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THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM: LABOR MARKET INFLUENCES ON CEO COMPENSATION

Authors


  • The author thanks Barry Gerhart, Bruce Barry, Christina Shalley, Mike Burke, and the anonymous reviewers for their valuable feedback on this manuscript. As this work is loosely based on the author's dissertation, the author also extends her appreciation to the late Tom Mahoney, Dick Daft, Craig Lewis, and Neta Moye for their guidance and support in the earlier stages of this research.

and requests for reprints should be addressed to Ingrid Smithey Fulmer, Georgia Institute of Technology, College of Management, 800 West Peachtree St., NW, Atlanta, GA 30308-0520; ingrid.fulmer@mgt.gatech.edu.

Abstract

Although the “war for talent” at the executive level should theoretically have implications for executive pay, labor market competition and CEO career considerations have not been the focus of much executive compensation research to date. In this study, I utilize a multitheoretical perspective to examine the determinants of CEO annual compensation, with particular attention to external labor market factors and also to executive characteristics (e.g., experience and performance trajectory) that are conventionally believed to increase the labor market attractiveness (and alternative employment opportunities) of CEOs. In a sample of publicly traded firms, I find that these labor market-related factors and characteristics explain additional variance in annual pay beyond that predicted by firm size, annual performance, board composition, risk, and measures of CEO power, and that the variance explained by labor market variables is of a magnitude comparable to that explained by many of these more commonly studied variables. Results are consistent with the idea that corporate boards design CEO pay with retention concerns in mind: Total pay and stock option grant levels are strongly influenced by competitors’ pay levels, and CEOs who are especially likely to be “raided” receive higher pay in some cases and, in other cases, have less risky (weaker) annual firm performance–pay relationships.

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