How much is a chief executive worth?

Every year, boards of directors try to answer that question, and their conclusions can be found in this week’s round-up of CEO pay at the region’s largest public companies.

The sums are big, and I’m always amused when I’m touching base with companies how many will quibble over whether the millions their executives were granted in 2012 will actually be delivered in that fiscal year or at some point down the road.

I don’t know about you, but when the boss says there will be a little more in my paycheck, I’ve already made a mental calculation about what I’m going to do with it.

But I digress.

You would think there might be some correlation to the size of the company one runs to the girth of their paycheck. Not always.

In Washington, the defense contracting giants Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics and Northrop Grumman lead our Post 200 list of big local public companies, based on the revenues they generate. Their CEOs ranked 2, 5 and 7 in pay — with an $8.4 million difference from highest to lowest.

The highest paid executive is Discovery Communications chief David Zaslav, by a wide margin; his company was the 16th largest in our Post 200 listing last December. Cogent Communications Group chief David Schaeffer clocks in at No. 9 in pay; his telecommunications company ranked No. 65.

Private equity giant Carlyle Group knows few peers in the local financial world, but the $281,250 each its chief executives David M. Rubenstein and William E. Conway Jr. draw can be found near the bottom of the list, not that anyone would consider the two co-founders exactly impoverished.

Lots can go into how much anyone gets paid in any given year. Are you a gun for hire or a founder with a chunk of the business? Newly hired or just departing? Circumstances can skew the numbers. The details matter.

Still, such surveys offer a snapshot in time, a chance to debate whether folks earned their pay.