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Executive Compensation as an Agency Problem

  • Lucian Arye Bebchuk
  • Jesse M. Fried

This paper provides an overview of the main theoretical elements and empirical underpinnings of a managerial power' approach to executive compensation. Under this approach, the design of executive compensation is viewed not only as an instrument for addressing the agency problem between managers and shareholders but also as part of the agency problem itself. Boards of publicly traded companies with dispersed ownership, we argue, cannot be expected to bargain at arm's length with managers. As a result, managers wield substantial influence over their own pay arrangements, and they have an interest in reducing the saliency of the amount of their pay and the extent to which that pay is de-coupled from managers' performance. We show that the managerial power approach can explain many features of the executive compensation landscape, including ones that many researchers have long viewed as puzzling. Among other things, we discuss option plan design, stealth compensation, executive loans, payments to departing executives, retirement benefits, the use of compensation consultants, and the observed relationship between CEO power and pay. We also explain how managerial influence might lead to substantially inefficient arrangements that produce weak or even perverse incentives.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 9813.

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Date of creation: Jul 2003
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Publication status: published as Bebchuk, Lucian Arye and Jesse M. Fried. "Executive Compensation As An Agency Problem," Journal of Economic Perspectives, 2003, v17(3,Summer), 71-92.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:9813
Note: CF LS
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  1. Lucian Arye Bebchuk & John C. Coates IV & Guhan Subramanian, 2002. "The Powerful Antitakeover Force of Staggered Boards: Theory, Evidence and Policy," NBER Working Papers 8974, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Richard M. Cyert & Sok-Hyon Kang & Praveen Kumar, 2002. "Corporate Governance, Takeovers, and Top-Management Compensation: Theory and Evidence," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 48(4), pages 453-469, April.
  3. Shleifer, Andrei & Vishny, Robert W, 1986. "Large Shareholders and Corporate Control," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 94(3), pages 461-88, June.
  4. Core, John E. & Holthausen, Robert W. & Larcker, David F., 1999. "Corporate governance, chief executive officer compensation, and firm performance," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 51(3), pages 371-406, March.
  5. Murphy, Kevin J., 1999. "Executive compensation," Handbook of Labor Economics, in: O. Ashenfelter & D. Card (ed.), Handbook of Labor Economics, edition 1, volume 3, chapter 38, pages 2485-2563 Elsevier.
  6. Yermack, David, 1997. " Good Timing: CEO Stock Option Awards and Company News Announcements," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 52(2), pages 449-76, June.
  7. Andrei Shleifer & Robert W. Vishny, 1995. "A Survey of Corporate Governance," Harvard Institute of Economic Research Working Papers 1741, Harvard - Institute of Economic Research.
  8. Bettis, J. Carr & Bizjak, John M. & Lemmon, Michael L., 2001. "Managerial Ownership, Incentive Contracting, and the Use of Zero-Cost Collars and Equity Swaps by Corporate Insiders," Journal of Financial and Quantitative Analysis, Cambridge University Press, vol. 36(03), pages 345-370, September.
  9. Lucian Arye Bebchuk & Jesse M. Fried & David I. Walker, 2002. "Managerial Power and Rent Extraction in the Design of Executive Compensation," NBER Working Papers 9068, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Hallock, Kevin F., 1997. "Reciprocally Interlocking Boards of Directors and Executive Compensation," Journal of Financial and Quantitative Analysis, Cambridge University Press, vol. 32(03), pages 331-344, September.
  11. Bettis, J. C. & Coles, J. L. & Lemmon, M. L., 2000. "Corporate policies restricting trading by insiders," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 57(2), pages 191-220, August.
  12. Michel Habib & Alexander Ljungqvist, 2000. "Firm Value and Managerial Incentives: A Stochastic Frontier Approach," OFRC Working Papers Series 2000fe03, Oxford Financial Research Centre.
  13. Brian J. Hall & Kevin J. Murphy, 2003. "The Trouble with Stock Options," NBER Working Papers 9784, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  14. Brian J. Hall & Kevin J. Murphy, 2000. "Optimal Exercise Prices for Executive Stock Options," NBER Working Papers 7548, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  15. 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.
  16. Shleifer, Andrei & Vishny, Robert W., 1989. "Management entrenchment : The case of manager-specific investments," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 25(1), pages 123-139, November.
  17. 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.
  18. Eli Ofek & David Yermack, 2000. "Taking Stock: Equity-Based Compensation and the Evolution of Managerial Ownership," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 55(3), pages 1367-1384, 06.
  19. Jennifer Carpenter, 1997. "The Exercise and Valuation of Executive Stock Options," New York University, Leonard N. Stern School Finance Department Working Paper Seires 97-10, New York University, Leonard N. Stern School of Business-.
  20. Brian J. Hall & Kevin J. Murphy, 2003. "The Trouble with Stock Options," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 17(3), pages 49-70, Summer.
  21. 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.
  22. Core, John E. & Larcker, David F., 2002. "Performance consequences of mandatory increases in executive stock ownership," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 64(3), pages 317-340, June.
  23. Marianne Bertrand & Sendhil Mullainathan, 2001. "Are Ceos Rewarded For Luck? The Ones Without Principals Are," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 116(3), pages 901-932, August.
  24. Jensen, Michael C, 1986. "Agency Costs of Free Cash Flow, Corporate Finance, and Takeovers," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 76(2), pages 323-29, May.
  25. Agrawal, Anup & Knoeber, Charles R., 1998. "Managerial compensation and the threat of takeover," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 47(2), pages 219-239, February.
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