How The 5 Highest Paid CEOs Climbed Their Way To The Top

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By Michael Sterling

Reaching success is the dream of every red-blooded American. We all want to get there, but few of us actually do. Some of the best kept secrets CEOs like to keep to themselves have nothing to do with an industry and everything to do with sticking to their gut. Success stories come in many chapters, and here are just a few that all entrepreneurs should live by:

#5) Leslie Moonves, CBS

Moonves has been president and CEO of the successful broadcasting company since 2006, bringing an about $62.2 million a year. The journey was a long time coming, having first started as an actor and eventually becoming president of Warner Bros. Television until moving to CBS in 1995.

Moonves’ story is one worth writing about because it’s all about finding your own opportunities. When he realized his acting career would be short-lived, he quickly changed his focus into the business side. By using his creativity and training he received as an actor, he was able to quickly prove how creative he was which led him to becoming head of creative affairs.

In his career, he green-lighted hit shows like Friends, ER, Survivor and many others. At one point, CBS has six of the ten most-watched primetime shows in the final quarter of 2005.

#4) Robert A. Kotick, Activision Blizzard

Having been director at the video games holdings company since 1991, Kotick is living every nerd’s dream earning close to $65 million a year. Thanks to advice from Steve Jobs, Kotick dropped out of college to pursue his interests in the software business, a move which marked the beginning of his success, not to mention the way he does business.

Kotick’s whole philosophy with Activision Blizzard, according to an interview with Forbes, was to focus on the independent developer and making sure they have control of their destiny, i.e. who to hire, flexibility, and budgets. By giving his money to the developer, he helped to create a new generation of entrepreneurs with little action from his part.

That move led Activision Blizzard to become one of the most successful companies in America today.

#3) Mario J. Gabelli, Gamco Investors

Gabelli founded Gamco Investors in 1976 to manage money for clients. His compensation has increased nearly 12% since 1998 and currently has a net worth of $1.2 billion. But for Gabelli, the beginning wasn’t exactly a smooth ride.

Due to smart investing, Gabelli started Gabelli & Co. (which later became Gamco) with borrowed funds and money he had gained by trading his own account. He eventually used his money and talents to start managing money for other clients, a move that gained him 81 accounts by 1981 which totaled about $33 million.

Even though the country was in a rocky state at the time, he still managed to make money for his clients every year. One of his strategies was cashing in on failing companies, investing in or recommending ones that were taken over by other firms or had been privatized. By the mid-80s, he was managing over $350 million.

#2) Elon Musk, Tesla Motors

With a net worth of over $6 billion, Musk brings in an annual salary of about $78 million. Being Tesla’s CEO since October 2008, he also serves as CEO and CTO of Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX), developing and launching advanced rockets for satellite. Not to mention, he also cofounded PayPal, which was later bought by eBay in 2002.

In fact, PayPal’s early growth was due in large part to the successful viral growth campaign created by Musk. Before it was sold to eBay, Musk owned 11.7% of its shares, giving him the opportunities to fund SpaceX, along with a $1.6 billion NASA contract, which again, was due to Musk’s personal financial investment towards the company’s campaign.

By investing his own money in creating an image for his companies, not only have they been incredibly personalized by Musk, but he’s been able to adequately translate his vision to the public authentically.

#1) Larry J. Ellison, Oracle

Listed by Forbes as third richest American in 2013, Ellisan has been CEO and a director at Oracle, a computer technology firm, since he founded it in 1977. Before that he worked at Ampex Corp. where he was inspired to start his own company when working on a project for the CIA named “Oracle.”

Making nearly $96.2 million a year, it’s hard to believe that he funded most of the investment towards the now giant company. Originally called Software Development Laboratories, Oracle was started by Ellison and two partners with an investment of $2,000 ($1,200 was his). After years of intense years of competing with other up and coming computer companies, Oracle eventually landed on top.