Grade said that the ten members of the BBC's executive board could earn more if they worked in the private sector, rather than for the publicly funded broadcaster.
Addressing the culture select committee, Grade said: "People may not like the fact that somebody running a BBC department can earn this kind of money, but they could earn an awful lot more elsewhere."
The broadcasting trade union BECTU immediately shot back in a statement, accusing the BBC of "extreme arrogance".
The comments came as the BBC came under fire from a coalition of BECTU, the NUJ and the Musician's Union, in response to a proposed 2.6% rise, less than the current inflation rate of 3%, for BBC staff members, while the top executives were awarded rises of up to 30%.
The ten board members were revealed last week to have been paid a total of £3.7m in pay and bonuses. Thompson's salary was increased by £60,000 to £619,000 from 2005 to 2006, despite refusing to take a bonus on top his salary as he implemented large-scale redundancies.
Senior executives such as director of television Jana Bennett and director of radio Jenny Abramsky were also awarded above-inflation pay rises. Bennett's pay was boosted from £334,000 to £353,000, while Abramsky's went from £304,000 to £322,000.
The director-general, who was also at the select committee meeting, defended the new £18m deal Jonathan Ross had signed with the corporation to stay with the broadcaster until 2010. The BBC has come under intense fire for wasting licence payers money and artificially inflating the market.
Speaking to the committee Thompson justified the presenter's salary stating that he had been approached with deals from other broadcasters.
Formal seven-day notice of strike ballots is due to be sent to the BBC by BECTU by Wednesday, although the unions have not ruled out further discussions with management while ballot preparations are underway.
Union representatives are due to meet again on the afternoon of August 3 to consider the ballot outcome.
The BBC cut 1,132 posts in the last year and will cut more than 2,000 over the coming year to achieve its next target of a £112m cost reduction.
If you have an opinion on this or any other issue raised on Brand Republic, join the debate in the Forum.