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Are CEOs Really Paid Like Bureaucrats?

  • Brian J. Hall
  • Jeffrey B. Liebman

A common view of CEO compensation is that there is essentially no correlation between firm performance and CEO pay. This calls into question an important component of effective corporate governance. This zero correlation' belief is based on the widely cited result that CEO wealth rises by only $3.25 for every $1,000 increase in firm value (Jensen and Murphy, 1990b) and findings that the elasticity of CEO salary and bonus with respect to firm market value is only 0.1. We use a new 15-year panel data set of CEOs in the largest U.S. firms and focus on a broad measure of compensation' that includes changes in the value of CEO holdings of stock and stock options. We find very large pay to performance sensitivity. For example, for a moderate change in firm performance (moving from a median stock price performance to a 70th percentile performance), the compensation of the median CEO in our sample increases by more than 50 percent, which represents an increase in CEO wealth of $1.8 million. We estimate a median elasticity of CEO compensation with respect to firm value of 3.9 for 1994. This value is about 30 times larger than previous elasticity estimates that ignore the effects of changes in the value of stock stock option holdings. We also document that both the level of CEO compensation and th sensitivity of CEO compensation to firm performance have grown dramatically over the past 15 years. In our sample, the direct compensation (salary and bonus plus stock option grants) of the mean (median) CEO increased by 209 percent (136 percent) from 1980 to 1994. Because of the large increase in stock option awards and in the value of stock holdings in the past 15 years, measures of CEO pay-to-performance sensitivity increased during the period by factors of 2 to nearly 7.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 6213.

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Date of creation: Oct 1997
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Publication status: published as Quarterly Journal of Economics (August 1998).
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:6213
Note: CF LS PR
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  1. Gilson, Stuart C & Vetsuypens, Michael R, 1993. " CEO Compensation in Financially Distressed Firms: An Empirical Analysis," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 48(2), pages 425-58, June.
  2. Fama, Eugene F. & Jensen, Michael C., 1985. "Organizational forms and investment decisions," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 14(1), pages 101-119, March.
  3. Murphy, K.J. & Gibbons, R., 1990. "Optimal Incentive Contracts in the Presence of Career Concerns : Theory and Evidence," Papers 90-09, Rochester, Business - Managerial Economics Research Center.
  4. Feenberg, D.R. & Poterba, J.M., 1992. "Income Inequality and the Incomes of Very High Income Taxpayers: Evidence from Tax Returns," Working papers 92-16, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics.
  5. Cochrane, John H. & Campbell, John, 1999. "By Force of Habit: A Consumption-Based Explanation of Aggregate Stock Market Behavior," Scholarly Articles 3119444, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  6. Bruce A. Rayton, 1994. "Are CEOs the Only Residual Claimants? Estimation of the Performance Elasticity of Per-Employee Compensation," Industrial Organization 9412001, EconWPA, revised 16 Jun 1995.
  7. Coughlan, Anne T. & Schmidt, Ronald M., 1985. "Executive compensation, management turnover, and firm performance : An empirical investigation," Journal of Accounting and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 7(1-3), pages 43-66, April.
  8. Baker, G.P. & Jensen, M.C. & Murphy, K.J., 1988. "Compensation And Incentives: Practice Vs. Theory," Papers 88-05, Rochester, Business - Managerial Economics Research Center.
  9. Lazear, Edward P & Rosen, Sherwin, 1981. "Rank-Order Tournaments as Optimum Labor Contracts," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 89(5), pages 841-64, October.
  10. Joskow, Paul L. & Rose, Nancy L. & Shepard, Andrea., 1993. "Regulatory constraints on executive compensation," Working papers 3550-93., Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Sloan School of Management.
  11. Robert Gibbons & Kevin J. Murphy, 1990. "Relative performance evaluation for chief executive officers," Industrial and Labor Relations Review, ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 43(3), pages 30-51, February.
  12. S.G. Cecchetti & P. Lam & N.C. Mark, 2010. "The equity premium and the risk-free rate: matching the moments," Levine's Working Paper Archive 1396, David K. Levine.
  13. Murphy, Kevin J., 1985. "Corporate performance and managerial remuneration : An empirical analysis," Journal of Accounting and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 7(1-3), pages 11-42, April.
  14. Wilbur G. Lewellen, 1968. "Executive Compensation in Large Industrial Corporations," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number lewe68-1, June.
  15. Haubrich, Joseph G, 1994. "Risk Aversion, Performance Pay, and the Principal-Agent Problem," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 102(2), pages 258-76, April.
  16. Bengt Holmstrom, 1979. "Moral Hazard and Observability," Bell Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 10(1), pages 74-91, Spring.
  17. Jensen, Michael C & Murphy, Kevin J, 1990. "Performance Pay and Top-Management Incentives," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 98(2), pages 225-64, April.
  18. Sloan, Richard G., 1993. "Accounting earnings and top executive compensation," Journal of Accounting and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 16(1-3), pages 55-100, April.
  19. Narayana R. Kocherlakota, 1995. "The equity premium: it's still a puzzle," Discussion Paper / Institute for Empirical Macroeconomics 102, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
  20. Weisbach, Michael S., 1988. "Outside directors and CEO turnover," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 20(1-2), pages 431-460, January.
  21. Sherwin Rosen, 1990. "Contracts and the Market for Executives," NBER Working Papers 3542, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  22. Dial, Jay & Murphy, Kevin J., 1995. "Incentives, downsizing, and value creation at General Dynamics," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 37(3), pages 261-314, March.
  23. Kaplan, Steven N, 1994. "Top Executive Rewards and Firm Performance: A Comparison of Japan and the United States," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 102(3), pages 510-46, June.
  24. Kevin J. Murphy, 1986. "Incentives, Learning, and Compensation: A Theoretical and Empirical Investigation of Managerial Labor Contracts," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 17(1), pages 59-76, Spring.
  25. Jensen, Michael C. & Meckling, William H., 1976. "Theory of the firm: Managerial behavior, agency costs and ownership structure," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 3(4), pages 305-360, October.
  26. Paul L. Joskow & Nancy L. Rose, 1994. "CEO Pay and Firm Performance: Dynamics, Asymmetries, and Alternative Performance Measures," NBER Working Papers 4976, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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