Tag: Accountability


SEC Chair’s Statement on Pay Ratio

Mary Jo White is Chair of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The following post is based on Chair White’s remarks at a recent open meeting of the SEC, available here. The views expressed in this post are those of Chair White and do not necessarily reflect those of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the other Commissioners, or the Staff. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance about CEO pay includes Paying for Long-Term Performance (discussed on the Forum here) and the book Pay without Performance: The Unfulfilled Promise of Executive Compensation, both by Lucian Bebchuk and Jesse Fried.

To say that the views on the pay ratio disclosure requirement are divided is an obvious understatement. Since it was mandated by Congress, the pay ratio rule has been controversial, spurring a contentious and, at times, heated dialogue. The Commission has received more than 287,400 comment letters, including over 1,500 unique letters, with some asserting the importance of the rule to shareholders as they consider the issue of appropriate CEO compensation and investment decisions, and others asserting that the rule has no benefits and will needlessly cause issuers to incur significant costs.

These differences in views were evident at the time the Commission voted to propose the pay ratio rule. That the Commission was even considering the rule proposal was, for example, criticized as contrary to our mission. We may hear similar thoughts today [August 5, 2015].

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The CEO Pay Ratio Rule

Luis A. Aguilar is a Commissioner at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. This post is based on Commissioner Aguilar’s remarks at a recent open meeting of the SEC; the full text, including footnotes, is available here. The views expressed in the post are those of Commissioner Aguilar and do not necessarily reflect those of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the other Commissioners, or the Staff.

Today [August 5, 2015], the Commission takes another step to fulfill its Congressional mandate to provide better disclosure for investors regarding executive compensation at public companies. As required by Section 953(b) of the Dodd-Frank Act, today’s rules would require a public company to disclose the ratio of the total compensation of its chief executive officer (“CEO”) to the median total compensation received by the rest of its employees. The hope, quite simply, is that this information will better equip shareholders to promote accountability for the executive compensation practices of the companies that they own.

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The Next Frontier for Boards, Oversight of Risk Culture

Matteo Tonello is managing director of corporate leadership at The Conference Board. This post relates to an issue of The Conference Board’s Director Notes series authored by Parveen P. Gupta and Tim Leech. The complete publication, including footnotes and Appendix, is available here.

Over the past 15 years expectations for board oversight have skyrocketed. In 2002 the Sarbanes-Oxley Act put the spotlight on board oversight of financial reporting. The 2008 global financial crisis focused regulatory attention on the need to improve board oversight of management’s risk appetite and tolerance. Most recently, in the wake of a number of high-profile personal data breaches, questions are being asked about board oversight of cyber-security, the newest risk threatening companies’ long term success. This post provides a primer on the next frontier for boards: oversight of “risk culture.”

Weak “risk culture” has been diagnosed as the root cause of many large and, in the words of the Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Mary Jo White, “egregious” corporate governance failures. Deficient risk and control management processes, IT security, and unreliable financial reporting are increasingly seen as mere symptoms of a “bad” or “deficient” risk culture. The new challenge that corporate directors face is how to diagnose and oversee the company’s risk culture and what actions to take if it is found to be deficient.

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Making Executive Compensation More Accountable

Luis A. Aguilar is a Commissioner at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. This post is based on Commissioner Aguilar’s remarks at a recent open meeting of the SEC; the full text, including footnotes, is available here. The views expressed in the post are those of Commissioner Aguilar and do not necessarily reflect those of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the other Commissioners, or the Staff. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance about CEO pay includes Paying for Long-Term Performance (discussed on the Forum here) and the book Pay without Performance: The Unfulfilled Promise of Executive Compensation, both by Lucian Bebchuk and Jesse Fried.

When it comes to compensation, Americans believe you should earn your money. They also believe, just as strongly, that you should not keep what you did not earn. It’s fundamental to our values. However, when companies have to restate their financial statements because they violated applicable reporting requirements, their executives may not be required to reimburse any incentive-based compensation that was erroneously paid. In other words, they get to keep what they never should have received in the first place.

And, quite often, we are talking about very large amounts. In today’s corporate world, many executives are earning eye-catching sums. Much of the increase in executive compensation is commonly attributed to the impact of incentive-based compensation, including equity and other performance-based compensation plans.

Incentive-based compensation plans are intended to align the interests of company managers and shareholders. However, when a company is required to issue a restatement, and when its executives have been paid compensation based on inflated financial results, this alignment disappears. In such cases, it is only fair that these erroneously awarded payments be recovered.

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Governance Challenges Arising From “Corporate Cooperation” Concepts

Michael W. Peregrine is a partner at McDermott Will & Emery LLP. This post is based on an article by Mr. Peregrine, with assistance from Joshua T. Buchman and Kelsey J. Leingang; the views expressed therein do not necessarily reflect the views of McDermott Will & Emery LLP or its clients.

The current Department of Justice emphasis on “corporate cooperation” in the context of government investigations creates the potential for significant tension to arise between governance and executive leadership, which potential should be recognized and addressed proactively by the board.

