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破解美国CEO高薪之谜

Eleanor Bloxham 2011年07月13日

尽管美国依然有数百万人处于失业中,但美国CEO们去年的平均薪酬却上涨了28%。虽然推高美国CEO薪酬的原因众多,但跟工作绩效却没什么关系。

    您去年有没有得到像样的加薪?不用跳槽,不用为升职而竞争,也不需要比同行表现更出色,就能获得28%的加薪,您意下如何?

    如果你是一家标准普尔500(S&P 500)公司的CEO,而你去年的工资却只涨了28%,那可真是不值一提,因为在你的同行中,有一半人的加薪幅度都超过了你。

    美国的失业人数多达数百万,可无论经济状况是好是坏,美国的CEO们总能得到加薪。原因何在?简而言之,就是许多人的支持,还有一些细微的差别。

    以下是美国CEO们获得加薪的几个步骤。

    第一步:在确定薪酬时,忽略全球基准。

    尽管业务外包会使非CEO高管们的薪酬受到负面影响,甚至影响就业;但美国CEO的薪酬大幅上涨,在某种程度上来说,是因为公司董事会没有将他们的薪酬水平与全球的同行进行对比。

    例如,埃克森石油公司(Exxon)的董事会在确定CEO的薪酬时,并没有参考其他跨国能源公司的薪酬设置。

    而沃尔玛公司(Wal-Mart)董事会则只是将其CEO的薪酬与其他美国企业的CEO进行对比,却没有把世界零售企业中排名第2的家乐福(Carrefour)、排名第3的麦德龙(Metro AG),或者排名第4的乐购(Tesco)作为参考对象。

    忽视同行业标准会带来什么影响呢?

    努诺•费尔南德斯、米格尔•费雷拉、佩德罗•马托斯和凯文•墨菲近期开展的一项研究显示,在2003年到2008年期间,美国CEO们的平均薪酬是其他国家CEO们的两倍。而且,在根据公司规模和行业进行调整后,相比国外同行,美国CEO们的薪酬依然高出80%。

    第二步:让老板相信, CEO的薪酬不需要根据绩效来确定。实际上,他们在确定薪酬的时候,完全可以忽略绩效。

    每次,当听到有人说CEO的薪酬采取“按绩效支付”的原则,我们可能都会信以为真。但费尔南德斯及其同事们的研究显示,美国CEO的薪酬达到其全球同行的两倍,并不是因为他们表现非凡。(另外一项研究也证明,美国CEO的薪酬与他们的工作绩效没有太大的关系。)

    既然跟绩效没有什么关系,那究竟是什么推动了CEO的薪酬上涨呢?

    第三步:获得股权

    研究结果显示,美国CEO们的薪酬之所以高人一等,主要是因为美国的CEO获得了高水平的股权薪酬,其中包括公司股票和股票期权。

    但事实还不止如此。

    第四步:为继续占有这个肥差,要让机构股东相信,以股权形式支付CEO薪酬对他们有利。

    研究显示,如果公司有美国的机构股东,董事会更有可能提供高水平的股权薪酬(从而推高薪酬总额)。美国的机构股东要求更多按股权支付薪酬,因为他们认为提供股票和股票期权等薪酬奖励,可以提高CEO的绩效,并使薪酬与绩效挂钩。但事实却并非如此。

    如果公司——以家族企业为例,由内部股东控股,而不是机构股东,那么内部股东能够“把CEO的薪酬控制在较低水平”。这样的公司有一套“更好的制度”。费尔南德斯认为,与机构股东相比,内部股东能更好地控制CEO。

    第五步:由独立委员会确定CEO的薪酬。

    费尔南德斯及其同事的研究显示,不论公司的规模大小,公司董事会中独立董事的人数越多,CEO的薪酬便会越高。这听起来是不是不合常理?表面看来,确实如此,但实际上,独立董事对机构股东的利益更为敏感。

    如果美国的机构股东希望更多以股权形式支付薪酬,独立董事极有可能把机构股东的想法付诸实施,进而使美国的CEO(与非其他国家CEO相比)获得超高的薪酬。费尔南德斯表示,董事们开出“更高的股权薪酬”,是为了“回避(责任)问题。”

