Individual profits varied widely, however, says the Incomes Data Services survey, which looked at 145 share options exercised by senior executives of 32 quoted companies.
Gains ranged from pounds 1,907 for a director of the Scapa Group, a profit of 28 per cent on the exercise price, to more than pounds 1.3m by the chief executive of Smith New Court, a profit of 147.8 per cent.
The median gain in the third quarter of last year was therefore only pounds 54,000 - a number of big payments almost doubled the average figure.
According to the IDS analysis, options were worth 77.4 per cent of earnings on average for chairmen and chief executives. For other directors the figure was 70.6 per cent. Typically, survey directors held their options for five years before exercising them.
Some of the biggest gainers from share option schemes have been executives in the privatised utilities. Many electricity company directors have been able to cash in options during the past few weeks, as schemes set up on privatisation three years ago mature.
So far they have realised more than pounds 6m, according to reports, and the average gain at current share prices for each of the executives concerned is pounds 320,000. This follows water company executives exercising share options starting a year ago. Their 10 chairmen realised gains of more than pounds 2m last year.Reuse content