Thursday, September 24, 2009

Shareholders Determine Executive Compensation

It's commonly known as say-on-pay policy. In the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, say-on-pay is mandatory. Now, as Canadians desire to be viewed as doing the right thing, say-on-pay will become policy at 13 Canadian corporations beginning next year.

Say-on-pay, although sounding like the name of a children's game, is by no means a game. It is a system whereby the shareholders of a corporation get to vote on executive compensation packages. Although the policy is merely advisory, it is by no means to be taken lightly. The board of directors is not obligated to follow the express directives of the shareholders. However, the vote by the shareholders - whether to increase top executive compensation, decrease executive pay, or leave it as is – can send a clear message to the board members.

In countries that regularly implement a say-on-pay policy, top company executives invest a good deal of effort to court shareholder votes. While they certainly have a vested interest in the outcome, the important factor is the open lines of communication between shareholders and corporation management. Regular discussion between the investors and operations is extremely important. The goal behind encouraging shareholders' input is to break down the barrier that currently exists and allow management to understand how their investors view the company's performance.

In an effort to encourage widespread acceptance of the say-on-pay policy, the Canadian Coalition for Good Governance is working on a model policy for boards to implement, including the wording of the actual resolution put to shareholders. As shareholders are likely to vote based on overall feelings and ignore the specifics, the Coalition hopes that the wording of their resolution will help shareholders focus their thoughts.

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