Excessive risk-taking by financial institutions and overly generous executive pay are widely regarded as key factors in the 2007-09 crisis. In particular, it has become commonplace to blame banks and securities companies for compensation packages that reward managers (and more generally, other risk-takers such as traders and salesmen) generously for making investments with high returns in the short run but large risks that emerge only in the long run. As governments have been forced to rescue failing financial institutions, politicians and the media have stressed the need to cut executive pay packages and rein in incentives based on options and bonuses, making them more dependent on long-term performance and in extreme cases eliminating them outright. It is natural to ask whether this is the right policy response to the problem. It is crucial to ask what is the root of the problem—that is, precisely which market failure produced excessive risk-taking.
Posts Tagged ‘Executive turnover’
In our paper, CEO Job Security and Risk-Taking, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we use the length of employment contracts to estimate CEO turnover probability and its effects on risk-taking. Protection against dismissal should encourage CEOs to pursue riskier projects. Indeed, we show that firms with lower CEO turnover probability exhibit higher return volatility, especially idiosyncratic risk. An increase in turnover probability of one standard deviation is associated with a volatility decline of 17 basis points. This reduction in risk is driven largely by a decrease in investment and is not associated with changes in compensation incentives or leverage.
In Klaassen v. Allegro Development Corporation, 2013 WL 5739680 (Del. Ch. Oct. 11, 2013), Eldon Klaassen, the former CEO of Allegro Development Corporation (“Allegro”), brought an action under Section 225 of the Delaware General Corporation Law, requesting that the Court of Chancery declare that he: (1) was still the CEO of Allegro, (2) had validly removed two of Allegro’s directors and appointed their replacements, and (3) had validly filled a preexisting director vacancy. Klaassen claimed that his removal as CEO of Allegro by the board of directors (the “Board”) was void. If he was indeed still CEO, he had the power to remove directors and appoint new ones under Allegro’s governing documents. In a post-trial opinion, the Court of Chancery found that Klaassen was barred from challenging his removal as CEO by the equitable doctrines of laches and acquiescence. Regarding his changes to the Board, the Court of Chancery determined that Klaassen did succeed in removing one director and filling the preexisting vacancy on the Allegro Board, but that he did not remove the second director and new CEO, nor validly appoint a replacement for the removed director.
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).
In our paper, Executive Pay Disparity and the Cost of Equity Capital, forthcoming in the Journal of Financial and Quantitative Analysis, we investigate the association between executive pay disparity and the cost of equity capital. Understanding the association is important because the cost of capital is one of the key considerations for managers in their capital budgeting and corporate financing decisions. In fact, the cost of capital is a more direct yardstick of corporate investment and financing decisions than firm valuation. A higher cost of capital means fewer positive net present value (NPV) projects, leading to fewer growth opportunities. In addition, the cost of capital summarizes an investor’s risk-return tradeoff in his resource allocation decision (Pástor, Sinha, and Swaminathan (2008)).
In general, there are two perspectives on executive pay disparity. The tournament perspective views the large pay gap between the CEO and other executives as the prize for a tournament in which players compete for the CEO position (Lazear and Rosen (1981); Kale, Reis, and Venkateswaran (2009)). A large pay disparity motivates non-CEO senior executives to work hard and to invest in firm-specific human capital. This, in turn, helps build a large pool of skilled internal candidates for the CEO position. The availability of skilled internal candidates not only reduces the entrenchment of the incumbent CEO by increasing the bargaining power of the board, but also reduces CEO succession risk. Therefore, this perspective predicts a negative association between executive pay disparity and the cost of capital.
A review of the CEO succession announcements made by S&P 500 companies in 2012 showed that they typically included details on when the succession would take effect, why the departing CEO is leaving, and whether the incoming CEO will be named board chairman; a statement by the departing CEO on his/her belief that the board has selected a qualified replacement; a statement by the lead independent director that the incoming CEO is the right choice for the company, given its current position, and thanking the departing CEO for his/her service; a statement from the incoming CEO that the existing management team is strong, the company is well positioned for the future, and expressing appreciation that the board has selected him/her as chief executive; and a description of the incoming CEO’s professional qualifications, and, if necessary, details on other director or senior management changes that will take place.
