Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Executive & Star Employee Compensation

There was an interesting juxtaposition of positions on executive and 'star employee' pay today from two staffers of the Wall Street Journal.

Alan Murray spoke on CNBC regarding Sirius radio's payment of many millions of dollars to Howard Stern. Mr. Murray provided stock price and recent product sales information to demonstrate that Stern is, in fact, proving to be worth the immense compensation package he received for switching employers to Sirius.

Meanwhile, in this morning's Wall Street Journal's Money & Investing section, on page one, Jesse Eisinger babbles about the need for hedge funds to be responsible for policing exhorbitant executive pay. He includes some formative academic research results to bolster his case that too much of net after-tax profits of some companies are going, on a percentage basis, to the CEOs of those companies.

Personally, I believe Alan Murray is on the right track. I think Jesse Eisinger has lost perspective.

As portfolio management has been my primary occupation for some time, I have reflected on so-called "corporate governance" issues, executive compensation being one of them, for years. I even have had discussions about it with a friend who is a noted retired Fortune 50 CEO and sometime-speaker on the topic.

As a portfolio manager, I will say that you only really have one effective lever- buy/hold/sell a stock. Period. As my father used to advise me when I was a child, "son, we live in a democracy. But your dollar vote counts much more than your ballot box vote, because you vote more times each year with your dollars while buying things than you ever vote in a year."

And that, dear readers, is what being in a mixed-free economic democracy is all about. Ultimately, dollar votes reflect reactions to political or moral dilemmas.

In this case, after all the brouhaha over executive and key employee compensation, the truth is that you buy or sell stocks of companies based upon relative expected performance. Frankly, so long as a stock is likely to exceed everybody else's expectations, and, thus, earn an above-average return, I could care less what they pay the janitor, the CEO, or anybody else at the company. It's up to the CEO and his team to figure out what levers to pull. I just hope I've bought the right teams of leaders and managers in the right sectors.

In my opinion, people who debate this compensation issue are sadly misinformed as to how much power or control they have over the issue. They would likely be better off accepting that they have none, and stick to selling poor performers, and buying those with good prospects of out-performance. Leave the operating management and board of directors to affect compensation, and stop spilling so much ink, real or cyber, over this red herring.

1 comment:

Jacob said...

Check out Gretchen Morgansen's piece in today's NY Times.

By the way, great blog.