    第六步:确保公司在美国上市。

    费尔南德斯认为,美国正在向其他国家输出其薪酬制度。外国公司在美国上市后,公司的CEO薪酬也会上涨。

    第七步:利用法规增加薪酬,证明提高CEO的薪酬符合股东的最大利益。(这么做看上去确实是“为了”股东。)

    如何才能做到呢?利用法规和会计惯例,证明提高CEO薪酬是符合规定的。

    例如,1993年,美国国会立法,规定公司高管基本薪酬一百万美元以上部分,公司不能申请减免税收。该项立法通常被认为是导致CEO激励性工资提高的因素之一。

    另外一个推动因素,是美国以往采取的与股票期权相关的会计惯例。过去,通过股票期权的形式向高管发放薪酬的成本不必记入公司的损益表。这种会计方法使公司的损益表更好看,因为股票期权薪酬不会作为开支出现,因此这种会计惯例通常被认为是造成CEO激励性工资提高的一项关键因素。

    而且,高管薪酬咨询公司James F. Reda and Associates的创始人兼执行董事詹姆斯•里达预测,新《多德弗兰克法案》(Dodd-Frank Act)要求利用图表对比高管的薪酬与绩效,这将成为美国公司提高CEO薪酬的另外一个借口。

    他表示:“公司会把这作为提高薪酬的口号,”而且公司可以“采取任何方式随意分析那些信息。”里达认为,如果一个绩效指标不合适,他们就会换其他标准进行对比。

    里达预测,五年内,美国CEO的薪酬将在目前水平基础上再翻一番。

    采取以上七个步骤,就可以像美国CEO一样获得高薪。不过,我辈不是CEO,要想复制这些做法并非易事。

    当然,公司董事会也可以采取其他措施,对表现优秀的CEO进行激励和奖励,而且公司确实应该关注这一问题。全美企业董事协会(National Association of Corporate Directors)与薪酬咨询公司Pearl Meyer & Partners五月份发布的一份调查显示,“33%的受访对象把‘挑选与股东价值创造相一致的绩效目标’作为董事会的首要任务。”

    或许,机构股东也可以重新考虑他们的需求。提供更高的股权薪酬对他们来说是否值得?他们到底想释放什么信号?

    或许,更高的薪酬也不见得对CEO本身完全有利。因为这意味着公司财库中能用来为你加薪的资金更少了,也意味着公司无法取得更好的业绩,更多员工失业,更不可能招聘新人来替你分担日益繁重的工作负担。

    或许,我们现在需要做的,除了埋怨,还有更多。希望美国的“高薪传染病”不会蔓延得太远、太快。

    本文作者Eleanor Bloxham是董事会咨询公司价值联盟与公司治理联盟(The Value Alliance and Corporate Governance Alliance)(http://thevaluealliance.com/)首席执行官。

    (翻译 刘进龙)

    Did you get a decent raise last year? How about 28% without having to change jobs, vie for a promotion or outperform your peers?

    If you were a CEO of an S&P 500 company last year and your pay only went up 28%, then sorry, but half your peers did better than you.

    So with millions out of work, how do U.S. CEOs keep their pay rising in good times and bad? The short answer is an army of support and a few small distinctions.

    Here's how it's done.

    Step One. Ignore global benchmarks in setting pay.

    While outsourcing may be negatively affecting your pay as a non-CEO or your ability to find work, U.S. CEO salaries are soaring in part because of the failure of boards to compare the pay of U.S. CEOs against their global counterparts.

    Exxon's (XOM) board, for example, doesn't use other global energy firms when setting their CEO's pay.

    And Wal-Mart's (WMT) board compares its CEO's pay mainly to CEO pay at other U.S. firms and fails to include no. 2 world retailer Carrefour, no. 3 Metro AG, , or no. 4 Tesco among their benchmark companies.

    Why does that have an impact?

    Recent research by professors Nuno Fernandes, Miguel Ferreira, Pedro Matos, and Kevin Murphy finds that, on average, U.S. CEOs earned double their non-U.S. counterparts between 2003 and 2008. And, adjusting for firm size and industry, U.S. CEOs still earn around 80% more than their non U.S. based peers.

    Step Two. Convince your bosses that pay need not be based on your performance. In fact, they can just ignore performance in setting pay.

    While we'd all like to have a nickel every time someone said CEO pay is based on the principles of "pay for performance", research by Fernandes and his colleagues shows that U.S. CEOs aren't being paid double their global counterparts because they are doing a fantastic job. (Additional research supports the argument that U.S. CEO pay has little relationship to a CEO's job performance.)

    So, if it's not to do with performance, what is driving CEO pay upward?

    Step Three: Get equity.

    The research shows that U.S. CEO pay is higher primarily because U.S. CEOs are awarded high levels of equity compensation, which includes pay in the form of company stock and stock options.

    But you can't stop there.

    Step Four: To make sure the gravy train doesn't stop, get institutional shareholders to believe your equity pay benefits them.

    When companies have U.S. institutional owners, boards are more likely to offer high levels of equity compensation (and, in turn, total compensation), the research shows. U.S. institutional owners have pushed for greater equity-based pay based on the assumption that offering pay incentives like stock and stock options boost performance and align pay with performance. That has not been the case, however.

    When insiders, rather than institutions, hold more of a company's stock -- for example, in family-owned firms -- "they keep pay down," says Fernandes. There's "better discipline." Insiders do a better job of controlling the CEO than outside institutional owners have, he says.

    Step Five: Get an independent committee to determine your pay.

    According to the research from Fernandes and Co., regardless of a company's size, higher CEO pay is associated with a board comprised of more independent directors. But isn't it counterintuitive that having more independent directors would lead to higher pay? Perhaps on the surface, yes, but independent directors are likely more attuned to institutional owners' interests.

    If U.S. institutional owners want more equity-based pay, which leads to outsized U.S. (versus non U.S.) pay, independent directors are more likely to deliver what they think institutional owners want. The directors are "shielding themselves from [liability] problems" by handing out "higher equity based pay," Fernandes says.

    Step Six: Make sure your company is listed in the U.S.

    Fernandes says that the U.S. is exporting its pay practices abroad. When non-U.S. firms are traded on U.S. exchanges, the firm's CEO pay gets a boost.

    Step Seven: Take advantage of regulation to boost your pay and make the case that your additional pay is in shareholders' best interests. (You are really doing it for them.)

    How do you pull this one off? Use regulation and accounting conventions to justify pay increases.

    For example, in 1993, Congress passed legislation that limited the amount of base executive pay that companies could deduct in their taxes to $1 million. This legislation is often cited as one of the drivers for the rise of CEO incentive pay.

    Another driver has been past U.S. accounting conventions related to stock options. In the past, the expense of paying executives with stock options did not have to be included on the company's income statement. This accounting, which made companies' income statements look better because the stock option compensation did not show up as an expense, is often cited as a key contributor to the rise in CEO incentive pay.

    Going forward, James Reda, founder and managing director of compensation firm James F. Reda and Associates, predicts that a new Dodd-Frank requirement to include a chart that compares executive pay with performance will be used as yet another "excuse to increase pay" for CEOs at U.S. companies.

    "Companies will use this as a rallying cry to increase pay," he says, and they'll be "slicing and dicing the information any way they like." If one performance metric doesn't work, they'll just change the comparison, Reda says.

    Reda predicts in five years we'll see a doubling of U.S. CEO pay from the current levels.

    So those are your seven steps to be paid like a U.S. CEO -- although they may not be so easy to duplicate for the non-CEOs among us.

    Of course, corporate boards could study other approaches to motivating and rewarding good CEO performance, which does seem to be an issue of concern. A survey released in May by the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) with compensation consultants Pearl Meyer & Partners showed that "a total of 33% of respondents … ranked 'the selection of performance goals that align with shareholder value creation' as their top Board issue."

    Perhaps institutional owners could also rethink what they want. Has higher equity based pay been worth the money they've spent? What signals do they really want to send?

    Higher CEO pay is likely not going to benefit you. It means fewer dollars in the coffers for your raises, no better performance for your company, and more unemployed workers, rather than new hires who could help you with your growing workload.

    Maybe it's time for more than a collective sigh. Let's hope the U.S. contagion won't spread too far too fast.

    Eleanor Bloxham is CEO of The Value Alliance and Corporate Governance Alliance (http://thevaluealliance.com/), a board advisory firm.

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