Kang Hyo-won, Yoon Seok-jun (aka Lenzo Yoon) and Kim Shin-gyu are hardly marquee names in the music business, but they accounted for three of its five largest paydays in 2021, according to Billboard Pro‘s inaugural Executive Money Makers ranking — a breakdown of executive compensation and stock ownership at publicly traded companies.
All three are valued members of HYBE, the South Korean entertainment giant behind BTS, Tomorrow X Together, NewJeans and other K-pop acts, and in 2016, their efforts turning the company into a global success were rewarded with stock options that netted them the equivalent of tens of millions of dollars when the company went public last year.
Stock options are often used to incentivize and reward employees when a company is privately held. In a statement to Billboard, HYBE explained that the contributed to the establishment and management of the company, overseas sales or innovation in accordance with the Commercial Act and the articles of incorporation.” That’s a diverse group of people that includes creators, management and key personnel. The offer extends to cornerstone artists, too. HYBE chairman Bang Si-hyuk even gave the seven members of BTS shares equal to a 1.4% stake in the company.
Kang, Yoon and Kim rank among more familiar names on the Executive Money Makers compensation and stock ownership lists, such as Universal Music Group chairman/CEO Lucian Grainge, Live Nation president/ CEO Michael Rapino and Spotify co-founder/CEO Daniel Ek. The rankings are available in their entirety on Billboard Pro. Here, though, are some of the less familiar names making big bank and where they place on the list.
Kang is better known by K-pop fans as Pdogg and has produced a slew of recordings by BTS, including the group’s 2010 single “2 Cool 4 Skool” and its 2020 album, Be. Although he is not a member of HYBE’s C-suite, he’s important enough to the company’s growth and value to have received stock options in 2016 that netted him roughly $35 million when he cashed out in 2021, according to company financial statements. (Note: All currency conversions to the U.S. dollar were calculated using the average 2021 exchange rate.)
Yoon added $33.5 million to his $235,000 salary after cashing in his stock options. Previously the company’s global CEO, Yoon became co-CEO of HYBE America — with talent manager/entrepreneur Scooter Braun — in 2021 after HYBE acquired Braun’s Ithaca Holdings media investment company. “HYBE grants stock options to members who have contributed to the establishment and management of the company, overseas sales or innovation,” the company told Billboard in a statement.
The highest-ranking woman on the executive compensation list (and one of just two to make the cut), Witz has been with SiriusXM for two decades and ascended to chief executive in 2021. Only 5% of her total compensation came from a guaranteed salary. As is common with publicly traded companies, SiriusXM bases much of its top executives’ compensation on the growth of its share price and performance against certain financial and other metrics. About 75% of Witz’s compensation came from stock options and restricted stock units (that will vest in the coming years), and the remainder was a performance-based bonus. Under Witz’s guidance, SiriusXM excelled in 2021, growing 8% to a record $8.7 billion in revenue. SiriusXM’s satellite radio subscriptions grew by 1.1 million to 32 million during the pandemic and a nationwide slowdown in auto sales, the company’s key method for acquiring customers.
Most music companies focus on recorded music and publishing. HYBE’s broad business model also includes artist management, and Kim’s management of K-pop supergroup BTS helped build HYBE into a company worthy of a stock offering. The third executive there to redeem his 2016 stock options, Kim netted $24 million from their sale.
Although Söderström, who joined Spotify in 2009, works behind the scenes leading the streaming platform’s product, design, data and engineering teams, as the person in charge of its product and user experience, he is critical to the company’s success. Söderström earned 95% of his $8.9 million 2021 compensation from stock awards/options on top of a base salary.