Sometimes, the unexpected is a really good thing. That's certainly true for CFO compensation. Thanks to a surprise increase that pushed the stock market back toward pre-crash levels, along with remarkably robust corporate results, executive pay seems to have fared very nicely in 2010—a far cry from 2009, when the total compensation trajectory wobbled as it rose only slightly. Depending on performance, the upward trend should continue, while compensation components should look a lot more like the packages seen before the market meltdown.

"If I could fly a banner, it would read 'return to tradition,'" says Randy Ramirez, Northeast practice leader for the compensation and benefits practice at BDO, a Chicago-based tax and financial services consulting firm.

Certainly, the data show pay is up. Treasury & Risk commissioned a study of the 2010 compensation of 50 Fortune 500 CFOs from Equilar, a Redwood Shores, Calif.-based executive compensation research firm. According to the study, median total compensation rose 21.4% to $5.23 million. Individual components also posted handsome increases. For example, the median salary increased 4.8% to $756,227, while the value of equity compensation—including stock and option awards—went up 37.4% to $3.19 million.

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