Often, however, they don't have to.
While lower-level workers are finding their health care costs increasing, some companies pick up executives' premiums, deductibles and co-payments and foot the bill for pricey physicals at elite institutions.
The big money, however, is in special executive retirement programs. Nolan D. Archibald, the boss at Black & Decker Corp., will find his retirement cushioned by more than $2.5 million in annual pension payments. And Vance D. Coffman eased out of Lockheed Martin Corp. after 37 years with two lump-sum payments of $31.5 million and $31.6 million.
For years, the light has shone on executive salary, bonuses and stock options, which are easier to decipher in a company's annual proxy statement. Executives' pensions are often overlooked - they've been called "stealth compensation" - because they are difficult to understand and disclosure is often poor. Nevertheless, shareholders eventually pay the tab.
Just how big that price tag is is revealed in a recent Harvard University study, Putting Executive Pensions on the Radar Screen. The study puts a dollar value on pension benefits of retired and soon-to-be retired CEOs of S&P 500 companies. The median amounted to 34 percent of the executives' total salary, bonus, stock options and other stock awards during their years as CEO.
"They are getting a pay bump of 34 percent and doing it away from shareholders' eyes. They are doing it behind the curtain of poor disclosure," said Robert J. Jackson Jr., one of the study's authors.
Archibald's pension, for example, was valued by the Harvard study at $38.3 million, or about 0.65 percent of Black & Decker's market value.
"That's a huge number," said Charles Elson, director of the Weinberg Center for Corporate Governance at the University of Delaware. "I would imagine even some boards are unaware of the value of the pension benefits that have been accrued."
But companies argue that generous pensions and other perks are necessary to attract and retain talented executives.
Lucas also disputed that executive pensions were poorly disclosed, and said that assigning a value to pensions was just one way of looking at the issue.
"Pension information is clearly displayed according to SEC regulations in the proxy statements of all publicly traded companies, and stockholders have the opportunity to evaluate it as a component of compensation," she said.
Lockheed spokesman Thomas Greer said the board weighed compensation and benefits against what comparable-size companies offer along with Coffman's long- and short-term performance at the company, which posted record sales last year and met other targets.
The plans can be as simple as extending the same benefit formula used in the companywide plan, pension experts said.