By Ross Kerber

BOSTON (Reuters) – Median pay for top U.S. CEOs rose 31% last year to a record $20 million, a new study found, surging after a slight decline during the COVID-19 pandemic, as companies showered leaders with stock awards and cash bonuses.

Chief executives receiving big pay increases included the leaders of tech giant Apple and semiconductor manufacturer Broadcom Inc,, according to the study released Monday by research firm Equilar.

It covered the 100 largest U.S. companies by revenue that filed proxy statements by March 31. The same study a year ago found median CEO pay was $15.5 million, 2% lower than in 2020.

Equilar director of content Amit Batish said companies looked to reward leaders who steered them through challenges like supply shortages. Rising revenue and share prices also boosted compensation. “A lot of these companies did well during the pandemic, that was definitely driving the increases in pay,” he said.

The higher pay could prompt critical shareholder votes, Batish added, though other investors care more about returns. Among S&P 500 companies, average support for advisory votes on executive pay fell to 88.3% last year from 89.6% in 2020, according https://semlerbrossy.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/SBCG_2022-SOP-Report_04-14.pdf to pay consultancy Semler Brossy, and was at 85.6% this year so far.

The trends also to pushed up the ratio of CEO pay to the pay of companies’ median workers to 254:1 from 238:1 a year ago, Equilar’s study said.

It cited executives like Apple CEO Tim Cook, who received $98.7 million last year, up from $14.8 million in 2020, including a major stock award. Investors cast 64% of votes in favor of the pay at the company’s March 4 annual meeting, a low level of support.

Apple declined to comment.

At chipmaker Broadcom, CEO Hock Tan received $60.7 million last year, up from $3.7 million the year before. On April 4, investors cast 80% of votes in favor of the pay.

Broadcom declined to comment.

(Reporting by Ross Kerber in Boston; Editing by Aurora Ellis)