In our paper, Looking in the Rear View Mirror: The Effect of Managers’ Professional Experience on Corporate Cash Holdings, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we study the role of managers’ professional experience in financial decision making, focusing on one of the most debated corporate policies in recent years – cash savings.
We focus our analysis on corporate cash policies because firms hold unprecedented, increasing levels of cash. In 1980, firms held $234.6 billion (in 2011 dollars) in cash, amounting to 12% of assets. By 2011, the amount of cash grew to $1,500 billion, or 22% of assets. The predominant approach to understanding corporate cash holdings is the precautionary savings motive. According to this motive, firms hold liquid assets to hedge against future states of nature in which adverse cash flow shocks, coupled with external finance frictions, may lead to underinvestment or default. While prior research shows that the precautionary savings motive explains much of the cash policy of firms, some suggest that managers are overly conservative in their decision to hold high levels of cash.
Motivated by psychological evidence, which shows that past experience affects individual decision-making, we argue that managers may behave conservatively because they experienced financial difficulties in their professional career. To test this hypothesis, we collect detailed data on managers’ employment histories and construct four measures of experience at firms that faced financial difficulties. These measures capture financial constraints and adverse shocks to cash flows and stock returns. To separate firm and CEO effects, the measures are based on prior employment at other firms.