Executive compensation

Executive compensation

Executive compensation (also, "director remuneration") is how top executives of business corporations are paid. This includes a basic salary, bonuses, shares, options and other company benefits for work on the board of directors. Over the past three decades, director remuneration has risen dramatically beyond the rising levels of an average worker's wage. [see, for one example, "The Guardian", August 4, 2005, [http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/story/0,3604,1542100,00.html "US executive pay goes off the scale"] ]

The board of directors is the controlling organ of the company, so responsibility for the levels of pay for all company employees is ultimately theirs. Pay is just one element in the wide range of spending and resource allocation decisions by the heads of firms. Others include investment decisions, which suppliers to use, which business partners to contract with, how to distribute capital and dividends to shareholders, and so on. While various committees, or "human resource" departments will usually be delegated the task of setting pay levels, a particular problem arises for executive compensation. When responsibility for executive compensation levels is ultimately the executives', there could be, what management scientists call, significant agency costs.

Types of compensation

There are five basic tools to compensation or remuneration.

* a base salary
* short-term incentives, or bonuses
* long-term incentive plans (LTIP)
* employee benefits
* perquisites, or perks

In a typical modern US corporation, the CEO and other top executives are paid salary plus short-term incentives or bonuses. This combination is referred to as Total Cash Compensation (TCC). Short-term incentives usually are formula-driven and have some performance criteria attached depending on the role of the executive. For example, the Sales Director's performance related bonus may be based on incremental revenue growth turnover; a CEO's could be based on incremental profitability and revenue growth. Bonuses are after-the-fact (not formula driven) and often discretionary. Executives may also be compensated with a mixture of cash and shares of the company which are almost always subject to vesting restrictions (a long-term incentive). To be considered a long-term incentive the measurement period must be in excess of one year (3-5 years is common). The vesting term refers to the period of time before the recipient has the right to transfer shares and realize value. Vesting can be based on time, performance or both. For example a highly paid CEO would get 1 million in cash, and 1 million in company shares (and share buy options used). Other components of an executive compensation package may include such perks as generous retirement plans, health insurance, a chauffered limousine, an executive jet [http://www.phoenixair.com/fleet_photos_executive_charter.php] , interest free loans for the purchase of housing, etc.

tock options

Supporters of stock options say they align the interests of CEOs to those of shareholders, since options are valuable only if the stock price remains above the option's strike price. Stock options are now counted as a corporate expense (non-cash), which impacts a company's income statement and makes the distribution of options more transparent to shareholders. Critics of stock options charge that they are granted excessively and that they invite management abuses such as the options backdating of such grants. Stock options also pose a conflict of interest in which a CEO can artificially raise the stock price to cash in stock options at the expense of the company's long-term health, although this is problem for any type of incentive compensation that goes unmonitored by directors. Indeed, "reload" stock options allow executives to exercise options and then replace them in part (and sometimes in whole), essentially selling the company stock short (i.e., profiting from the stock's decline). For various reasons, including the accounting charge, concerns about dilution and negative publicity related to stock options, companies have reduced the size of grants to executives.

Restricted stock

Executives are also compensated with restricted stock, which is stock given to an executive that cannot be sold until certain conditions are met and has the same value as the market price of the stock at the time of grant. As the size of stock option grants have been reduced, the number of companies granting restricted stock either with stock options or instead of, has increased. Restricted stock has its detractors, too, as it has value even when the stock price falls. As alternative to straight time vested restricted stock, companies have been adding performance type features to their grants. These grants, which could be called performance shares, do not vest or are not granted until these conditions are met. These performance conditions could be earnings per share or internal financial targets.

Tax issues

Cash compensation is taxable to an individual at a high individual rate. If part of that income can be converted to long-term capital gain, for example by granting stock options instead of cash to an executive, a more advantageous tax treatment may be obtained by the executive.

Levels of compensation

The levels of compensation in all countries has been rising dramatically over the past decades. Not only is it rising in absolute terms, but also in relative terms.

