Equity Incentive Schemes: Examining the rationale behind shareholder rejection

Two historical examples of organizations that have had their stock option plans rejected by shareholders include Red Lion Hotels and HomeAway. How could they have reduced the likelihood of rejected plans? Read to find out

The approval for equity-based incentive plans, or amendments to current plans, is a critical part of many organizations strategies to acquire and retain premium talent. Opposition or even rejection by shareholders can derail these efforts.

In this article we look at two historical examples of organizations that have had their equity incentive plans rejected and explore the reasons behind and impact of shareholder opposition.

When Red Lion Hotels was punished for lack of clear strategy

In 2019, Red Lion Hotels Corporation’s (NYSE: RLH) shareholders delivered a blow to the company by voting overwhelmingly (70% opposed) against the proposed amendment to the 2015 stock incentive plan.

Shareholders were troubled by, what they perceived, as the board’s continued inability to fulfil its obligations and the absence of a clear strategy (Vindico Capital LLC – letter to the board). Flat performance of the stock over time and significant underperformance against the market and industry peers were particular points of concern for shareholders.

When HomeAway was sent packing

In 2015, HomeAway (NASDAQ: AWAY) had their amended equity incentive plan rejected. Investors felt equity awards continued to be granted despite diminishing returns for investors over time. While the Market Capitalization of HomeAway had remained relatively steady over two years, the rest of the index saw significant gains. Total Shareholder Return was perceived as minimal in this context and the equity awards were seen to be rewarding poor performance. Ultimately HomeAway was acquired shortly afterwards and incorporated into one of the largest travel industry players, Expedia.

Trends in the opposition

When shareholders are considering the impact of diluting their holdings, they require that any potential value lost by the equity incentive plan is offset by the value the business gains by meeting the qualifying KPIs. Whether this is Market Capitalization, Total Shareholder Return, EBITDA or free cashflow, there has to be a compelling strategic rationale for the award of equity. Further, the remuneration committee must ensure that the organization behaves is a prudent manner, even after the plan is agreed to.

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Deutsche Bank: How CGLytics Tools Inform Glass Lewis’ Pay and Governance Analysis

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Capri Holdings – A Glass Lewis Use Case into Executive Compensation Benchmarking

In this use case, Glass Lewis examine the “additional considerations” regarding the quantitative examination with respect to Capri Holdings, Inc. (formerly Michael Kors Holdings Ltd.) using CGLytics’ analytical tools.

Glass Lewis’ two-pronged approach to executive compensation analysis in the North American market is delineated between the quantitative analysis and a qualitative assessment. The quantitative portion, while anchored by the pay for performance grade, incorporates additional considerations to supplement the standardized pay for performance analysis.

CGLytics’ suite of tools is fast becoming an integral part of the quantitative analysis for the North American market. In July 2019, the Compensation Analysis section became a part of Glass Lewis’ Proxy Paper for S&P 1500 companies in the U.S. and Canada. The page illustrates total realized compensation of CEOs based on data provided by CGLytics. Covering the past three years, realized CEO pay is presented on both an absolute basis and relative to country and industry peer groups developed by Glass Lewis using CGLytics tools.

In the following discussion, we examine the aforementioned “additional considerations” regarding the quantitative examination with respect to Capri Holdings, Inc. (formerly Michael Kors Holdings Ltd.) using CGLytics’ analytical tools.

Review of Capri Holdings’ Compensation Program

On August 1, shareholders gave their appraisals of executive pay practices at Capri Holdings, casting votes in favor or against the compensation packages of its named executive officers. The company is one of the few in the broader markets where multiple named executive officers receive pay at the CEO level or higher. Michael Kors as chief creative officer (CCO) and honorary chair and John Idol as CEO have received largely equivalent pay packages for most if not all of Capri Holdings’ history as a publicly traded company.

Multiple CEO-level pay recipients at individual companies have drawn the ire of shareholders in the past and no doubt will continue to do so in the future. However, executives from the apparel industry who engaged with Glass Lewis note that the industry is distinct in that the parity between chief executive and chief creative officer pay is not uncommon, but CCO pay is rarely reported on the Summary Compensation Table as these officers are not typically considered executives. In Capri Holdings’ case, however, perhaps because of his additional title of honorary chair, Mr. Kors is thus a named executive officer whose pay is subject to scrutiny at the Company’s annual advisory say on pay vote.

Overview of the Pay For Performance Grade and the Compensation Analysis Page:

Despite its dual CEO pay level executives, Capri Holdings received a “C” grade under Glass Lewis’ pay for performance model in each year from fiscal years 2015 to 2018, indicating adequate alignment. But in fiscal 2019, the company received a “D” grade after a jump in equity compensation to Messrs. Kors and Idol pushed Capri Holdings’ three-year weighted average compensation levels up – a move unsupported by the company’s weighted average performance that dipped in this year’s analysis. The analysis concluded that the company paid moderately more than its peers but performed moderately worse compared to peers.

