2020 was a good year financially for Amazon’s top lawyer, David Zapolsky.
According to a Thursday filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Zapolsky, based in the company’s Seattle headquarters, took in $17,174,185 in total compensation in 2020. The figure represents his $160,000 annual salary, over $17 million in stock awards, and $3,200 in other compensation. It is not clear how his 2020 earnings match up with what he made in 2019, because 2020 was the first year he was a named executive officer.
Zapolsky is not alone in being highly compensated in a pandemic year. Former Goldman Sachs former general counsel Karen Seymour brought in over $9 million in total compensation. The majority of her pay came from stock awards and her yearly bonus.
John Nixon, a partner at Duane Morris in Philadelphia who often helps negotiate compensation on behalf of general counsel, said the practice of paying general counsel on the backend is common. He explained the practice is tied to how other executives are compensated.
“General counsel compensation has evolved with the way compensation is viewed at the C-suite level,” Nixon explained. “There is a greater emphasis towards equity and a greater emphasis on company performance.”
He said executives want their general counsel to have more skin in the game—that is, tie their compensation to the company’s success.
The pandemic was good for Amazon’s business, as people ordered in even more than they did pre-pandemic: food, medicine, books, toys—Amazon recorded record-breaking revenues. According to a financial statement from December 2020, the company brought in $386.1 billion in revenues. That marks a 38% increase from 2019 revenues, which were recorded at $280.5 billion.
GC Zapolsky has worked in Amazon’s legal department since 1999 when he served as associate general counsel; he was made general counsel in 2012. Throughout 2020, he took some criticism for insulting a fired warehouse worker during an executive meeting. His notes during the meeting, according to a Vice News report, were “forwarded widely in the company.”
“He’s not smart, or articulate, and to the extent the press wants to focus on us versus him, we will be in a much stronger PR position than simply explaining for the umpteenth time how we’re trying to protect workers,” Zapolsky wrote in notes from the meeting.
Zapolsky later said he allowed his emotions to get the better of him and apologized for the remarks.
The company at large has faced criticism more recently for fighting back against warehouse worker attempts to unionize. Employees ended up voting against joining a union in Alabama. However, in a letter to shareholders, founder Jeff Bezos acknowledged the company could be doing more for its employees.
“I think we need to do a better job for our employees. While the voting results were lopsided and our direct relationship with employees is strong, it’s clear to me that we need a better vision for how we create value for employees—a vision for their success,” Bezos wrote to shareholders.
Reprinted with permission from Corporate Counsel, © ALM Media Properties LLC. All rights reserved.