Fortune 500 compensation

During 2003, about half of Fortune 500 CEO compensation was in cash pay and bonuses, and the other half in vested restricted stock, and gains from exercised stock options according to Forbes magazine ( [http://www.forbes.com/lists/2004/04/21/04ceoland.html] ). Forbes magazine counted the 500 CEOs compensation to $3.3 billion during 2003 (which makes $6.6 million a piece). Notice that this figure includes gains from stock call options used; the options may have been rewarded many years before the option to buy is used.

Forbes categories of compensation

The categories that Forbes use are (1) salary (cash), (2) bonus (cash), (3) other (market value of restricted stock received), and (4) stock gains from option exercise (the gains being the difference between the price paid for the stock when the option was exercised and that days market price of the stock). If you see someone "making" $100 million or $200 million during the year, chances are 90% of that is coming from options (earned during many years) being exercised.

Typical compensation

The typical salary in the top of the list is $1 million - $3 million. [see, [http://www.forbes.com/static/execpay2004/LIR67G5.html?passListId=12&passYear=2004&passListType=Person&uniqueId=67G5&datatype=Person Immelt] ] The typical top cash bonus is $10 million - $15 million. [see,( [http://www.forbes.com/static/execpay2004/LIR7VML.html?passListId=12&passYear=2004&passListType=Person&uniqueId=7VML&datatype=Person Henry R. Silverman] ] The highest stock bonus is $20 million. [see,( [http://www.forbes.com/static/execpay2004/LIRA9P0.html?passListId=12&passYear=2004&passListType=Person&uniqueId=A9P0&datatype=Person Fuld] )] The highest option exercise have been in the range of $100 million - $200 million [see,( [http://www.forbes.com/static/execpay2004/LIR27R3.html?passListId=12&passYear=2004&passListType=Person&uniqueId=27R3&datatype=Person Reuben Mark] )] .


There are a number of strategies that could be employed as a response the growth of executive compensation.

*independent non-executive director setting of compensation is widely practised. Remuneration is the archetype of self dealing. An independent remuneration committee is an attempt to have pay packages set at arms' length from the directors who are getting paid.

*disclosure of salaries is the first step, so that company stakeholders can know and decide whether or not they think remuneration is fair. In the UK, the Directors' Remuneration Report Regulations 2002 [http://www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si2002/20021986.htm SI 2002/1986] introduced a requirement into the old Companies Act 1985, the requirement to release all details of pay in the annual accounts. This is now codified in the Companies Act 2006. Similar requirements exist in most countries, including the US, Germany, Canada.

*a say on pay, or a non-binding vote of the general meeting to approve director pay packages, is practised in a growing number of countries. The aim is that the vote will be a highly influential signal to a board to not raise salaries beyond reasonable levels. The general meeting means shareholders in most countries. In most European countries though, with two-tier board structures, a supervisory board will represent employees and shareholders alike. It is this supervisory board which votes on executive compensation.

*progressive taxation is a more general strategy that affects executive compensation, as well as other highly paid people. There has been a recent trend to cutting the highest bracket tax payers, a notable example being the tax cuts in the US. Ex-Soviet Baltic States also have a flat tax system for incomes. Executive compensation could be checked by taxing more heavily the highest earners, for instance by taking a greater percentage of income over $200,000.

*maximum wage is an idea which has not been implemented anywhere. The argument is to place a cap on the amount that any person may legally make, in the same was as there is a floor of a minimum wage so that people can not earn too little.


Many newspaper storiescite web|url=http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/02/18/news/letter.php|title=Letter From Washington: As U.S. rich-poor gap grows, so does public outcry|accessdate=2007-02-18|work=Bloomberg News|publisher=International Herald Tribune] show people expressing concern that CEOs are paid too much for the services they provide. In "Searching for a Corporate Savior: The Irrational Quest for Charismatic CEOs", Harvard Business School professor Rakesh Khurana documents the problem of excessive CEO compensation, showing that the return on investment from these pay packages is very poor compared to other outlays of corporate resources.

