Category Archives: Executive Compensation

Does Your Executive Pay Plan Create “Drive, Discipline and Speed”?

The following post comes to us from Pay Governance LLC and is based on a Pay Governance memorandum by Ira KayJohn D. England, and Jeffrey W. Joyce.

At a recent Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) conference, two private equity firms’ operating partners observed that executive compensation programs in each and every company in which they invested had to be completely overhauled. “Of course,” quipped one CHRO, “all you need to do is grant large, upfront stock options as a one-time long-term incentive, and you don’t worry about pay after that.” After the chuckling subsided, the operating partners politely demurred. One replied “Actually, we worry every day about whether our portfolio company pay programs create drive, discipline, and speed, for without these three motivations, our investments won’t create value for our investors. The other added, “You need to worry more about these motivations, too.”

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Do Proxy Advisors Say On Pay Voting Policies Improve TSR?

The following post comes to us from Pay Governance LLC and is based on a Pay Governance memorandum by Ira Kay, Brian Johnson, Brian Lane, and Blaine Martin.

The vast majority—98%—of companies have passed their annual say on pay votes (SOP) over the past four years. Proxy advisor voting recommendations remain highly influential on these votes, and many companies, perhaps hundreds, have changed the structure of their executive pay programs to try to comply with proxy advisor policies and to obtain a “FOR” SOP vote recommendation from proxy advisors. Proxy advisors base voting recommendations on quantitative and qualitative tests that are highly tailored to their own perspective of and guidance on what comprises a successful executive pay model. [1] Are these voting recommendations correlated with long-term shareholder value creation as measured by total shareholder returns (TSR)? While correlation does not prove causation, what possible explanations may explain the correlation observed in our research?

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Are Companies Setting Challenging Target Incentive Goals?

The following post comes to us from Pay Governance LLC and is based on a Pay Governance memorandum by Ira Kay, Steve Friedman, Brian Lane, Blaine Martin, and Soren Meischeid.

Do companies set appropriately challenging goals in their incentive plans? How does a compensation committee determine whether management is recommending challenging goals? How important are earnings guidance and analyst expectations in goal setting? Are more challenging goals achieved as frequently as less challenging goals? How much are annual incentive payouts increased by the achievement of incentive goals? How does the stock market react to challenging goals?

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Holding Corporate Officers and Directors Accountable for Failures of Corporate Governance

The following post comes to us from Greg M. Zipes, a trial attorney with the United States Department of Justice. This post is based on his article Ties that Bind: Codes of Conduct that Require Automatic Reductions to the Pay of Directors, Officers, and Their Advisors for Failures of Corporate Governance that was recently published in the Journal of Business and Securities Law. All comments are in Mr. Zipes’ individual capacity and do not reflect the views of the Department of Justice.

Executives and directors at large corporations rarely face personal liability for failures of oversight that lead to large penalties or losses to their companies. As outlined in my recent article, the American consumer can help provide a solution to this lack of accountability.

I propose that corporate executives and directors sign binding codes of conduct requiring them to uphold specific standards within their corporations. They would agree to specific, transparent reductions in compensation if they fail to live up to these standards. This proposal does not rely on the altruism of these corporate heads to sign. Rather, it assumes that those consumers, dismayed by corporate excesses, will direct at least a portion of their business towards those companies with executives who are willing to put their compensation on the line.

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Trends in Board of Director Compensation

The following post comes to us from Pay Governance LLC and is based on a Pay Governance memorandum by Steve Pakela and John Sinkular.

Over the past 15 years, the methods of compensating non-employee directors have changed in tandem with the risk and workload of being a director. The catalyst for change over this time period includes a variety of regulatory requirements, such as Sarbanes-Oxley and Dodd Frank, enhanced proxy disclosure rules and increases in shareholder activism. By way of examples, Audit Committees meet more frequently and must have at least one qualified financial expert, and Compensation Committees have greater workloads. Today’s corporate director needs to dedicate more time to the job, assume greater risk, and meet higher qualification standards. Arguably, these issues, and newer issues such as director tenure limits, have reduced the pool of available individuals who are willing to serve as a director. As with all things impacted by supply and demand, the total compensation provided to directors has increased. Over the past decade, total director remuneration has grown by approximately 5% per year on average.

With the changing role and the increase in total compensation, the design of director compensation programs has changed over time as well. The basic construct of the director compensation arrangement continues to be a mix of cash and equity. However, the means of delivering these two elements has changed rather dramatically over the past decade. Below we review key elements of director compensation programs.

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IRS Releases Final Regulations Under Section 162(m)

The following post comes to us from Edmond T. FitzGerald, partner and head of the Executive Compensation Group at Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP, and is based on a Davis Polk client memorandum by Kyoko Takahashi Lin.

On March 31, 2015, the Internal Revenue Service published final regulations under Section 162(m) of the Internal Revenue Code. As it did when it proposed these regulations in 2011, the IRS has indicated that these regulations are not intended to reflect substantive changes to existing requirements of Section 162(m), but rather to clarify them.

The final regulations clarify two requirements for exceptions from the Section 162(m) tax deductibility limit:

  • the need for per-employee limits on equity awards in order to qualify stock options and stock appreciation rights (SARs) for the “qualified performance-based compensation” exception; and
  • the treatment of restricted stock units (RSUs) or phantom stock arrangements under the transition period exception for certain compensation “paid” by newly public companies.

