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Typical CEO made $9.6 million last year

The head of a typical public company made $9.6 million in 2011, according to an analysis by The Associated Press. The typical American worker would have to labor for 244 years to make what the typical boss of a big public company makes in one.

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David Simon, chairman and CEO of Indianapolis-based Simon Property Group, the largest publicly traded real estate company in the United States. He's on track to be the highest-paid in the AP survey, at $137 million.

Fred Prouser/Reuters

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Profits at big U.S. companies broke records last year, and so did pay for CEOs.

The head of a typical public company made $9.6 million in 2011, according to an analysis by The Associated Press using data from Equilar, an executive pay research firm.

That was up more than 6 percent from the previous year, and is the second year in a row of increases. The figure is also the highest since the AP began tracking executive compensation in 2006.

Companies trimmed cash bonuses but handed out more in stock awards. For shareholder activists who have long decried CEO pay as exorbitant, that was a victory of sorts.

That's because the stock awards are being tied more often to company performance. In those instances, CEOs can't cash in the shares right away: They have to meet goals first, like boosting profit to a certain level.

The idea is to motivate CEOs to make sure a company does well and to tie their fortunes to the company's for the long term. For too long, activists say, CEOs have been richly rewarded no matter how a company has fared – "pay for pulse," as some critics call it.

To be sure, the companies' motives are pragmatic. The corporate world is under a brighter, more uncomfortable spotlight than it was a few years ago, before the financial crisis struck in the fall of 2008.

Last year, a law gave shareholders the right to vote on whether they approve of the CEO's pay. The vote is nonbinding, but companies are keen to avoid an embarrassing "no."

"I think the boards were more easily shamed than we thought they were," says Stephen Davis, a shareholder expert at Yale University, referring to boards of directors, which set executive pay.

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