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High-tech execs drubbed

As tech stocks led today's 512-point Dow Jones collapse, it's no surprise that high-tech executives were drubbed on Wall Street.

As tech stocks led today's 512-point collapse in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, it's no surprise that option-holding high-tech executives were drubbed on Wall Street.

Microsoft's Bill Gates and Dell Computer's Michael Dell each lost billions of dollars, at least on paper, as their companies' stock prices fell, according to Norby International's CEO Wealth Meter, while rival CEOs Lou Gerstner (IBM) and Larry Ellison (Oracle) also saw princely sums vanish.

Gates, whose Microsoft stock dropped 9.3125 points to 95.9375, lost more than $5 billion in the 8.85 percent slide. Earlier this month, the software giant was trading above 110. But Gates, said by Microsoft to hold an approximately 22.3 percent stake in the company, remains worth nearly $52 billion, according to Nordby's calculations of the executive's Securities and Exchange Commission filings.

Dell's PC hardware company was hit still harder, declining 18.75 points to 100 even. The 15.79-percent plunge cost the 34-year-old almost $2 billion, cutting his net worth to $10.1 billion, according to Nordby's numbers.

The value of Ellison's stock holdings declined $289 million to $4.4 billion, while Gerstner lost a scant $4.3 million, lessening his shares to $48.9 million.

Of the 59 companies analyzed by CNET in a report on high-tech CEO compensation, the average number of stock options for fiscal 1997 awarded to CEOs was 377,000, with an average value of roughly $7 million. Gerstner received 2.2 million options with a value of $139.3 million in fiscal 1997, according to data complied by Standard & Poor's Compustat, while Ellison received a grant of 1.6 million options valued at $41.5 million.

Dell received 3.2 million option grants last year, making him the most generously rewarded high-tech CEO in terms of options granted, according to Compustat. Gates does not accept stock options, according to Microsoft.

Tech companies dole out stock options in hopes of retaining CEOs and making their compensation contingent on how successfully they run the company. The theory is that the better a company performs in the long run, the higher its stock price will be and, consequently, the greater the reward for the CEO when it comes time to cash in his options.

But the practice has increasingly been called into question for a variety of reasons, and, of course, a day like today is probably beyond any CEO's control.