Since 2010, performance-contingent awards have been the most widely used long-term incentive (LTI) grant type among the Top 250 companies  and are now in use by 89% of the sample. The prevalence of performance awards and investor preferences have spurred considerable interest in relative total shareholder return (TSR) as a performance metric. Relative TSR measures a company’s shareholder returns  against an external comparator group and eliminates the need to set multi-year goals. Use of relative TSR performance awards among the Top 250 companies has increased from 29% in 2010 to 49% in 2014, and relative TSR is now the most prevalent measure used to evaluate company performance for performance awards.
Posts Tagged ‘Executive Compensation’
More than a decade ago, Professors Lucian Bebchuk and Jesse Fried published the seminal work on the role and significance of managerial power theory in executive compensation. Their work cultivated a vivid debate on executive compensation in companies with dispersed ownership. The discourse on the optimality of executive pay in controlled companies, however, has been more monolithic. Conventional wisdom among corporate law theorists has long suggested that the presence of a controlling shareholder should alleviate the problem of managerial opportunism because such a controller has both the power and incentives to curb excessive executive pay.
My Article, Executive Compensation in Controlled Companies, forthcoming in the Indiana Law Journal, challenges that common understanding by proposing a different view that is based on an agency problem paradigm, and by presenting a comprehensive framework for understanding the relationship between concentrated ownership and executive pay. On the theoretical level, the Article shows that controlling shareholders often have incentives to overpay professional managers instead of having an arm’s-length contract with them, and therefore it suggests that compensation practices in a large number of controlled companies may have their own pathologies.
The Harvard Law School Program on Corporate Governance and the Harvard Law School Program on Institutional Investors convened the Harvard Roundtable on Executive Compensation last Thursday, November 6. The event brought together for a roundtable discussion prominent representatives of the investor, issuer, advisor, and academic communities. Participants in the event, and the topics of discussion, are set out below.
The Roundtable, which was co-organized by Lucian Bebchuk, Stephen Davis, and Scott Hirst, was sponsored by Pearl Meyer & Partners. In addition to Pearl Meyer & Partners, the Roundtable was supported by a number of co-sponsors (listed here), the supporting organizations of the Program on Corporate Governance (listed on the program site here), and the institutional members of the Harvard Institutional Investor Forum (listed here).
The Roundtable sessions focused on both the process for determining executive compensation, and on substantive pay arrangements. The Roundtable discussion on issues relating to the process of determining executive compensation included discussion of the work of proxy advisors and their interaction with investors and issuers, engagement between issuers and investors themselves and compensation disclosure issues. The Roundtable then moved to a discussion of the substantive terms of compensation arrangements, including compensation levels, composition, and structures. Issues that were considered included the choice of peer groups, the composition of long-term and short-term incentive pay and contractual provisions such as claw-backs and golden parachutes.
The participants in the Harvard Roundtable on Executive Compensation included:
In our paper, Strategic News Releases in Equity Vesting Months, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we study the link between the equity vesting schedules of CEOs and the timing of corporate news releases. We show that, in months in which the CEO has equity vesting, the firm releases more news. This is an easy way to pump up the short-term stock price, as news attracts attention to the stock. This attention also increases trading volume, which allows the CEO to cash out his equity in a more liquid market. Indeed, we find that these news releases lead to significant increases in the stock price and trading volume in a 16-day window, but the effect dies down over 31 days, consistent with a temporary attention boost. The median CEO cashes out all of his vesting equity within seven days—within the window of price and volume inflation.
Publicly traded companies are required by the SEC and the stock exchanges to obtain shareholder approval when such companies seek to implement a new long‐term equity plan or increase the share reserve pursuant to such plans.
Companies comply with this requirement by seeking shareholder approval through the annual proxy process. Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS), the large proxy advisory firm retained by many institutional investors for proxy voting advice, offers its services to institutional clients by evaluating such proposals. One of the tools used by ISS in developing its voting advice is a financial model referred to as the Shareholder Value Transfer (SVT) Model that attempts to assign a cost to each company’s equity plan. ISS’ proprietary SVT model contains numerous hidden values and algorithms a company cannot readily replicate. If the SVT Model results in an assigned cost that falls outside the boundaries of what is acceptable to ISS, ISS will submit a negative vote recommendation.
Shareholder activism continued to thrive in the 2014 proxy season, spurring corporate action as well as renewed engagement between issuers and investors. While the total number of shareholder proposals declined in 2014, lively activity continued with calls for independent chairs as well as burgeoning growth for social issues. And while few in number, change-in-control payout proposals were notably successful for the first time this year, while equity retention proposals continued to have a weak showing. In addition, support for proxy access proposals also grew at a rate greater than any other type of proposal.
On October 15, 2014, Institutional Shareholder Services (“ISS”) released proposed amendments to its proxy voting policies for the 2015 proxy season. ISS is seeking comments by 6:00 p.m. EDT on October 29, 2014.  ISS has stated that it expects to release its final 2015 policies on or around November 7, 2014. The policies as revised will apply to meetings held on or after February 1, 2015.
As issues around cost transparency and best practices in equity-based compensation have evolved in recent years, ISS proposes updates to its Equity Plans policy in order to provide for a more nuanced consideration of equity plan proposals. As an alternative to applying a series of standalone tests (focused on cost and certain egregious practices) to determine when a proposal warrants an “Against” recommendation, the proposed approach will incorporate a model that takes into account multiple factors, both positive and negative, related to plan features and historical grant practices.
Feedback from clients and corporate issuers in recent years, beginning with the 2011-2012 ISS policy cycle, indicates strong support for the proposed approach, which incorporates the following key goals:
In 2011, CFA Institute released the Compensation Discussion and Analysis (CD&A) Template as a tool to help companies produce a more succinct and informative CD&A that served the needs of both companies and investors. At the time there were complaints from both issuers and investors that the typical CD&A was seen by too many issuers as a compliance document that was too lengthy and too opaque to serve as the communication tool investors desired.
In the intervening years disclosures in the CD&A have improved a great deal, due in part to increased engagement between issuers and investors, a better understanding of disclosure best practices by issuers, and more willingness by some issuers to experiment with more creative ways of telling their stories.
As a result of the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010, public firms must periodically hold advisory shareholder votes on executive compensation (“say on pay”). One of the main goals of the say-on-pay mandate is to increase shareholder scrutiny of executive pay, and thus alleviate perceived governance problems when boards decide on executive compensation. In our paper, Does Shareholder Scrutiny Affect Executive Compensation? Evidence from Say-on-Pay Voting, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we examine how firms change the structure and level of executive compensation depending on whether the firm will face a say-on-pay vote or not.