No matter what the impact is of a Trump presidency, American CEOs can count on getting paid more money by saying two magic words in letters to stockholders: "shareholder value." A study of 2,300 letters by nearly 600 CEOs found that CEOs get an additional $116,000 for every mention per 1,000 words of boosting the company’s share value, according to the Journal of Management Studies. We'll look at details.
Give Them What They Want
The report, which was co-written by Taekjin Shin of San Diego State University and Jihae You of Louisiana State University and was just published in the Journal of Management Studies, found that CEOs who use the buzzwords "shareholder value" snagged higher pay packages than CEOs who listed other objectives, such as increasing market share and improving customer loyalty, reported the Wall Street Journal. (For more, see also: Executive Pay: How Much Do Shareholders Really Care?)
Among the components in the CEO pay packages are salaries, bonuses, stock-options and long-term incentive plans.
The study examined CEO stockholder letters between 1998 and 2005.
According to Shin, some of the CEOs who directly benefited from this semantic ploy were Baxter International Inc.’s (BAX) Robert L. Parkinson, Jr. in 2005; Coca-Cola Company’s (KO) E. Neville Isdell in 2005; Bank of America Corp’s (BAC) Kenneth D. Lewis; Exelon Corporation’s (EXC) Corbin A. McNeill, Jr in 2002; and ConocoPhillips’ (COP) James J. Mulva in 2001. (For more, see also: The 5 Highest Paid CEOs.)
Playing the Word Game
The reason for the bump in pay isn't simply because CEOs are seeking to curry favor with corporate boards and compensation committees. That, of course, can be cited as one explanation but there's another, added the Journal. And that has to do with using a parlance that gives the appearance of perpetuating the status quo.
In their study entitled "Pay for Talk: How the Use of Shareholder-Value Language Affects CEO Compensation," Shin and You bolster this point by writing, “Top corporate managers’ use of language that is congruent with a prevailing norm leads the boards of directors to evaluate the managers more favorably and to grant a higher level of compensation."
Although some communications experts might believe that every CEO likes to cavalierly toss the words "shareholder value" into their letters to investors; Shin said that isn't the case as the report found that less than half of CEOs did that in the letters he and You examined.
But that doesn't mean that CEO usage of that phrase hasn't been on the rise in talks to shareholders. Citing dating from Factiva, the Journal noted that "in 2005, there were just 616 mentions of 'shareholder value' on corporate earnings calls with analysts and investors; by 2015, that number rose to 3,756 mentions of those buzzwords."