Essays on executive compensation

Date
2015
Authors
Carpenter, Timothy C.
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Abstract

This dissertation examines the effects resultant from compensation committees' decisions on the structure and magnitude of executive compensation packages. Executive compensation has long been a contentious topic, both in the U.S. and abroad. Specifically, equity-based pay (e.g. options and stock grants) has been increasing in popularity and met with mixed reactions. This form of remuneration aims to properly align the goals of executives with those of their shareholders; however, the use of equity based-pay tends to result in larger pay packages. Thus, the potential reasons for its recent popularity range from a forthright belief in its optimality to more Machiavellian motives. Moreover, incentive compensation has a number of secondary effects which must be accounted for, including effects on executive retention and accounting quality among many others. This line of research aims to improve our understanding of executive pay so compensation committees can better serve their shareholders by crafting more appropriate pay packages and better understanding the potential benefits and consequences therefrom. In Chapter One, I analyze the effect of cumulative wealth and unvested equity compensation on voluntary CEO turnover. I find that wealthier CEOs are less likely to retire or resign. This suggests that the CEO vetting process is able to sort out those individuals who would substitute high wealth for additional leisure. Consistent with Balsam and Miharjo (2007), CEOs with more unvested equity are significantly less likely to leave their position. However, I find that unvested equity is less effective as a retention device if the CEO has high existing wealth. In contrast to prior results, my results show no significant relation between existing CEO wealth and incentive compensation. In Chapter Two, I analyze the structure of compensation packages awarded in the United Kingdom compared to their U.S. counterparts. I consider the asymmetric relationship between CEO pay and firm performance in the U.S. and test for similar relations in the U.K. My findings confirm that asymmetry exists in the U.S. in that pay is more strongly associated with upside risk than downside risk. In contrast, U.K. CEO pay is more symmetrically associated with risk. Therefore, while U.S. CEOs face greater risk as a result of compensation with more equity-based pay, their pay to performance is asymmetrical. This suggests an additional component that risk-based arguments must consider before concluding that higher pay in the U.S. is structural and, thus, rational. Finally, in Chapter Three, I examine the effect of executive wealth on accounting quality. Results indicate that firms with wealthier CEOs are significantly more likely to restate earnings. To some extent this effect may be mitigated by compensation committees through the use of unvested compensation components, but this reduction is minimal. Firms with wealthier CEOs also exhibit greater levels of earnings management. Consistent with SEC auditors being aware of this, firms with wealthier CEOs are more likely to face an enforcement action, suggesting that these firms are both targeted and, ultimately, found in violation of accounting requirements. Chief Financial Officers' wealth shows a similar (and even stronger) relationship, increasing the likelihood of an earnings restatement as well as the magnitude of earnings management, but SEC enforcement actions do not reflect this relationship. My results suggest that SEC auditors may be able to improve governance by targeting firms that employ wealthy CFOs, and particularly those with recent large gains.

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Keywords
Pay asymmetry, Executive compensation, CEO turnover, Restatment, Wealth
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Department
Finance