Unique situations such as Capri Holdings’ case demonstrate the benefits that additional quantitative  analyses have had in Glass Lewis’ approach to executive compensation. One might contend that the pay for performance grade penalized Capri Holdings for common industry pay practices of chief creative officer pay, boosting total named executive officer pay above peers that do not also list their chief creative officer as a top executive.

The CGLytics-powered Compensation Analysis page in Glass Lewis’ research provided additional perspective to help consider Capri Holdings’ executive pay situation. Its focus on CEO pay underscored concerns flagged by the pay for performance analysis. In the same year that the company granted $7.5 million in equity incentives to each of Messrs. Kors and Idol, Mr. Idol’s fiscal 2019 total realized pay increased by 210% from $22.2 million to $68.9 million. At the same time, the Compensation Analysis reported that the median CEO total realized pay among industry peers remained relatively stagnant, highlighting the stark difference in realized pay levels for the CEO position at Capri Holdings compared to peers. While many companies often cite retention concerns due to low realized or realizable pay as reasons for significant increases in equity grants, the analysis using CGLytics indicated this to not be the case, at least for realized pay to the CEO.

Additional Perspectives Through CGLytics:

Beyond the Compensation Analysis page, by focusing on CEO pay using the CGLytics’ broader suite of tools, Glass Lewis found evidence to suggest deeper concerns with pay-setting for the short-term incentive. While the company provided Mr. Idol with no LTIP award in 2018 and only $1 million in 2017, the company’s incentives focused on short-term performance made up for the deficiency. Using CGLytics we can observe the following short-term incentive payout comparison to the industry peer median for most of Capri Holdings’ history as a publicly traded company where 2018 represents the most recently completed fiscal year for the company:

In our view, excessive upside opportunities under a bonus plan may unduly incentivize short-term performance and may undermine a long-term focus on company performance among executives. In fact, Mr. Idol received his maximum payout opportunity under the short-term incentive every year since 2012.

Switching gears in 2019, the Company decided to grant Mr. Idol $7.5 million in long-term incentives. Indeed, the grant resuscitated the level of Mr. Idol’s outstanding compensation following the exercise of a significant number of stock options. Mr. Idol exercised options to acquire 906,076 shares in fiscal 2019 – a value of $58.3 million according to the company’s proxy statement. The following chart shows the change in Mr. Idol’s total outstanding awards with the 2018 data representing the company’s fiscal 2019 and showing the net effect of his exercise of options and increased levels of long-term incentive grants during that year:

The effects of the long-term grant on total CEO pay was quite pronounced as seen in the graph below:

Review of GL recommendation:

In the end, an 89% year-over-year jump in Mr. Idol pay placed it at the 85th percentile of CEO compensation compared to the company’s self-disclosed peer group. The pay decisions for fiscal 2019 degraded the alignment between pay and performance in our analysis. Additional analysis into in the quantum of pay for Mr. Idol through CGLytics compounded our concerns. That Mr. Kors’ pay presented similar issues as Mr. Idol’s was also considered.

A deeper dive beyond our initial pay for performance analysis into the CEO’s total direct compensation uncovered a history of over-focus on short-term performance. Capri Holdings’ short-term incentive payouts rose well above the industry median since 2013. Due to the equity grants made to Mr. Idol during the most recently completed fiscal year, his pay spiked 1.2 times the median industry peer level, according to CGLytics’ multiple of median analysis.

As a result of these concerns, and following a qualitative assessment of the pay program, Glass Lewis recommended against supporting Capri Holdings’ executive compensation proposal for the 2019 annual meeting.

Conclusion:

Overall, the additional quantitative analysis using CGLytics underscored the concerns initially highlighted by Glass Lewis’ pay for performance grade by illustrating issues with pay regardless of the impact of Mr. Kors’ compensation on total NEO pay.

Access Glass Lewis’ Say on Pay analysis – Available through CGLytics

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Proxy Season Lookback: CGG marks first binding ‘non’ on pay in France – A guest blog by Glass Lewis

The 2019 season marked the second opportunity for French shareholders’ to cast retrospective binding votes on executive compensation. And for the first time, shareholder votes prevented the payment of a bonus award, as well as the implementation of a new pay policy.

A guest blog by

The 2019 season marked the second opportunity for French shareholders’ to cast retrospective binding votes on executive compensation. And for the first time, shareholder votes prevented the payment of a bonus award, as well as the implementation of a new pay policy.

