TORONTO - The chief executive of Manulife Financial Corp. was paid $9.33 million in direct compensation last year for his performance with the Canadian life insurance giant.

Manulife's board of directors says Donald Guloien helped navigate the firm away from some of the most dangerous financial exposures during the economic downturn, and has been rewarded for his efforts.

Guloien made a $1.06-million salary and $8.27 million in various other incentives in 2009.

However, the board accepted his request to cap his bonus at about $1 million, slightly less than half of the total he earned, with the rest of the amount deferred to the 2010 financial year through stock.

"It is the board's opinion that he has done an excellent job in extraordinary circumstances," the company's management proxy circular said.

"He has provided strong leadership, clearly demonstrating his ability to identify critical priorities and take appropriate action."

Guloien worked at senior executive vice-president and chief investment officer at Manulife (TSX:MFC) before he stepped into the chief executive role last May when Dominic D'Alessandro departed.

In 2008, Guloien made $3.93 million in total compensation as CIO, including a $839,798 salary.

The board says it took Guloien's performance as both chief investment officer and CEO into account when determining his pay for 2009.

Guloien has been responsible for leading Manulife in a few controversial decisions, including a move to halve its dividend last August, as part of what he called a "disciplined" move.

In November, he headed a $2.5-billion stock issue intended to restore Manulife's balance sheet and reduce debt.

"While the board recognizes that some of these actions may have temporarily depressed the share price, it is the board's belief that they are in the best long-term interest of both the company and its shareholders," the proxy circular said.

Manulife earned $1.4 billion for the year, versus $517 million in 2008.