Defenders of high executive pay say that the global war for talent and the rise of private equity firms can explain much of the increase in executive pay. For example, while in conservative Japan a senior executive has few alternatives to his current employer, in the United States it is acceptable and even admirable for a senior executive to jump to a competitor, to a private equity firm, or to a private equity portfolio company. Portfolio company executives take a pay cut but are routinely granted stock options for ownership of ten percent of the portfolio company, contingent on a successful tenure. Rather than signaling a conspiracy, defenders argue, the increase in executive pay is a mere byproduct of supply and demand for executive talent. However, U.S. executives make substantially more than their European and Asian counterparts.

In 2005, the issue of executive compensation at American companies has been harshly criticized by columnist and Pulitzer Prize winner Gretchen Morgenson in her "Market Watch" column for the Sunday "Money & Business" section of the New York Times newspaper.

Unions have been very vocal in their opposition to high executive compensation. The AFL-CIO sponsors a website called Executive Paywatch [http://www.aflcio.org/corporatewatch/paywatch/] [ [http://www.forbes.com/bow/b2c/review.jhtml?id=7066 Forbes.com Best Of The Web] ] which allows users to compare their salaries to the CEOs of the companies where they work.

Shareholders, often members of the Council of Institutional Investors or the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility have often filed shareholder resolutions in protest. 21 such resolutions were filed in 2003. [ [http://www.usatoday.com/money/companies/management/2003-05-19-godflys_x.htm USA Today May 19, 2003] ] About a dozen were voted on in 2007, with two coming very close to passing (at Verizon, a recount is currently going on). [ [http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/04/business/04pay.html New York Times, May 4 2007, Verizon Vote On Pay Levels To Be Decided In a Recount] ] The U.S. Congress is currently debating mandating shareholder approval of executive pay packages at publicly traded U.S. companies. [ [http://www.socialfunds.com/news/article.cgi/2284.html Shareholders one step closer to say on pay, Socialfunds.com May 3 2007] ]

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has asked publicly traded companies to disclose more information explaining how their executives' compensation amounts are determined. The SEC has also posted compensation amounts on its website [The Securities and Exchange Commission [http://www.sec.gov website] ] to make it easier for investors to compare compensation amounts paid by different companies. It is interesting to juxtapose SEC regulations related to executive compensation with Congressional efforts to address such compensation. [ [http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1125295 Kenneth Rosen, Who Killed Katie Couric? And Other Tales from the World of Executive Compensation Reform, 76 Fordham Law Review 2907 (2007)] ]

ee also

*Agency cost
*Golden handshake
*Golden parachute
*Options backdating



*Sean O'Grady, [http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/economist-stiglitz-blames-crunch--on-flawed-city-bonuses-system-799869.html 'Economist Stiglitz blames crunch on 'flawed' City bonuses system'] (24.3.2008) "The Independent"

External links

* [http://www.towersperrin.com/tp/getwebcachedoc?webc=HRS/USA/2007/200711/2007_Global_Compensation_Planning_Report_nl.pdf 2008 Global Compensation Planning Report] from Towers Perrin
* [http://www.towersperrin.com/tp/getwebcachedoc?webc=HRS/USA/2007/200711/2007_Global_High_Tech_Compensation_Planning_Report_nl.pdf 2008 Global High Tech Compensation Planning Report] from Towers Perrin
* [http://www.forbes.com/ceos/ Forbes.com - Executive Pay (updated with 2004 pay)]
* [http://www.ceoforum.com.au/article-detail.cfm?cid=6146 Executive Remuneration - Analytical article by Mercer/CEO Forum Group]
*"The Guardian", August 4, 2005, [http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/story/0,3604,1542254,00.html "Chief executives' pay rises to £2.5m average"] in United Kingdom
* [http://works.bepress.com/paolocioppa/1/ Executive Compensation: The Fallacy of Disclosure] Paper by Paolo Cioppa, UC Berkeley, Boalt Hall School of Law
* [http://www.ReasonableComp.biz Reasonable Compensation for Shareholders/Officers]
* [http://www.eu-compensation.com European Executive Compensation Data Visualizer 2006 2007]
* [http://viewer.zmags.com/showmag.php?mid=pfgsh#/page6/ The Truth Behind Wages in the Mining Industry]

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