The DOJ Criminal Division has, with notable frequency this spring, sought to increase public transparency as to the process it applies when making a decision with respect to corporate prosecutions. A principal goal of DOJ’s public effort is to clarify the parameters it considers in deciding how to proceed when made aware of alleged corporate wrongdoing. This goal includes making the value of cooperation, and the consequences of noncooperation, more clearly apparent to corporations and their advisors. [1]

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Corporations and the 99%: Team Production Revisited

Shlomit Azgad-Tromer is a researcher at Tel Aviv University—Buchmann Faculty of Law. This post is based on the article Corporations and the 99%: Team Production Revisited. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance includes The Growth of Executive Pay by Lucian Bebchuk and Yaniv Grinstein, and The CEO Pay Slice by Lucian Bebchuk and Jesse Fried (discussed on the Forum here).

“We Are the 99%” is a political slogan used by the Occupy Wall Street movement, referring to the prevailing wealth and income inequality, and claiming a divergence of corporate America from the public. The article explores the interaction between the general public and the public corporation, and its legal manifestation.

Stakeholder theory portrays the corporation as a sphere of cooperation between all stakeholder constituencies, including the general public. Revisiting team production analysis, the article argues that while several constituencies indeed form part of the corporate team, others are exogenous to the corporate enterprise. Employees, suppliers and financiers contribute together to the common corporate enterprise, enjoying a long-term relational contract with the corporation, while retail consumers contract with the corporation at arm’s length, and other people living alongside the corporation do not contract with it at all. Under this organizational model, the general public may participate in the team forming the corporate enterprise by providing public financing. Indeed, corporate law was developed to protect public investors.

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Improving Transparency for Executive Pay Practices

Luis A. Aguilar is a Commissioner at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. This post is based on Commissioner Aguilar’s remarks at a recent open meeting of the SEC; the full text, including footnotes, is available here. The views expressed in the post are those of Commissioner Aguilar and do not necessarily reflect those of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the other Commissioners, or the Staff. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance about CEO pay includes: Paying for Long-Term Performance by Lucian Bebchuk and Jesse Fried (discussed on the Forum here); Golden Parachutes and the Wealth of Shareholders by Lucian Bebchuk, Alma Cohen, and Charles C.Y. Wang (discussed on the Forum here); and The Growth of Executive Pay by Lucian Bebchuk and Yaniv Grinstein.

Today, as part of a series of Congressionally-mandated rules to promote corporate accountability, we consider proposed rules to put a spotlight on the relationship between executive compensation and a company’s financial performance. It is well known that the compensation of corporate executives has grown exponentially over the last several decades, and continues to do so today. It is also commonly accepted that much of that growth reflects the trend towards equity-based and other incentive compensation, which is thought to align the interests of corporate management with the company’s shareholders. Specifically, the idea is that stock options, restricted stock, and other incentive-based compensation encourages management to work hard to improve their company’s performance, because managers will share in the wealth along with shareholders when stock prices rise.

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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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SEC Enforcement Developments in 2014, and a Look Forward

The following post comes to us from Bill McLucas, partner and chair of the securities department at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP, and is based on a WilmerHale publication by Mr. McLucas; the complete publication, including footnotes, is available here.

As we noted last year in our memorandum focused on 2013 developments, Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Mary Jo White has called for the SEC to be more aggressive in its enforcement program. By all accounts, the Enforcement Division has responded to that call. The past year saw the SEC continue the trend, started under Enforcement Director Robert Khuzami in 2009, of transforming the SEC’s civil enforcement arm into an aggressive law enforcement agency modeled on a federal prosecutor’s office. This should not come as a surprise since both Andrew Ceresney, the current Director, and George Cannellos, Ceresney’s Co-Director for a brief period of time, like Khuzami, spent many years as federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York. And the Commission itself is now led for the first time by a former federal prosecutor, Mary Jo White, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York from 1993 to 2002. Given the events of the past decade involving the Madoff fraud and the fallout from the 2008 financial crisis, we believe both the aggressive tone and positions the SEC has taken in recent years will continue.

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The (Neglected) Value of Board Accountability in Corporate Governance

The following post comes to us from Marc Moore, Director of the Centre for Corporate and Commercial Law at University of Cambridge.

The term “accountability” is virtually ubiquitous within literature and debates on organizational governance, and especially within corporate governance. However, as a social phenomenon it is frequently misunderstood, particularly by corporate lawyers.

To a large extent, this is unsurprising. After all, it is to be expected that complex sociological issues posed by the historically peculiar scale and structure of public companies—such as decisional power, accountability and legitimacy—will be received somewhat uneasily within orthodox corporate law discourse. Indeed, with limited exceptions, Anglo-American corporate law scholarship today remains rooted in the traditional conceptual habitat of private law, with its characteristic focus on the discrete relational transaction. A latent but nonetheless significant consequence of this has been the definitional “fudging” by corporate lawyers of some inherently public-governmental phenomena that are relevant to corporate governance, in an attempt to render them consistent with the logic and language of private law. This is true nowhere more than with respect to the difficult concept of accountability.

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