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Geithner announces support for executive compensation reforms, but Congress might have its own agenda

On Wednesday, June 10, Secretary of the Treasury, Timothy Geithner outlined the Obama administration’s new proposals on executive compensation. The proposals focused on greater independence of corporate compensation committees and giving shareholders a nonbinding vote on executive compensation, commonly known as ‘say on pay’ provisions. Geithner outlined five guiding principals for executive compensation, namely:

  1. compensation plans should properly measure and reward performance;
  2. compensation should be structured to account for the time horizon of risks by aligning executive (and highly compensated individual) pay with long-term value creation;
  3. compensation should be aligned with sound risk management;
  4. golden parachutes and supplemental retirement packages should properly align the interests of executives with the interests of shareholders; and
  5. the compensation setting process should promote transparency and accountability.

Geithner promoted the administration’s support for legislation requiring greater compensation committee independence for companies listed on the national securities exchanges. The proposed legislation would require compensation committee members to meet the stringent independence standards required of audit committee members under the Sarbanes Oxley Act. In addition, the proposed legislation would provide compensation committees with the right to (i) hire compensation consultants, (ii) hire legal counsel, and (iii) require each company to “appropriately” fund the compensation committee to allow it to execute its independent compensation oversight responsibilities.

In addition, Geithner promoted the administration’s support for legislation requiring non-binding ‘say on pay’ votes by shareholders. The legislation would require all public companies to include a proposal to allow shareholders to approve or disapprove of the compensation arrangements listed in a company’s …

Say on Pay Update

Earlier this week Aflac became the first large US company to offer shareholders the opportunity to approve compensation for top executives. Faced with an up or down vote, the shareholders resoundingly approved the $12 million pay package by a vote of 93 percent.

Institutional investors and shareholder services have pushed proposals to give shareholders the opportunity to approve pay packages for the past three years. Some companies have asked shareholders to reject such measures. Last year, 43 percent of proposals received shareholder support. This year, the approval rate is at about 42% according to Risk Metrics.

A shareholder vote against a specific compensation package is troublesome because there is no way to know what it means. Different shareholders vote no and yes for different reasons so it is difficult to know which aspect of the compensation is being rejected, or more importantly, what type of compensation package a majority of shareholders would support.  …