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January 12, 2009
Report IDs Changes ‘Already Underway’ in CEO Compensation
The U.S. recession and financial market crisis are prompting changes for CEO compensation. Even before the full impact of the economic turmoil is realized, a new report explains that significant changes are already underway. Notable among these is that almost all industries are reallocating their compensation mix towards stock and away from total cash compensation and stock options.

The Conference Board also found that CEOs “already have plenty of ‘skin in the game.” It found that of the largest 10 percent of companies studied in the report, the median CEO holds almost 100 times (99.97 percent) of his/her salary in total stock and stock options holdings in their company. The Conference Board 2008 Top Executive Compensation Report used data reported from firm proxies as of June 2008.

“Companies must assume their top executives ’ compensation will come under greater scrutiny from within and without,” Linda Barrington, Research Director, The Conference Board said in a press release. “The financial market crisis and U.S. recession have contributed to eroding public trust in business leadership. Certainly, from a macro-perspective, median CEO compensation should fall during a recession if such compensation is based on U.S. revenue performance. Since the current recession did not start until December 2007,it won ’t be until next year ’s proxy data that this hypothesis can be best tested.”

The report found that median cash compensation increased in more than two thirds of the 22 industries represented in the report (with the insurance industry as the largest median gainer in cash compensation—up over 34 percent to over $1.2 million overall). The food and tobacco industry shows the highest median CEO total compensation of $6.34 million (and median total cash compensation of $2.7 million) followed by the utilities, insurance and financial services (non-bank) industries.

“Whether or not this year ’s upward trend in cash compensation continues will bear watching in 2009 when the data reflecting a year of economic downturn are available,. Noted Kevin Hallock, co-author of the report and Professor, IRL School, Cornell University.

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