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Does Microsoft spread the wealth?

The company provides the greatest financial returns for Bill Gates's "pay," at least according to a new Business Week survey.

So what if Bill Gates's net worth is close to $50 billion. His company provided the greatest financial returns for his "pay," at least according to a new Business Week survey.

The Microsoft chief executive provided shareholders with an average 31 percent return on equity between 1995 and 1997, while he was paid $1.57 million during the same period. That ranked tops in the magazine's survey, followed by the CEOs of South New England Telephone, Paychex, Times Mirror, and Costco.

But consider this: Pay is defined as salary, bonus, and long-term compensation during the three-year period. Gates's net worth is based on his total stock holdings, and that's what brings his figure close to $50 billion.

Under the category, "executives who gave shareholders the most for their pay," Gates ranked No. 2 behind Cosco CEO James Sinegal. Gates's bridge-playing billionaire buddy Warren Buffett, head of Berkshire Hathaway, ranked No. 5. Again, pay was defined under the same terms. Shareholder return is defined as the stock price at year's end, plus dividends reinvested for three years, divided by the stock price at the end of 1994.

As reported, the recent runup in Microsoft's stock price has been a boon for 42-year-old billionaire Gates, at least on paper. Despite being the nation's richest individual, he vows to give more and more to charity. (Fellow billionaire Ted Turner has taken Gates to task for this.)

Among the companies who did the worst for their pay, according to Business Week, were the CEOs of Quaker Oats, Dow Jones, Cox Communications, CVS, and Sara Lee, respectively.

Outgoing Intel chief executive Andy Grove was among the top ten paid CEOs, according to Business Week's list. He ranked seventh behind Cadence Design Systems CEO Joseph Costello.

Travelers Group CEO Sanford Weill topped the list. As reported, Travelers and Citicorp agreed to merge this week in the largest corporate merger in history.