Corporate boards are conscious of the role that executive pay practices play in improving corporate governance and increasing shareholder wealth (Gammeltoft, 2010). Economic theory suggests that the key to aligning managerial compensation with shareholder interest is to increase the sensitivity of executive compensation to firm performance (Core et al., 2005; Jensen and Meckling, 1976). Firms finance their operations, however, with funds from both shareholders and creditors, e.g., bondholders. Thus, agency theory also concerns shareholder-bondholder agency conflict and the difficulty of concurrently aligning the interests of shareholders, bondholders, and managers (Ahmed et al., 2002; Jensen and Meckling, 1976; Ortiz-Molina, 2007). In the past decade, the business press has focused on excessive CEO pay, observed during the 2001 Enron/Worldcom scandals as well as the recent 2007–2008 credit crisis, e.g., AIG. Critics contend that contracting between CEOs and boards has been shadowed by pervasive managerial influence (Bebchuk and Fried, 2005; Crystal, 1992). Consistent with these concerns, shareholders have begun to use the “shareholder proposal rule” (Rule 14a-8) established by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to defend their interest and have submitted hundreds of proposals to many of the largest U.S. corporations.
Posts Tagged ‘Say on pay’
Our paper, Say on Pay in Italian General Meetings: Results and Future Perspectives, provides an analysis of the empirical data of shareholders’ say on pay in Italian general meetings in 2012, 2013 and 2014. Say on pay, a shareholders’ advisory vote on a company’s remuneration policy, was introduced in Italy following the European Commission (EC) Recommendations N. 2004/913/EC, N. 2005/162/EC, N. 2009/384/EC and N. 2009/385/EC, which allowed member States to choose between implementing a binding or non-binding advisory shareholder vote on a company’s remuneration policy. Like most European states, Italy has opted for the “weaker” non-binding option. Reference is made to both approval votes (by controlling shareholders) and dissenting votes sometimes casted by minority shareholders (mainly, foreign institutional investors). The dissenting vote, in particular, shows a paramount critical value as originating by shareholders who are independent from the directors involved by the resolution—unlike the controlling shareholders who have nominated and subsequently elected the directors (to whom may often be linked by family or economic ties). In recent years, a significant increase in voting by minority shareholders, mainly foreign institutional investors, regarding—but not limited to—remuneration policies has been noted. This is a direct consequence of the procedural changes introduced by the Shareholder Rights’ Directive n. 36/2007/EC (e.g. record date, reduction of threshold to call special meeting, relaxation of proxy voting and solicitation rules, extension of time—prior to general meeting—to release relevant information for the items of the agenda and translation of documents into English, etc.).
Will knowing how much the CEO makes relative to rank and file employees provide information to investors? We may soon find out as a result of a provision in the Dodd Frank Act that requires companies to report the ratio of the CEO’s compensation to that of the median employee. A number of different sources have developed industry-based estimates of the ratio using information about CEO pay from corporate disclosures and employee pay from the government’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. For instance, an article in Bloomberg BusinessWeek on May 2, 2013 found the ratio of CEO pay to the typical worker rose from about 20-to-1 in the 1950s to 120-to-1 in 2000, with the ratio reaching nearly 500-to-1 for the top 100 companies.
1. What is the basis for ISS’ new scorecard approach for evaluating equity compensation proposals?
The new policy will allow more nuanced consideration of equity incentive programs, which are critical for motivating and aligning the interests of key employees with shareholders, but which also fuel the lion’s share of executive pay and may be costly without providing superior benefits to shareholders. While most plan proposals pass, they tend to get broader and deeper opposition than, for example, say-on-pay proposals (e.g., only 60% of Russell 3000 equity plan proposals garnered support of 90% or more of votes cast in 2014 proxy season, versus almost 80% of say-on-pay proposals that received that support level). The voting patterns indicate that most investors aren’t fully satisfied with many plans.
Boards of directors will soon shift attention to the 2015 compensation season. Key considerations in the year ahead include the following:
1. Be Prepared for Shareholder Activists. Companies today are more vulnerable to activist attacks than ever before. Companies should therefore ensure that they understand how their change in control protections function if an activist obtains a significant stake in the company or control of the board. A change in board composition can trigger the application of the golden parachute excise tax under Section 280G of the Internal Revenue Code and can result in negative tax consequences for executives and the company. In addition, in the age of performance awards and double-trigger vesting, clarity about the impact of a change in control on performance goals matters more than ever. Appropriate protections ensure that management will remain focused on shareholder interests during a period of significant disruption; inadequate protections can result in management departures at a time when stability is crucial.
The use of long-term incentives, the principal delivery vehicle of executive compensation, has long been sensitive to external influences. A steady source of this influence has come under the guise of legislative reform with mixed results. In 1950, after Congress gave stock options capital gains tax treatment, the use of stock options surged as employers sought to avoid ordinary income tax rates as high as 91%. Some forty years later, Congress added Section 162(m) to the tax code in an attempt to rein in excessive executive pay by limiting the deduction on compensation over $1 million to certain executives. Stock options qualified for a performance-based exemption leading to a spike in stock option grants to CEOs at S&P 500 companies.
Fast forward twenty years and the form and magnitude of long-term incentives continues to be a hot button populist issue. The 2010 Dodd Frank Act introduced U.S. publicly-traded companies to Say on Pay giving shareholders a direct channel to voice their support or opposition for a company’s pay practices. Another legislative addition to the litany of unintended consequences, Say on Pay has magnified the growing number of interested parties, increased the influence of proxy advisory groups such as Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) and Glass Lewis, heightened sensitivity to federal regulators, and provoked the increased interaction of activist investors.
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.
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.
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.
It is time for calendar year-end public companies to focus on the upcoming 2015 proxy and annual reporting season. This post discusses the following key issues for companies to consider in their preparations:
- Pending Dodd-Frank Regulation
- Say-on-Pay and Compensation Disclosure Considerations
- Shareholder Proposals
- Proxy Access
- Compensation Committee Independence Determinations
- Compensation Adviser Independence Assessment
- Compensation Consultant Conflict of Interest Disclosure
- NYSE Quorum Requirement Change
- Director and Officer Questionnaires
- Proxy Advisory Firm and Investment Adviser Matters
- Conflict Minerals
- Management’s Discussion and Analysis
- Proxy Bundling
- Foreign Issuer Preliminary Proxy Statement Relief
- Technology and the Proxy Season