Category Archives: Executive Compensation

Alternatives to Equity Shares in a Low Stock Price Environment

Steve Pakela is a Managing Partner at Pay Governance LLC. This post is based on a Pay Governance publication by Mr. Pakela, Brian Scheiring, and Mike Grasso.

Compensation Committees face the challenge of balancing the tension in motivating their executives to create shareholder value in the current Say on Pay and economic environment. The current pullback in stock prices and the uncertain financial outlook for 2016 at many companies will make this year’s compensation decisions even more challenging. Stock prices at many companies and in many sectors are down 50% or more over the past year and, in particular, since equity awards were last granted to executives. The table below illustrates the effect of a significantly low stock price on the number of shares granted. For companies whose stock price is down 50%, the number of shares required to deliver equivalent value will be double that granted last year. For those companies whose share price is down 67% or 75%, share grants will need to be three or four times greater than the shares granted last year, respectively. This can pose a number of problems ranging from creating potential windfalls when share prices recover to previous levels to exceeding maximum share grant levels contained in a shareholder approved equity incentive plan.

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Executive Pay, Share Buybacks, and Managerial Short-Termism

Ira Kay is a Managing Partner at Pay Governance LLC. This post is based on a Pay Governance memorandum by Mr. Kay, Blaine Martin, and Chris Brindisi. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance includes The Long-Term Effects of Hedge Fund Activism by Lucian Bebchuk, Alon Brav, and Wei Jiang (discussed on the Forum here), The Myth that Insulating Boards Serves Long-Term Value by Lucian Bebchuk (discussed on the Forum here), and Paying for Long-Term Performance by Lucian Bebchuk and Jesse Fried (discussed on the Forum here).

The past year has seen extensive criticism of share buybacks as an example of “corporate short-termism” within the business press, academic literature, and political community. The critics of share buybacks claim that corporate managers, motivated by flawed executive incentive plans (stock options, bonus plans based on EPS, etc.) and supported by complacent boards, behave myopically and undertake value-destroying buybacks to mechanically increase their own reward. In turn, so the criticism goes, the cash used for share buybacks directly cannibalizes long-term value-enhancing strategies such as capital investment, research and development, and employment growth, thereby damaging long-term stock price performance and the value of US markets. [1]

Pay Governance has conducted unique research using a sample of S&P 500 companies over the 2008-2014 period that brings additional perspective to this debate.

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Compensation Season 2016

Michael J. Segal is senior partner in the Executive Compensation and Benefits Department of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. This post is based on a Wachtell Lipton memorandum by Mr. Segal, Jeannemarie O’BrienAdam J. ShapiroAndrea K. Wahlquist, and David E. Kahan. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance includes Paying for Long-Term Performance by Lucian Bebchuk and Jesse Fried (discussed on the Forum here).

Boards of directors and their compensation committees will soon shift attention to the 2016 compensation season. Key considerations in the year ahead include the following:

  1. Say-on-Pay. If a company anticipates a challenging say-on-pay vote with respect to 2015 compensation, it should proactively reach out to large investors, communicate the rationale for the company’s compensation programs and give investors an opportunity to voice any concerns. Shareholder outreach efforts, and any changes made to the compensation program in response to such efforts, should be highlighted in the proxy’s Compensation Disclosure and Analysis. ISS FAQs indicate that one possible way to reverse a negative say-on-pay recommendation is to impose more onerous performance goals on existing compensation awards and to disclose publicly such changes on Form 8-K, though the FAQs further note that such action will not ensure a change in recommendation. Disclosure of prospective changes to the compensation program will demonstrate responsiveness to compensation-related concerns raised by shareholders.

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REIT and Real Estate M&A in 2016

Adam O. Emmerich is a partner in the corporate department at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, focusing primarily on mergers and acquisitions, corporate governance and securities law matters. Robin Panovka is a partner at Wachtell Lipton and co-heads the Real Estate and REIT M&A Groups. This post is based on a Wachtell Lipton publication authored by Messrs. Emmerich and Panovka.

Following are some of the key trends we are following as we enter 2016, while keeping a weather eye on macro market turmoil:

  1. M&A activity should continue at a steady pace, with a number of public-to-private and public-to-public REIT mergers already in the works.
  2. We are not expecting an avalanche of REIT buyouts a la 2006-7, but many of the same drivers are apparent, as we noted last October in Taking REITs Private, and a number of significant transactions are likely.
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Private Equity Portfolio Company Fees

Ludovic Phalippou is an Associate Professor of Finance at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford. This post is based on an article authored by Professor Phalippou; Christian Rauch, Barclays Career Development Fellow in Entrepreneurial Finance at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford; and Marc Umber, Assistant Professor of Corporate Finance at Frankfurt School of Finance & Management.

