What does good governance really mean? What does it mean to follow best practices? Are there really best practices that make sense for all companies? Do we tend to latch onto easily identified and measured structural features that may not really be effective for good governance and ignore qualities that may be more effective but are not as easily identified or measured? Do we even have a common understanding of the meaning of concepts central to governance? These are some of the questions addressed in an interesting paper, “Loosey-Goosey Governance Four Misunderstood Terms in Corporate Governance,” from the Rock Center for Corporate Governance at Stanford.
Not really, according to this study by academics from the University of Pennsylvania Law, Rutgers Business and Berkeley Law Schools to be published in the Harvard Business Law Review. Say on pay was initiated under a Dodd-Frank mandate adopted against the backdrop of the 2008 financial crisis, largely in reaction to the public’s railing against the levels of compensation paid to some corporate executives despite poor performance by their companies, especially where those firms were viewed as contributors to the crisis itself. Say on pay was expected to help rein in excessive levels of compensation and, even though the vote was advisory only, ascribe some level of accountability to boards and compensation committees that set executive compensation levels. So far, however, say-on-pay votes have served largely as confirmations of board decisions regarding executive compensation and not, in most cases, as the kind of rock-throwing exercises that many companies had feared and some governance activists had hoped. The study reported that, since 2011, the average annual percentage of say-on-pay votes in favor has exceeded 90%, while “the percentage of issuers with a failed say on pay vote has never exceeded 3% and, in 2016, that number dropped to just 1.7%.” The study examined what the few failed (or low) votes really meant.
What’s happening with those SEC proposals for Dodd-Frank clawbacks and disclosure of pay for performance and hedging? Apparently, not much.
As noted in this article from Law360, the SEC’s latest Regulatory Flexibility Agenda, which identifies those regs that the SEC intends to propose or adopt in the coming year— and those deferred for a later time—has now been posted. The Agenda shifts to the category of long-term actions most of the Dodd-Frank compensation-related items that had previously been on the short-term agenda—not really a big surprise given the deregulatory bent of the new administration. Keep in mind, however, that the Agenda has no binding effect and, in this case, could be even less prophetic than usual; the Preamble to the SEC’s Agenda indicates that it reflects “only the priorities of the Acting Chairman [Michael Piwowar], and [does] not necessarily reflect the view and priorities of any individual Commissioner.” It also indicates that information in the Agenda was accurate as of March 29, 2017. As a result, it does not necessarily reflect the views of the new SEC Chair, Jay Clayton, who was not confirmed in that post until May.
Are shareholders really the “owners” of corporations? Even though shareholders have no responsibilities to the corporations they “own”? Should corporations be managed for the sole purpose of maximizing shareholder value? Are shareholders even unanimous in that objective? Is shareholder centricity really the right model for good governance of corporations? What changes in corporate governance have been fueled by the shareholder primacy model? Do those changes make sense? What has been the adverse fallout from the current fastidious devotion to shareholder preeminence? These are just some of the issues addressed in this terrific piece by two Harvard Business School professors, Joseph L. Bower and Lynn S. Paine, in the Harvard Business Review. In their view, the “health of the economic system depends on getting the role of shareholders right.” Highly recommend.
Comp Committees appear to have gotten the message when it comes to executive pay for performance. As discussed in this article in the WSJ, executive compensation “is increasingly linked to performance,” but investors are now asking whether the bar for performance targets is set too low to be effective. Are companies just paying lip service to the concept?
by Cydney Posner As reported in the WSJ, a new study from corporate-governance research firm MSCI showed that, over the long term, there was a significant misalignment between CEO pay and stock-price performance. The study looked at CEO pay relative to total shareholder return for around 800 CEOs at more […]
by Cydney Posner This morning, by a three to two margin, the SEC voted to propose rules requiring companies to disclose executive pay for performance. The proposal comes five years after passage of Dodd-Frank, which imposed the obligation on the SEC. Currently, many companies voluntarily provide information that could fit […]