Sunday, January 17, 2010

A Window Opens on Pay for Bosses

By Floyd Norris

The New York Times - Is it possible that shareholders will finally get a reliable view of what the bosses are getting paid? And that it will come this spring? Yes.

There is no doubt that pay consultants are now looking for ways to keep that from being the case, and it would be a risky wager to say they will not succeed. But it appears that new disclosure rules that take effect with this year’s proxies will provide the most accurate view ever.

Anger over executive pay, particularly at banks, is high. That may have been one reason the Securities and Exchange Commission moved to improve the rules this year, but it was something that would have needed doing even if business leaders were widely deemed to be geniuses. Shareholders need good information, and the disclosures required by the S.E.C. before made the figures unnecessarily confusing.

There is still one area where companies could play games to make their bosses look less well paid than they really are. That is in the area of performance-based awards, where the payout will depend on how well the executive or the company performs relative to undisclosed goals. A company that wants to do so may be able to obscure just how likely a rich reward is for an executive.

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