In many markets a say-on-pay vote is offered, but under Sapin II legislation, which came fully into effect in 2018, French shareholders get several “says” on remuneration arrangements. The variable payments due to each executive are subject to a series of “ex-post” binding votes (one for each executive) and there is an annual “ex-ante” binding vote on the intended remuneration policy for the current year. In addition, shareholders also get forward-looking advisory votes on severance arrangements.

It’s the binding “ex-post” vote that has drawn the most attention — in particular, the potential implications of how a rejection could affect the organisation, with several possible scenarios. How would an executive react to such a public rebuke from shareholders? To losing the bonus they thought they had earned? Would the board take emergency measures and what could these be, or would continued service prove untenable, prompting an immediate resignation? In 2018 there were several backward-looking compensation proposals that came close to providing answers, with Teleperformance, Vinci, Renault, Technicolor and Atos coming close to failing. But it wasn’t until this year’s shareholder meeting of SBF120 listed CGG, specializing in geophysical services, that shareholders got to see the implications of voting down a CEO’s pay. Well, sort-of.

After changing CEO early in the fiscal year, CGG had a number of proposals covering executive pay on the agenda. Shareholders received two binding, backward-looking votes, covering the FY2018 variable remuneration due to both the current and former CEOs, as well as one binding, forward looking vote, covering the proposed FY2019 remuneration policy of the current CEO, and one advisory forward looking vote on post-termination severance arrangements.

Shareholders voiced their dissent across the board. Support for executive pay proposals ranged from a high of just 56.65% to a low of 38.63%, with two voted down. These were the ex-post, binding vote on the remuneration due to the former CEO Jean-Georges Malcor for fiscal year 2018, and the ex-ante, binding vote on the 2019 remuneration policy for the current CEO, Sophie Zurquiyah.

Besides being historic, the ex-post rejection was somewhat surprising. Mr. Malcor’s variable package contained no surprises and only represented a small fraction of his total quantum for the year. Payment of a €75,000 extraordinary award in respect of a successful debt restructuring may have been viewed as somewhat questionable, especially after CGG decided to pursue a new strategy after his departure in order to recover from a record of poor financial performance. However, the payment was relatively modest, particularly in comparison to the total of €1,626,673, that Mr. Malcor received in respect of fixed salary and a non-competition agreement (the ex-post votes under Sapin II do not cover fixed remuneration). Also surprising was that the award was not unexpected, having been clearly disclosed as part of Mr. Malcor’s forward-looking binding remuneration proposal, which received 96.90% support at the 2018 meeting.

With only 53.52% support, the binding proposal covering variable remuneration due to the current CEO, Sophie Zurquiyah, narrowly avoided the same fate. The binding, forward-looking proposal covering the remuneration policy intended to apply for the current fiscal year was not so fortunate, garnering just 44.3% support. The consequences of this vote are more transparent, and nowhere near as potentially far-reaching, as that of the “ex-post” vote. Instead of the policy terms that had been proposed, Ms. Zurquiyah’s remuneration will continue to be determined by the company’s existing policy, previously approved by shareholders at the 2018 AGM. That may ultimately suit shareholders – while the company had not proposed any material changes to the existing policy, specific details of the 2019 iteration were not fully disclosed.

The company has issued a press release acknowledging the vote results and stating that the board “will consider the adjustments to be made to the Chief Executive Officer’s remuneration policy in order to obtain the shareholders’ approval at the next General Meeting.” It’s unclear if that consideration will include an engagement programme to garner feedback from investors – or what will happen if and when French shareholders reject the variable pay due to a current, rather than former, CEO.

This article was originally published on the Glass Lewis website, 23/07/2019. You can read the article here: https://www.glasslewis.com/proxy-season-lookback-cgg-marks-first-binding-non-on-pay-in-france/ 

About the Author

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Iris Bucelli
Senior Research Analyst at Glass Lewis & Co.,

Irene joined Glass Lewis as Corporate Governance Analyst for Continental Europe in 2017. She specialises in executive compensation analysis of French blue-chip and mid-cap companies. After completing a Masters Degree at the University of Bologna, she worked on international projects in Italy, France and Spain, before landing in Ireland.

Access Glass Lewis’ Say on Pay analysis – Available through CGLytics

Glass Lewis uses CGLytics as it’s global compensation data provider. For the 2020 proxy season our data will provide the basis of Glass Lewis’ Say on Pay recommendations.

 

Learn More

Latest Industry News, Views & Information

The increasing trend of shareholder opposition to executive pay

Votes against executive remuneration are growing. In this article we look at this change in the European indices and the S&P500.

Deutsche Bank: How CGLytics Tools Inform Glass Lewis’ Pay and Governance Analysis

Glass Lewis’ assessment of executive remuneration reflects a balance of quantitative and qualitative considerations, with CGLytics’ suite of tools underpinning the quantitative component. In the following discussion, we review the quantitative assessment with respect to Deutsche Bank, using CGLytics’ analytical tools.

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