Tag Archives: CEO compensation

CEO Salary Justification Season Is Open

By James Kwak

Proxy season is over. Then comes the annual compilation of executive compensation data. Equilar and the Times, for example, reported that the compensation of the median CEO at a large public company was more than $15 million in 2012.

This means that now we are into the season of justifying these stratospheric numbers—and particularly the high rate of growth of those numbers. (2012 median compensation was 16 percent higher than in 2012.) For example, there was Steven Kaplan’s unconvincing attempt to justify high CEO pay by comparing it to . . . high pay among the top 0.1% (see Brad DeLong for a summary).

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One-Hit Wonders

By James Kwak

Meg Whitman is what is known as a superstar CEO. She became CEO of eBay in 1998 and took it public; during her reign, eBay became one of the most successful, most valuable Internet companies in existence (and Whitman became a billionaire). She used her celebrity to mount a high-profile, expensive, and ultimately unsuccessful campaign to become governor of California (losing to career politician Jerry Brown) before being named CEO of HP, the iconic Silicon Valley company.

Why did HP, one of the largest information technology companies in existence, hire Whitman, who preceded her stint at eBay (auction house for random stuff from people’s attics) with jobs at Disney, a shoe company, a flower delivery service, and a toy company? Because of the idea of the superstar CEO, with transferable general management skills, who can transform any organization.

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The More You Pay, the Less You Get

By James Kwak

Schumpeter at The Economist pointed me to a paper by Richard Cazier and John McInnis on one of my favorite topics: CEO hiring. Cazier and McInnis first confirm, not surprisingly, that pay for new, externally-hired CEOs is positively related to the past performance of their previous firms. In particular, they measure EXCESS_COMP as the difference between actual first-year compensation and the compensation that you would predict just based on the characteristics of the hiring firm; EXCESS_COMP turns out to be positively associated with the CEOs’ prior firms’ stock returns. That makes sense, since you would think that people from successful companies would be able to command a higher price than people from less successful companies, and it isn’t obviously controversial, since you would think they would deserve it.

But what do the new firms get for this pay premium? It turns out that their future performance, measured in terms of return on assets and operating return on assets, is negatively associated with excess compensation based on prior performance.* In other words, people from successful companies don’t deserve the pay premium because the higher the premium they are able to command, the less well they are likely to do.

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What Did Bank CEOs Know And When Did They Know It?

By Simon Johnson

One view of executives at our largest banks in the run-up to the crisis of 2008 is that they were hapless fools.  Not aware of how financial innovation had created toxic products and made the system fundamentally unstable, they blithely piled on more debt and inadvertently took on greater risks.

The alternative view is that these people were more knaves than fools.  They understood to a large degree what they and their firms were doing, and they kept at it up to the last minute – and in some cases beyond – because of the incentives they faced.

New evidence in favor of the second interpretation has just become available, thanks to the efforts of Sanjai Bhagat and Brian Bolton.  These researchers went carefully through the compensation structure of executives at the top 14 US financial institutions during 2000-2008. Continue reading