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The 10 Highest Paid CEOs & How They Got There

Have you ever wondered how America's highest earners got their dream jobs? You might imagine that these millionaire CEOs have always lived a life of luxury, but in fact they worked hard over long careers to earn their lucrative positions.

The men and women who made the list of 2016's top 10 highest paid CEOs come from a variety of backgrounds, from studying at law school to starting out in the mailroom. Here's a guide to how they got to where they are today, and some inspiration for how you could follow in their footsteps.

1. Tom Rutledge, Charter Communications

Total earnings: $98 million

Salary: $2 million

Bonus: $7.7 million

Stock: $10 million

Options: $78 million

Previous roles:

COO, Cablevision

President, Time Warner Cable

Unknown role, American Television and Communications

Education:

B.A. in Economics, California University of Pennsylvania, 1977

Job opportunities at Charter Communications

2. Leslie Moonves, CBS

Total earnings: $68.6 million

Salary: $3.5 million

Bonus: $32 million

Stock: $31 million

Previous roles:

Co-President and co-COO, Viacom

Director, ZeniMax Media

President, Warner Bros Television

President, Lorimar Television

Vice President of Development, Saul Ilson Productions

Development Executive, Catalina Productions

Vice President of Movies and Miniseries, 20th Century Fox Television

Education:

Bucknell University, 1971

Job opportunities at CBS

3. David O'Connor, Madison Square Garden (former CEO)

Total earnings: $54 million

Salary: $1.5 million

Bonus: $4.7 million

Stock: $47 million

Previous roles:

Managing Partner, Creative Artists Agency

Agent, Creative Artists Agency

Mailroom, Creative Artists Agency

Job opportunities at Madison Square Garden

4. Fabrizio Freda, Estee Lauder

Total earnings: $47.7 million

Salary: $1.9 million

Bonus: $5.4 million

Stock: $36 million

Options: $3.4 million

Previous roles:

Independent Director, BlackRock

President of Global Snacks Division, Procter & Gamble

Various roles in Health and Beauty Division, Procter & Gamble

Marketing and Strategic Planning Director, Gucci

Education:

University of Naples Federico II, 1981

Job opportunities at Estee Lauder

5. Mark Parker, Nike

Total earnings: $47.6 million

Salary: $1.5 million

Bonus: $7.3 million

Stock: $33.5 million

Options: $4 million

Previous roles:

VP of Global Footwear, Nike

General Manager, Nike

Vice President, Nike

VP of Development, Nike

Footwear Designer, Nike

Education:

Pennsylvania State University, 1977

Job opportunities at Nike

6. Mark Hurd, Oracle

Total earnings: $41.1 million

Salary: $1 million

Stock: $21 million

Options: $18 million

Previous roles:

Chairman, CEO and President, Hewlett Packard

President and CEO, NCR Corp

Director of Marketing, NCR Corp

Education:

BBA in Business Administration, Baylor University, 1979

Job opportunities at Oracle

7. Bob Iger, Walt Disney

Total earnings: $41 million

Salary: $2.5 million

Bonus: $20 million

Stock: $8.8 million

Options: $8.4 million

Previous roles:

President, ABC Television

President and COO, Capital Cities/ABC

Weatherman, unknown TV station

Education:

BSc in Television and Radio, Ithaca College, 1973

Job opportunities at Walt Disney

8. Safra Catz, Oracle

Total earnings: $40.9 million

Salary: $1 million

Stock: $21.8 million

Options: $18.1 million

Previous roles:

Chief Financial Offer, Oracle

Co-President, PeopleSoft

Managing Director, Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette

Education:

University of Pennsylvania Law School, 1986

Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, 1983

Job opportunities at Oracle

9. David Zaslav, Discovery Communications

Total earnings: $37.2 million

Salary: $3 million

Bonus: $7.5 million

Stock: $15.1 million

Options: $11.1 million

Previous roles:

President of Cable and Domestic TV and New Media Distribution, NBC Universal

Adjunct Professor, Fordham University

Attorney, LeBoeuf, Lamb, Leiby and MacRae

Education:

BS, State University of New York at Binghamton

JD, Boston University School of Law, 1985

Job opportunities at Discovery Communications

10. Bobby Kotick, Activision Blizzard

Total earnings: $33.1 million

Salary: $2.4 million

Bonus: $5.6 million

Stock: $25 million

Previous roles:

Co-owner, 4Kids Entertainment

Software entrepreneur, various companies

Education:

University of Michigan

Job opportunities at Activision Blizzard

As these success stories show, there isn't just one set route to becoming a business magnate. Some of the highest paid CEOs entered the working world straight from a prestigious university, while others started in creative roles such as shoe designing or acting. Some had an entrepreneurial start, forming their own businesses, while others worked their way to the top after years in the same company.

This proves that reaching the peak of business success is an opportunity open to everyone, no matter your background or skills. What is important is persistence, drive and determination. What connects all of these high earners is that they worked hard and made the most of every opportunity that came their way. Of course, not everyone who is ambitious and hard-working will end up on the rich list, but they will always be respected by their peers, and importantly, they will never wonder what might have happened if they had been fully committed to achieving success.

Steppingblocks is your Digital Career Counselor.

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Research your future career with real-world stats about your major, your interests, and your job title. Turn billions of data-points into actionable insights about your future with a few simple clicks. Watch the video to find out how.

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