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A Say on “Say-on-Pay”: Assessing Impact After Four Years

Joseph Bachelder is special counsel in the Tax, Employee Benefits & Private Clients practice group at McCarter & English, LLP. The following post is based on an article by Mr. Bachelder, with assistance from Andy Tsang, which first appeared in the New York Law Journal.

The 2015 proxy season is the fifth one in which shareholders of thousands of publicly traded corporations have cast non-binding votes on the executive pay programs of the companies in which they are invested. The holding of such a vote, commonly known as Say-on-Pay, is required under Section 951 of the Dodd-Frank law. [1] That requirement applies to most publicly traded companies. Following are some observations on Say-on-Pay.

Results of Votes

In each of the four years of Say-on-Pay—2011-2014 proxy seasons—at the Russell 3000 companies holding Say-on-Pay votes (i) the executive pay program received favorable votes from over 90 percent of the shareholders voting at 75 percent of those companies and (ii) 60 or fewer companies had a majority of votes cast disapproving the executive pay program. [2]

Evaluating the Impact

Following are two propositions on how well Say-on-Pay is working.

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CEO Contractual Protection and Managerial Short-Termism

The following post comes to us from Xia Chen and Qiang Cheng, both of the School of Accountancy at Singapore Management University; Alvis Lo of the Department of Accounting at Boston College; and Xin Wang of the Accounting Area at the University of Hong Kong.

In our paper, CEO Contractual Protection and Managerial Short-Termism, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we investigate whether CEO contractual protection, can address managerial short-termism by reducing managers’ incentives to engage in myopic behavior. Managers generally have incentives to boost short-term performance to increase their welfare, potentially at the expense of long-term firm value. However, CEOs with contractual protection are protected from short-term performance swings and downside risk, and consequently are likely to have weaker incentives to engage in myopic behavior.

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The Benefits of Limits on Executive Pay

The following post comes to us from Peter Cebon of the University of Melbourne and Benjamin Hermalin, Professor of Economics at the University of California, Berkeley. Work from the Program on Corporate Governance about CEO pay includes: The CEO Pay Slice by Lucian Bebchuk, Martijn Cremers, and Urs Peyer (discussed on the Forum here); Paying for Long-Term Performance by Lucian Bebchuk and Jesse Fried (discussed on the Forum here); and Lucky CEOs and Lucky Directors by Lucian Bebchuk, Yaniv Grinstein and Urs Peyer (discussed on the Forum here).

Our paper, When Less Is More: The Benefits of Limits on Executive Pay, forthcoming in the Review of Financial Studies, addresses the question of whether limits on executive compensation harm or benefit shareholders. In particular, our model shows that if regulation limits executive compensation, this can make it possible for the board to give the CEO incentives that are both more effective and less costly, and for the two parties to create a relationship that is more collaborative. Among the implications—some of which we are exploring in a companion paper in progress—is this collaborative relationship makes it more attractive for the CEO to pursue long-run strategies (e.g., organic growth) that are more profitable than the short-run strategies (e.g., mergers and acquisitions) they would have pursued if firms had to rely on stock-based compensation for their executives.

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Incentive Alignment through Performance-Focused Shareholder Proposals on Management Compensation

The following post comes to us from Steve Fortin of the Accounting Area at McGill University; Chandra Subramaniam of the Department of Accounting at the University of Texas at Arlington; Xu (Frank) Wang of the Department of Accounting at Saint Louis University; and Sanjian Bill Zhang of the Department of Accountancy at California State University, Long Beach. Work from the Program on Corporate Governance about CEO pay includes: The CEO Pay Slice by Lucian Bebchuk, Martijn Cremers, and Urs Peyer (discussed on the Forum here); Paying for Long-Term Performance by Lucian Bebchuk and Jesse Fried (discussed on the Forum here); and Lucky CEOs and Lucky Directors by Lucian Bebchuk, Yaniv Grinstein and Urs Peyer (discussed on the Forum here).

Corporate boards are conscious of the role that executive pay practices play in improving corporate governance and increasing shareholder wealth (Gammeltoft, 2010). Economic theory suggests that the key to aligning managerial compensation with shareholder interest is to increase the sensitivity of executive compensation to firm performance (Core et al., 2005; Jensen and Meckling, 1976). Firms finance their operations, however, with funds from both shareholders and creditors, e.g., bondholders. Thus, agency theory also concerns shareholder-bondholder agency conflict and the difficulty of concurrently aligning the interests of shareholders, bondholders, and managers (Ahmed et al., 2002; Jensen and Meckling, 1976; Ortiz-Molina, 2007). In the past decade, the business press has focused on excessive CEO pay, observed during the 2001 Enron/Worldcom scandals as well as the recent 2007–2008 credit crisis, e.g., AIG. Critics contend that contracting between CEOs and boards has been shadowed by pervasive managerial influence (Bebchuk and Fried, 2005; Crystal, 1992). Consistent with these concerns, shareholders have begun to use the “shareholder proposal rule” (Rule 14a-8) established by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to defend their interest and have submitted hundreds of proposals to many of the largest U.S. corporations.

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