CEO compensation in U.S. public firms has attracted a great deal of empirical work. Yet our understanding of the contractual terms that govern CEO compensation and especially how the compensation committee ties CEO compensation to performance is still incomplete. The main reason is that CEO compensation contracts are, in general, not observable. For the most part, firms disclose only the realized amounts that their CEOs receive at the end of any given year. The terms by which the board determines these amounts are not fully disclosed.
Posts Tagged ‘Executive performance’
The JP Morgan Chase board of directors has vexed the world with its terse announcement in a recent 8-K filing that CEO Jamie Dimon would receive a big pay raise—$20 million in total pay for 2013, up from $11.5 million for 2012, a 74 percent increase.
Not surprisingly, the news sparked strong reactions, from indignant critique to justification and support. Dimon’s raise obviously has special resonance because JP Morgan’s legal woes were one of the top business stories last year as it agreed to $20 billion in payments to settle a variety of cases involving the bank’s conduct since 2005 when Dimon became JPM CEO. But the ultimate question that gets fuzzed-over in the filing and response is one of culture and accountability—whether a long-serving CEO is accountable for a corporate culture that has spawned major regulatory inquiries and settlements across a broad range of legal issues, even though the firm has otherwise performed well commercially.
Standard principal-agent theory prescribes that managers should not be compensated on exogenous risks, such as general market movements. Rather, firms should index pay and use contracts that filter exogenous risks (e.g., Holmstrom 1979, 1982; Diamond and Verrecchia 1982). This prescription is intuitive and agrees with common sense: CEOs should receive exceptional pay only for exceptional performance, and “rational” compensation practice should not permit CEOs to obtain windfall profits in rising stock markets. However, observed compensation contracts are typically not indexed. Specifically, stock options almost never tie the strike price of the option to an index that reflects market performance or the performance of peers. Commentators often cite this glaring difference between theory and practice as evidence for the inefficiency of executive compensation practice and, more generally, as evidence for major deficiencies of corporate governance in U.S. firms (e.g., Rappaport and Nodine 1999; Bertrand and Mullainathan 2001; Bebchuk and Fried 2004). This paper therefore contributes to the discussion about which compensation practices reveal deficiencies in the pay-setting process.
Considerable debate remains among academics and practitioners regarding the economic forces that drive CEO compensation practices in the United States. Some view the market for CEO talent as the main economic force that drives the level and form of CEO compensation (e.g., Rosen, 1992; Gabaix and Landier, 2008). Others argue that these forces have little effect on CEO compensation because of frictions such as managerial entrenchment, asymmetric information, and transaction costs of replacing managers, believing instead that compensation practices are by and large driven by the bargaining power that the CEO has vis-à-vis the board (e.g., Bebchuk and Fried, 2003).
The debate has intensified in recent years due to several controversial compensation practices, a first example of which is the tendency of firms to benchmark CEO compensation to that of other CEOs. While some find benchmarking consistent with competitive compensation (Holmstrom and Kaplan, 2003; Bizjak et al., 2008), others argue it is a way for CEOs to increase their compensation by benchmarking themselves to highly paid CEOs (e.g., Faulkender and Yang, 2010).
Today’s post considers what might be done in the design of executive pay to encourage commitment by executives to the longer-term interests of their employers.
A very interesting examination into design features in an incentive program that puts emphasis on long-term considerations of executive pay is contained in the proxy statement for Goldman Sachs. (Elements of this program discussed below have been developed by Goldman Sachs over a period of years—the CD&A section of the 2013 proxy statement provides a description of the program.) Following are two interesting aspects of that program.
Prior turnover literature documents various signals of poor performance, such as stock returns and earnings, that lead a board of directors to terminate the CEO, but does not explore the underlying causes of the CEO’s poor performance. In many cases, terminated CEOs have been successful earlier in their tenure as CEO. At some point, however, the board decides that the existing CEO’s skills do not fit with the current leadership needs of the firm, and so switches to a new CEO. The question of why these previously successful CEOs are released (apart from retirements or voluntary departures) remains largely unanswered.
In our paper, Adapt or Perish: Evidence of CEO Adaptability to Strategic Industry Shocks, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we conjecture that a previously successful CEO may not be able to adapt when the firms within her industry change their business strategy, or more precisely, that strategic shocks within the industry increase the probability that the CEO will suffer from an adaptability problem. If strategic industry shocks alter a firm’s leadership needs, and the board perceives the CEO cannot adapt their skills to fit those needs, then the CEO is more likely to be terminated. For example, assume a CEO has a set of skills that leads them to prefer to conduct manufacturing activities domestically. When faced with competitive forces that dictate a different strategy, some CEOs may be able to adapt successfully to manage foreign manufacturing operations. Other CEOs, however, may have difficulty adjusting their skills to fit the current strategic needs of the firm. If this is the case, the latter type of CEO will face a higher probability of being terminated when the firm’s industry competitors change their strategies. We note that it is certainly the case that all CEOs can adapt to some degree to changing business conditions. The interesting question then, is whether one can identify the types of shocks, if any, that cause CEO adaptability problems.