A board’s decision as to whether, when and how to terminate the employment of a CEO and hire a successor is among the most critical decisions facing the board of any company—large or small, public or private, established or start-up. In most cases, however, a CEO termination is a rare event and one with respect to which—as would be expected—the board, the company’s general counsel and its human resources professionals may have little or no experience. In addition, the situation is further complicated by contractual, regulatory and personal factors.
This post describes the substantive and procedural considerations that boards will want to take into account when there is a change of CEO. In it, we assume that the board has made the business decision relating to CEO succession and is focused on strategy, implementation and minimizing potentially costly and/or embarrassing oversights and errors. Many but not all of the same considerations apply in respect of executive officers other than the CEO, and some additional considerations may apply to such other officers; in any event, their relative significance likely will differ from the case of the CEO.
Theory suggests that Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) with short horizons with their firm have weaker incentives to act in the best interest of shareholders (Smith and Watts 1982). To date, research examining the “horizon problem” focuses on whether CEOs adopt myopic investment and accounting policies in their final years in office (e.g., Dechow and Sloan 1991; Davidson et al. 2007; Kalyta 2009; Antia et al. 2010). In our paper, Forecasting Without Consequence? Evidence on the Properties of Retiring CEOs’ Forecasts of Future Earnings, forthcoming in The Accounting Review, we extend this line of research by investigating whether retiring CEOs are more likely to engage in opportunistic forecasting behavior in their terminal year relative to other years during their tenure with the firm. Specifically, we contrast the properties (issuance, frequency, news, and bias) of earnings forecasts issued by retiring CEOs during pre-terminal years (where the CEO will be in office when the associated earnings are realized) with forecasts issued by retiring CEOs during their terminal year (where the CEO will no longer be in office when the associated earnings are realized). We also examine circumstances in which opportunistic terminal-year forecasting behavior is likely to be more or less pronounced.
Our predictions are based on several incentives that arise (or increase) during retiring CEOs’ terminal year with their firm. Specifically, relative to CEOs who will continue with their firm, retiring CEOs face strong incentives to engage in opportunistic terminal-year forecasting behavior in an attempt to inflate stock prices during the period leading up to their retirement. Deliberately misleading forecasts can be used to influence stock prices. Consistent with this argument, prior work shows that managers use voluntary disclosures opportunistically to influence stock prices (Noe 1999; Aboody and Kasznik 2000; Cheng and Lo 2006; Hamm et al. 2012) and that managers use opportunistic earnings forecasts to manipulate analysts’ (Cotter et al. 2006) and investors’ perceptions (Cheng and Lo 2006; Hamm et al. 2012) in an effort to maximize the value of their stock-based compensation (Aboody and Kasznik 2000). Moreover, because SEC trading rules related to CEOs’ post-retirement security transactions are less stringent than those in effect during their tenure with the firm, post-retirement transactions can be made before the earnings associated with the opportunistic forecast are realized and with reduced regulatory scrutiny.
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.
In our study, CEO Succession Practices (2013 Edition), which The Conference Board recently released, we document and analyze 2012 cases of CEO turnover at S&P 500 companies. The study is organized in four parts.
Part I: CEO Succession Trends (2000-2012) illustrates year-by-year succession rates and examines specific aspects of the succession phenomenon, including the influence on firm performance on succession and the characteristics of the departing and incoming CEOs.
Part II: CEO Succession Practices (2012) details where boards assign responsibilities on leadership development, the role performed within the board by the retired CEO, and the extent of the disclosure to shareholders on these matters.
Part III: Notable Cases of CEO Succession (2012) includes summaries of 11 episodes of CEO succession that made headlines in the past two years and that were carefully chosen to highlight key circumstances of the process.
Part IV: Shareholder Activism on CEO Succession Planning (2012) reviews examples of companies that have recently faced shareholder pressure in this area.
The following are some of the major findings discussed in the study: