief Operating Officer Nina Richardson.

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In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, GoPro noted that Woodman “is critical to the strategic direction and overall management of our company as well as our research and development process.”

Many on Wall Street are betting that Woodman’s strategy to create a media ecosystem featuring user-generated videos shot with GoPro cameras will pay off. As it explained in its IPO prospectus, the company hopes to “develop new revenue opportunities by increasing production of GoPro originally produced content while simultaneously increasing the aggregation and redistribution of our customers.”

GoPro has signed content partnerships with snow boarder Shaun White, surfer Kelly Slater and Microsoft’s Xbox division. It even sells “Fetch,” a camera mount that enables users to film from the perspective of their dogs. According to Outside magazine, GoPro has 67 percent of the camcorder market, “a share so commanding that its name has become as synonymous with action cams as Kleenex or Xerox were to tissues and copies.”

Piper Jaffray last week raised its rating on the shares to “overweight” from “neutral,”   the third analyst upgrade for the company since March. A recent survey by Piper Jaffray survey indicated strong demand for GoPro cameras from teens.

Analysts on average expect GoPro revenues to jump 24 percent this year, to $1.73 billion, while per-share profits are expected to jump to $1.38, an increase of about 4 percent from the year ago period.

Skeptics, though, abound. Roughly short sellers, who profit when share prices drop, hold 62 percent of the stock’s float. And some analysts note that the company hasn’t articulated a clear plan on how it will profit from these videos.

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GoPro shares have tumbled nearly 30 percent so far this year, and are off more than 50 from their 52-week high. GoPro’s market cap is now about $5.75 billion.

Woodman, though, isn’t hurting too badly. In 2013, the latest year data was available, he earned a salary of $800,000 and a $1 million bonus along with $49,591 in car expenses. The company hasn’t yet filed details of his 2014 pay package, and a company spokesman couldn’t immediately be reached.

But Bloomberg estimated that his massive stock award was still worth north of $200 million and said that Woodman has a net worth of about $2.4 billion. 

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