There is considerable debate over the level of executive pay. On one side, Bebchuk and Fried (2004) and others argue that weak governance allows executives to effectively set their own pay while disregarding market forces and shareholder value. On the other side, Gabaix and Landier (2008) and others argue that executive pay is determined in a competitive labor market, so executives have limited influence on their own pay.
In the paper, CEO Wage Dynamics: Estimates from a Learning Model, forthcoming in the Journal of Financial Economics, I use CEO wage dynamics as a laboratory for exploring this debate. Specifically, I examine how learning about a CEO’s ability affects the level of his or her pay. For example, suppose that after a year of high profits we update our beliefs about a CEO’s ability, and as a result the CEO’s perceived contribution to next year’s profits increases by $10 million. If the CEO obtains a $5 million raise for the following year, then the CEO captures half of the $10 million surplus and shareholders pocket the rest.
Most of the empirical work on executive compensation investigates the role of contemporaneous performance measures in setting cash compensation, ignoring the relevance of past performance measures and the structure of cash compensation. In our paper, The Relation between CEO Compensation and Past Performance, forthcoming in The Accounting Review, we focus on the relation between cash compensation components (salary and bonus) and past performance measures as signals of a CEO’s ability.
We first develop a simple two-period principal-agent model with moral hazard and adverse selection. Our model suggests that salary is adjusted to meet the reservation utility and information rent, and is positively correlated over time to reflect ability. Bonus serves to address moral hazard and adverse selection problems by separating agents into contracts with different levels of risk. Agents are screened and receive different bonus arrangements according to their types. The higher an agent’s type, the more sensitive his bonus is to contemporaneous performance. A higher ability agent receives a larger portion of his compensation in the form of bonus and less as salary. For a given agent, salary increases with his past performance and higher current salary predicts higher future performance. Current bonus, however, is negatively correlated with both past and future performance.
In our paper, Managerial Overconfidence and Accounting Conservatism, forthcoming at the Journal of Accounting Research, we provide evidence on the relation between CEO overconfidence, an important managerial trait, and the aggressiveness of financial reporting. Building on a growing literature in finance which shows that overconfidence can distort investment, financing, and dividend policies, we demonstrate that firms with overconfident CEOs make more aggressive financial reporting choices than other firms.
Overconfident managers are defined as managers who overestimate future returns from their firms’ investments and systematically overestimate the probability of good performance. Our first hypothesis predicts that overconfident managers will tend to overvalue net assets as well as delay recognition of losses. In other words, we expect overconfident managers to make more aggressive (or less conservative) financial reporting decisions than other managers. Furthermore, we investigate whether this relation is affected by governance mechanisms. To the extent that governance mechanisms, such as boards of directors or institutional shareholders, view conservative reporting as desirable, external monitoring could constrain the negative effect of managerial overconfidence on conservative reporting. Thus, our second hypothesis predicts that the negative relation between overconfidence and accounting conservatism will be constrained for firms with strong external monitoring.
The two most authoritative positions in a boardroom are the CEO and the chairman. However, when these roles are combined, all the authority is vested in one individual; there are no checks and balances, and no balance of power. The CEO is charged with monitoring him or herself, presenting an obvious conflict of interest. Indeed, if the CEO is responsible for running the company, and the board is tasked with overseeing the CEO’s decisions in the interests of shareholders, how can the board properly monitor the CEO’s conduct if he or she is also serving as board chair?
While the theory behind separating the two roles has been the subject of much shareholder and governance activist protest and commentary, an analysis of GMI Ratings’ data suggests that other, more practical considerations would support the separation of the two roles. In addition to the inherent conflict of interest already discussed, CEOs who also command the title of chairman are more expensive than their counterparts serving solely as CEO. In fact, executives with a joint role of chairman and CEO are paid more than even the combined cost of a CEO and a separate chairman. Also, companies with a combined CEO and chairman appear to present a greater risk of ESG (environmental, social and governance) and accounting risk than companies that separate the roles. Furthermore, companies with combined CEOs and chairmen also appear to present a greater risk for investors and provide lower stock returns over the longer term than companies that have separated the roles. Thus having a separate chairman and CEO costs less, is less risky and is a better investment. This report focuses on 180 North American mega-caps, those with a market capitalization of $20 billion or more. This group was chosen because, given the relative complexity of running the companies, it might be expected that the resulting differentials between leadership structures in cost structure, performance and risk exposure would be more marked. Here are some of the main findings of the report: