The truth about Jeff Immelt and General Electric’s corporate jets

VEA Vice Chair Nell Minow was asked to comment on reports that former GE CEO Jeff Immelt not only flew in a corporate jet but on some trips had a second GE jet follow with no passengers in case he needed a back-up.

Corporate governance hawk Nell Minow told CNBC it is difficult to know how many global companies use similar practices.Many companies have shifted to using fractured ownership of private jets, which makes oversight more difficult.

“Whatever benefit General Electric saved or extra layer of security they achieved, it was not worth the hit to their reputation,” Minow said.

Source: The truth about Jeff Immelt and General Electric’s corporate jets

When a Company Is Profiting From the Opioid Crisis – The Atlantic

On July 26, at the annual shareholder meeting of McKesson, the nation’s largest distributor of pharmaceuticals, including opioid drugs, shareholders refused to approve the company’s generous executive-compensation plan after the International Brotherhood of Teamsters—which holds stock in McKesson—campaigned against it, citing the company’s “role in fueling the prescription opioid epidemic.” McKesson rejected that characterization, and denied that it had any such role. Calling the opioid, heroin, and fentanyl epidemic “complicated,” Jennifer Nelson, a spokesperson for McKesson, told me that “in our view, it is not to be laid at the feet of distributors.” The Teamsters, she charged, were trying to use the addiction crisis to their advantage in their ongoing labor dispute with the company involving the union’s efforts to represent workers at a McKesson distribution center in Florida.<P><P>The shareholder vote, which isn’t binding—McKesson says it’s still reviewing its current compensation plan—may seem like a minor slap over an esoteric bit of corporate governance, but it was a notable exception among public companies. According to the consulting firm Compensation Advisory Partners, of 447 say-on-pay votes among S&P 500 companies this year before early August, only five, including McKesson, suffered rejection. The Teamsters view the outcome as a success, especially at a time when unions’ power has waned. “Unions have been pushing for years for standard good-governance practices” in companies, says Michael Pryce-Jones, the union’s senior governance analyst. “This has importance across political divides.”

Source: When a Company Is Profiting From the Opioid Crisis – The Atlantic

Rosanna Landis Weaver reviews The CEO Pay Machine 

Our favorite expert on CEO pay, As You Sow’s Rosanna Landis Weaver, likes Steven Clifford’s new book, The CEO Pay Machine: How it Trashes America and How to Stop It.  We recommend the book and Weaver’s review:

Clifford takes apart all the components with a fresh eye. He is skeptical, for example, of the mantra of pay for performance. He notes that bonuses that don’t change behavior are a waste of money, and that many that do change behavior may change it for the worse. “All pay-for-performance systems cause more harm than good,” he writes. “They generate perverse incentives, undeserved and often absurdly high bonuses, and damage the companies that use them.” … He also speaks with great insight about the role of directors. “It’s impractical, if not impossible,” he notes, “for board members committed to being supportive players on the team to transform themselves into hard-nosed negotiators.”

Source: Book Review: The CEO Pay Machine – CEO Pay Updates: 2017 Proxy Season

It’s a dangerous time to be a bad CEO – The Washington Post

In its annual report, released Tuesday, the Conference Board found that among Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index companies that were in the bottom group of performers — as ranked by their total shareholder return — the CEO succession rate jumped five percentage points, from 12.2 percent in 2015 to 17.1 percent in 2016. That’s well above the 13.9 percent average over the past 16 years, said Matteo Tonello, the Conference Board’s managing director of corporate leadership, and the highest rate since 2002, when 21.2 percent of S&P 500 companies made a change at the top.

Source: It’s a dangerous time to be a bad CEO – The Washington Post

How Badly Must a C.E.O. Behave Before His Pay Is Clawed Back? – The New York Times

Gretchen Morgenson writes in the New York Times:

[There is] a lawsuit unfolding in Delaware Chancery Court…that involves the former chief executive of United and a prime figure in the Bridgegate scandal that has dogged Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey. The facts of the case reflect a similar disdain for United’s shareholders by the corporate board members who are supposed to serve them.

At the heart of the lawsuit is the refusal by United’s directors to retrieve any of the $28.6 million received by Jeffery A. Smisek, United’s former chief executive, when he was defenestrated in 2015 amid a federal corruption investigation….In a litigation demand, [The City of Tamarac, Fla., Firefighters Pension Trust Fund] requested that the company’s board claw back the severance pay given to the executives who took part in the bribery scandal. By doing so, United’s board would correct its breach of fiduciary duty and prevent “the unjust enrichment” of company executives.

Seems fair enough. But United’s board has refused. Its justification for not recouping the pay is, well, pretty rich.

In a letter to the pension fund, a lawyer for United explained that it would harm the company to give the board “unfettered discretion to recoup compensation” in cases involving wrongdoing. “Where such discretion is out of step with industry norms,” the letter said, it would “make it difficult for United to recruit and retain top talent, particularly at the senior management level.”

In other words, clawing back severance awarded to executives amid a bribery investigation is not industry practice. And if United pursued such a recovery, the airline would be an outlier and unable to hire good people.

How Should CEOs Deal with Trump?

One odd and compelling consequence of the Trump era has been the way it has affected, flummoxed, and exposed America’s corporate titans. A class of people who are accustomed to deference and are possessed of extraordinary self-confidence and agency hasn’t quite known how to react to the new regime.

Ordinarily, CEOs can support GOP standard-bearers who promise to cut taxes and slash regulations without anyone blinking. But a polarizing, willfully un–PC politician like Trump poses a challenge for many modern CEOs. He’s a walking violation of a host of human-resources policies and stands in stark opposition to the corporate-style progressivism that permeates so many consumer-facing companies today. As a group, Fortune 500 companies today are socially liberal, especially on areas surrounding diversity, gay rights, and immigration; they are unabashedly in favor of free trade and globalization, express concern about climate change, and embrace renewable energy. Trump is none of these things.

And so we’ve seen a range of reactions. There’s a group of CEO types, mostly crusty older guys like Carl Icahn and T. Boone Pickens, who are unapologetic Trump fans—and in some instances his pals. Since they founded their companies and are far beyond caring what other people think, getting in bed with Trump politically isn’t an issue.

As people in public life, CEOs often feel compelled to offer anodyne support for the new CEO of the country.

But many others have had to walk a tightrope. Immediately after the election, many CEOs felt compelled to reaffirm their own—and their companies’—values in the face of Trumpism. As Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi noted, “My employees were all crying. The question that they are asking, especially those who are not white—‘Are we safe?’ Women are asking, ‘Are we safe?’ LGBT people are asking, ‘Are we safe?’—I never thought I would have to answer those questions.” She continued: “So, I think that the first thing that we have to do is to assure everyone living in the United States will be safe.” And Pepsi, however clumsily, has attempted to capitalize on the progressive pushback against Trump’s policies—even as Nooyi serves on Trump’s Strategic and Advisory Council.

As people in public life, CEOs often feel compelled to offer anodyne support for the new CEO of the country. And that’s typically not a big deal. But some CEOs have found that doing so can get them into hot water with their customers, key employees, and endorsers.

Source: Jamie Dimon steps in it.

10 top CEOs who earn salaries of less than $50,000

Taking only $1 in compensation has become something of a point of pride in Silicon Valley.”The dollar salary really for them is meant to signify that they have large stakes in their company. The value they’re going to receive — the compensation they’ll earn — is coming solely from their stock,” Aaron Boyd, director of governance for Equilar, a company that researches executive compensation, explains to Forbes.”

You’re not going to question whether or not Larry Page is interested in growing a company’s stock as a shareholder. As one of the largest shareholders, he’s all in.”

Source: 10 top CEOs who earn salaries of less than $50,000

PwC’s Strategy&: CEOs Increasingly Fired for Ethical Violations

VEA Vice Chair Nell Minow writes in Huffington Post:

PwC’s Strategy& released its annual CEO Success Study on Sunday, May 14, 2017. This year’s study explores the rise in the number of CEOs at the world’s 2,500 largest companies who were dismissed from their posts due to ethical lapses.

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As companies like FOX, United, Wells Fargo, Yahoo and VW are scrutinized for corporate wrongdoing, the study found that the share of CEOs forced out of their jobs due to a scandal increased globally– with a notably dramatic increase at companies in the U.S. and Canada. Specifically, the report found:

  • Forced turnovers due to ethical lapses rose from 3.9 percent of all successions in 2007–11 to 5.3 percent in 2012–16 — a 36 percent increase. On a regional basis, the share of all successions attributable to ethical lapses rose sharply in the U.S. and Canada (from 1.6 percent of all successions in 2007–11 to 3.3 percent in 2012–16), in Western Europe (from 4.2 percent to 5.9 percent), and in the BRIC countries (from 3.6 percent to 8.8 percent).
  • In the U.S. and Canada, forced turnovers for ethical lapses at these companies increased from 1.6 percent of all successions in 2007–11 to 3.3 percent in 2012–16 — a 102 percent increase
  • The share of incoming women CEOs increased globally to 3.6 percent, rebounding from the previous year’s low point of 2.8 percent

Per-Ola Karlsson, DeAnne Aguirre, Kristin Rivera, and Gary L. Neilson, who prepared the report, identified increased public scrutiny and pressure, the rapidity and influence of digital-era feedback, and post-financial crisis regulatory requirements as primary factors in the increase of CEO departures for ethical concerns. The report does not examine the impact of an ethics-based departure on compensation or the correlation between board or shareholder composition and likelihood of such a termination.

In an interview, the authors explained their definition of “ethical lapse” and discussed the impact of social media and the difference between US/Canada CEOs and those in other countries.

What constitutes an ethical lapse for purposes of this study?

An ethical lapse might include fraud, bribery, insider trading, environmental disasters, inflated resumes, and sexual indiscretions. In the context of dismissals, we define an ethical lapse as a scandal or improper conduct by the CEO or other employees that results in the removal of the CEO.

It should be noted that in many cases, even though the CEO was ultimately held responsible, it was other employees who committed ethical lapses.

Are CEOs replaced for ethical lapses most likely to be insiders or those brought in from outside?

We found that there was no statistical difference in the dismissal rate for ethical lapses between insiders and outsiders. We did find that CEOs forced out of office for ethical lapses had longer median tenures than CEOs forced out for other reasons (6.5 years compared to 4.8). One possible explanation is that companies with long-serving CEOs tend to be those that have been achieving above-average financial results, and thus may attract less shareholder and media scrutiny than companies that have been performing poorly. Another is that when an organization’s leadership is static, employees may begin to see ethical lapses as normal, and allegations of misconduct are less likely to be raised, investigated, or acted on.

How has social media put pressure on boards to replace CEOs?

Today, social media plays a large role in not only disseminating negative or embarrassing information about a company, but also allows customers and other parties to directly voice their displeasure to the company and its executives. Often times, the social media backlash becomes a story in itself beyond the negative or embarrassing information which puts extra pressure on boards who may feel they need to implement change in order to take the company out of the negative spotlight.

How does the US compare to other countries in the rates and reasons for CEO dismissal?

In 2016, The U.S./Canada has a CEO turnover rate of 14.2% compared to 15.3% in Western Europe, 15.5% in Japan, and 14.9% globally. Removing, M&A 29% of turnovers in the U.S./Canada were forced compared to 38% in Western Europe, 13% in Japan, and 29% globally. Historically the U.S./Canada has had a lower CEO turnover rate than other regions which is likely due to the fact that companies in the U.S./Canada have more developed governance and succession practices.

In addition, we note in the study this year that companies in the U.S./Canada have the lowest incidence of ethical lapses. Similar to the point about governance and succession practices, companies in the U.S./Canada tend to have more stringent regulation and internal controls than other regions.

What did your study show about women CEOs?

Globally, companies appointed 12 women CEOs in 2016—3.6 percent of the incoming class. This marks a return of the slow-moving trend towards greater diversity—and a recovery from 2015’s recent low point of 2.8 percent.

The share of incoming women CEOs was highest in the U.S. and Canada—rebounding to 5.7% after falling for the previous three years.

We stand by our belief that as much as a third of incoming CEOs around the world will be female. Some of the trends we cited in the 2014 study that supported this findings were: increasing amounts of women on boards, increasing women undergraduates and MBAs, and changing social norms.

What role does shareholder pressure play in replacement of CEOs?

Boards have become much more independent and very infrequently in a position of deferring to the imperial CEO of yesterday. They listen. They listen to shareholders, regulators, other managers. Shareholders don’t want distractions. Our analysis has shown forced CEO turnovers (for ethical lapses or other reasons) are hugely expensive. We found that, on average, forced turnovers cause a hit of $1.8 billion in shareholder value compared to planned transitions. So, by getting ahead of problems, even when they happen, Boards have the incentive to deal with…. ideally in a “planned” way, even if the change wasn’t part of the individual CEO’s plans!

Bloomberg Pay Index: Highest-Paid Executives for 2016

In a year when technology leaders again seized the top spots among America’s highest-paid executives, a scion of Goldman Sachs Group Inc. stood out.John S. Weinberg, 60, whose surname had been synonymous with the bank for decades, left as co-vice chairman in 2015. A year later he joined Evercore Partners Inc., reaping sign-on awards worth $124 million as of Dec. 31. That placed him third on the Bloomberg Pay Index, a ranking of the best-compensated U.S. executives for 2016.

He joins an exclusive club increasingly dominated by bosses at companies that are, at best, just a few decades old. He’s surpassed only by Jet.com Inc. co-founder Marc Lore, whose $236.9 million in awarded compensation last year was largely composed of money Wal-Mart Stores Inc. paid to buy his company, and Apple Inc. Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook, who received $150 million. Google CEO Sundar Pichai, 44, and Tesla Inc.’s Elon Musk, 45, round out the top five.

Source: Bloomberg Pay Index: Highest-Paid Executives for 2016

The $185 million question about ExxonMobil CEO Tillerson joining Trump’s cabinet – The Washington Post

The Washington Post’s Jena McGregor reports:

As CEO of one of the largest and most powerful public companies in the world, Tillerson received compensation valued at $24.3 million in 2015, and he ranked 29th on a list of the 200 highest paid CEOs compiled by the executive compensation research firm Equilar. The pension benefits he will receive, accumulated over more than 40 years at the company, have been valued at $69.5 million. And in a company document filed earlier this month, ExxonMobil said Tillerson has direct ownership of more than 2.6 million shares of ExxonMobil stock, which executive compensation experts say Tillerson will presumably have to divest if he is confirmed as the nation’s chief diplomat.

Yet the majority of those shares — 2 million of them, valued at nearly $185 million based on ExxonMobil’s closing share price Friday — are not yet vested. That means that the shares have been granted to Tillerson but that he doesn’t yet have outright access to them. ExxonMobil has an unusually long vesting schedule and clearly states in its filings that retirement does not speed up the vesting of those shares, meaning many of them aren’t currently due to be under Tillerson’s control for years.

Now that the company has announced Tillerson will retire at year’s end and be succeeded Jan. 1 by Darren Woods as chairman and CEO, its board is faced with a nine-figure dilemma: Should it accelerate the vesting of those shares, rewarding Tillerson for his 41 years of service just before he could take a job that has enormous influence over the geopolitics that will affect his former employer? Or should it stick to the terms in its filings, which have been cited for their good governance standards?

Source: The $185 million question about ExxonMobil CEO Tillerson joining Trump’s cabinet – The Washington Post