When private equity firms sponsor a takeover, they may charge fees to the target company while some of the firm’s partners sit on the company’s board of directors. In the wake of the global financial crisis, such potential for conflicts of interest became a public policy focus. On July 21st 2015, thirteen state and city treasurers wrote to the SEC to ask for private equity firms to reveal all of the fees that they charge investors. The SEC announced on October 7th 2015, that it “will continue taking action against advisers that do not adequately disclose their fees and expenses” following a settlement by Blackstone for $39 million over accelerated monitoring fees.

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Economic Downsides and Antitrust Liability Risks from Horizontal Shareholding

Einer Elhauge is the Petrie Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. This post is based on Professor Elhauge’s recent article, forthcoming in the Harvard Law Review.

In recent decades, institutional investors have grown and become more active in influencing corporate management. While this development has often been viewed as salutary from a corporate governance perspective, the implications for product market competition have become deeply troubling. As I show in a new article called Horizontal Shareholding (forthcoming in the Harvard Law Review), this growth in institutional investors means that a small group of institutions has acquired large shareholdings in horizontal competitors throughout our economy, causing them to compete less vigorously with each other.

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Activist Hedge Funds, Golden Leashes, and Advance Notice Bylaws

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 Jason D. Schloetzer of Georgetown University. The complete publication, including footnotes, is available here. For details regarding how to obtain a copy of the report, contact matteo.tonello@conference-board.org. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance includes The Long-Term Effects of Hedge Fund Activism by Lucian Bebchuk, Alon Brav, and Wei Jiang (discussed on the Forum here), and The Myth that Insulating Boards Serves Long-Term Value by Lucian Bebchuk (discussed on the Forum here).

The tactics used by activist hedge funds to target companies continue to command the attention of corporate executives and board members. This post discusses recent cases highlighting activist efforts to replace directors at target companies. It also examines the use of controversial special compensation arrangements sometimes referred to as “golden leashes,” the arguments for and against such payments, their prevalence, and the parallel evolution of advance notification bylaws (ANBs) to require disclosure of third party payments to directors.

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Ten Topics for Directors in 2016

Kerry E. Berchem is partner and head of the corporate practice group at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP. This post is based on a summary of an Akin Gump publication authored by Ms. Berchem, Rick L. Burdick, Tracy Crum, Christine B. LaFollette, and J. Kenneth Menges, Jr. The complete publication is available here.

U.S. public companies face a host of challenges as they enter 2016. Here is our annual list of hot topics for the boardroom in the coming year:

  1. Oversee the development of long-term corporate strategy in an increasingly interdependent and volatile world economy
  2. Cultivate shareholder relations and assess company vulnerabilities as activist investors target more companies with increasing success
  3. Oversee cybersecurity as the landscape becomes more developed and cyber risk tops director concerns
  4. Oversee risk management, including the identification and assessment of new and emerging risks
  5. Assess the impact of social media on the company’s business plans
  6. Stay abreast of Delaware law developments and other trends in M&A
  7. Review and refresh board composition and ensure appropriate succession
  8. Monitor developments that could impact the audit committee’s already heavy workload
  9. Set appropriate executive compensation as CEO pay ratios and income inequality continue to make headlines
  10. Prepare for and monitor developments in proxy access

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ISS Proxy Access FAQs: Problematic Proxy Access Provisions

Howard B. Dicker is a partner in the Public Company Advisory Group of Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP. This post is based on a Weil publication by Mr. Dicker, Lyuba Goltser, Joanna Jia, and Kaitlin Descovich.

Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) has published revised FAQs for its U.S. Proxy Voting Policies and Procedures, including two new FAQs directly related to proxy access. This post provides an update to our Alerts dated October 21, 2015 (available here) on Navigating Proxy Access and November 23, 2015 (available here, and discussed on the Forum here) on ISS and Glass Lewis Updated Voting Policies.

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Trends in S&P 500 CEO Compensation

Aubrey E. Bout is a Partner in the Boston office of Pay Governance LLP. This post is based on a Pay Governance memorandum by Mr. Bout, Brian Wilby, and Steve Friedman.

Executive pay continues to be a hotly debated topic in the boardroom among investors and proxy advisors, and it routinely makes headlines in the media. As the U.S. was in the heart of the financial crisis in 2008-2009, CEO total direct compensation (TDC = base salary + actual bonus paid + grant value of long-term incentives) dropped for two consecutive years. As the U.S. stock market sharply rebounded and economy stabilized and started to slowly grow again, CEO TDC also rebounded. Large pay increases occurred in 2010 and they were primarily in the form of larger LTI grants. Since then, year-over-year increases have been fairly moderate—in the 3% to 6% range. While CEO pay increases have been higher than seen for the average employee population, they are well aligned with company stock price performance.

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