The pay of American chief executive officers went up even as the economy went down, with Steven J. Ross of Time Warner Inc. topping the list at more than $78 million, Forbes magazine said in a survey.

The survey was released Sunday.In its May 27 issue, the magazine said 386 of the Forbes 800 - the 800 chief executives of America's largest public companies - made $1 million or more in total compensation in 1990.

Forbes said 48 percent of the 800 chief executives passed the $1 million mark, up from 43 percent last year.

Total compensation includes salary and bonus, non-cash stock gains, mostly from exercising options, and other cash benefits.

Among the top chief executives, 161 made more than $2 million in 1990, up from 119 last year, while 35 made more than $5 million and 8 made more than $10 million.

Ross made $78.1 million as head of the New York media giant. Following him were Stephen M. Wolf of Chicago-based United Air Lines Inc., who made $18.3 million, and John Sculley of Apple Computer Corp., Cupertino, Calif., $16.7 million.

Ross' windfall came as the media powerhouse struggles to work off a debt of $10 billion incurred in the merger of Time Inc. and Warner Communications Inc., Forbes said.

At General Dynamics Corp., William Anders was just voted a new incentive-option package that has earned him almost $4 million in paper profits since February, Forbes reported. However, the St. Louis-based contractor lost $578 million in 1990 and the company plans to lay off 27,000 workers.

The U.S. recession, which officially started last July, has hurt the profits of many companies but not the compensation of most chief executives.

As a group, the Forbes 800 executives made more than $1.3 billion in combined compensation in 1990 - $746 million in salary and bonuses, $296 million in non-cash stock gains and $232 million in other pay.

The average Forbes 800 chief executive received a salary plus bonus of $932,000 and total compensation of $1.6 million in 1990.

The lowest-paid was Raymond J. Noorda of Novell Inc., Provo, Utah, with a salary of $36,000.

A special Forbes report called "Incentivize Me, Please," asks if the system of incentive pay for chief executives has "turned into a giant pork barrel."

Forbes singled out 10 chief executives "who run their companies very well and yet earn relatively modest compensation."

For example, Harold Haverty of Deluxe Corp., St. Paul, Minn., led that list with $778,000 in compensation. Also included is Scott McNealy of Sun Microsystems Inc., Mountain View, Calif., at $1.4 million.

The magazine said there is only one woman on the list, Marion O. Sandler, co-chief executive with her husband, Herbert, of Golden West Financial Corp. of Oakland, Calif.

Her total pay is $2.3 million and her husband's is $1.4 million.

Forbes said the list had six chief executives under age 40, with William H. Gates III of Microsoft Corp., Redmond, Wash., the youngest at 34.

The oldest chief executive cited by Forbes is Milton Petrie, 88, of Petrie Stores Corp., Secaucus, N.J.


(Additional information)

It's only money

The total compensation of the top 10 chief executive officers, as compiled by Forbes magazine:

Company, CEO Total pay in millions

1. Time Warner, Steven J. Ross $78.11

2. United Air Lines, Stephen M. Wolf $18.30

3. Apple Computer, John Sculley $16.73

4. Reebok, Paul B. Fireman $14.82

5. Waste M'gment, Dean Buntrock $12.45

6. Giant Food, Israel Cohen $11.49

7. Paramount, Martin S. Davis $11.29

8. Walt Disney, Michael Eisner $11.23

9. Genentech, G. Kirk Raab $9.18

10. Warner-Lambert, J. Williams $8.81