They run the world’s most profitable company, oversee one-tenth of global oil output and their decisions help shape the fate of a nation. Their paychecks, however, are a little less grandiose.

Saudi oil giant Aramco is a cash cow for the kingdom, allowing the royal family to wield power with a drip-feed of petrodollars. For executives, it’s a relatively modest life compared with some of their peers elsewhere.

Last year, top management and board members—about 17 people in total—split roughly $30 million worth of compensation and benefits. That was half of what rivals Exxon Mobil Corp. and Chevron Corp. handed their executives and directors, though they would have been subject to income tax whereas Saudi nationals aren’t.

Chief Executive Officer Amin Nasser collected no more than a $5 million package in 2016 as the company began preparing its protracted initial public offering, people familiar with the matter said. That was less than a fifth of what Exxon’s then-CEO Rex Tillerson received at the time.

Even when taking into account the tax regime and other perks like secluded housing with private pools, the numbers are hardly staggering compared with the grand plan for the company.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman wants Aramco valued at a spectacular $2 trillion when the government eventually sells shares in it, the centrepiece of the biggest economic transformation since the firm was brought under state control in the 1970s. Inside the C-suite, senior executives for decades have been schooled in the mantra that long-term success trumps all other priorities. It’s about the future of the kingdom, not personal enrichment.

“This is the lifeblood of Saudi Arabia,” said Ellen Wald, who runs her own energy and political consulting firm and is author of the 2018 book “Saudi, Inc.: The Arabian Kingdom’s Pursuit of Profit and Power.” Senior leaders “see themselves as stewards of this incredible national resource,” she said.

Aramco hasn’t publicly revealed compensation details beyond the aggregate figures, which were included in an April bond prospectus. A spokesman for the Dhahran-based company, officially known as Saudi Arabian Oil Co., said the policy is to remunerate managers in a manner that’s consistent with Aramco’s strategy and objectives. 

More details may emerge should Aramco move ahead with its long-anticipated public listing, which has been delayed repeatedly, in part because some investors are concerned that the proposed valuation is too high. Prince Mohammed will decide in the next two days whether there's enough public support from local asset managers and wealthy Saudi families to go ahead with the IPO, people familiar with the process said.

He wants to sell part of the firm to outside investors to underpin his “Vision 2030” package of reforms. The goal is to diversify the economy, slash unemployment and reduce the reliance on oil.

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