- 20 Nov 2012
- Working Paper
This paper demonstrates how horizontal wage comparisons within firms and concerns for "pay harmony" affect firm policies in setting pay for executives. Using a rich dataset of pay practices for the senior-most executives within divisions, Gartenberg and Wulf ask whether horizontal comparisons between managers in similar jobs affect pay. The authors also evaluate evidence in support of a tradeoff between pay harmony and performance pay. Findings are consistent with the presence of peer effects in influencing pay policies for executives inside firms. These results contribute to the ongoing policy debate on the consequences of transparency and mandatory information disclosure and potential ratchet-effects in executive pay. For practitioners involved in designing the structure of executive compensation and pay disclosure policies for firms -- including compensation committee directors, senior human resource executives, and compensation consultants -- it is important to recognize the tradeoff between the incentive effects of performance-based pay and costs of peer comparison that arise from unequal pay when designing executive wage contracts. The research also raises questions on the costs of pay disclosure and on labor markets more generally.
- 10 May 2012
- Working Paper
For decades, management consultants and the popular business press have urged large firms to flatten their hierarchies. Flattening (or delayering, as it is also known) typically refers to the elimination of layers in a firm's organizational hierarchy, and the broadening of managers' spans of control. While flattening is said to reduce costs, its alleged benefits flow primarily from changes in internal governance: by pushing decisions downward, firms not only enhance customer and market responsiveness, but also improve accountability and morale. But has flattening actually delivered on its promise and pushed decisions down to lower-level managers? In this paper, Julie Wulf shows that flattening actually can lead to exactly the opposite effects from what it promises to do. Wulf used a large-scale panel data set of reporting relationships, job descriptions, and compensation structures in a sample of over 300 large U.S. firms over roughly a 15-year period. This historical data analysis was complemented with exploratory interviews with executives (what CEOs say) and analysis of data on executive time use (what CEOs do). Results suggest that flattening transferred some decision rights from lower-level division managers to functional managers at the top. Flattening is also associated with increased CEO involvement with direct reports—the second level of top management—suggesting a more hands-on CEO at the pinnacle of the hierarchy. In sum, flattening at the top is a complex phenomenon that in the end looks more like centralization. Yet it is crucial to consider different types of decisions and activities and how they vary by level in the hierarchy.
- 12 Mar 2012
- Research & Ideas
It's not lonely at the top anymore—today's CEO has an average of 10 direct reports, according to new research by Julie M. Wulf, Maria Guadalupe, and Hongyi Li. Thank a dramatic increase in the number of "functional" managers for crowding in the C-suite. Key concepts include: The number of managers reporting directly to the CEO has doubled, from an average of 5 direct reports in 1986 to an average of 10 today. In 2008, companies averaged 2.9 general managers, compared with 1.6 in 1986, according to data from several surveys. The average number of functional managers reporting directly to the CEO increased much more dramatically, from 3.1 in the late 1980s to 6.7 in 2008. Two main factors have driven the C-suite sea change: an overall increase in IT investments and an overall decrease in firm diversification. As hierarchical flattening occurs, companies are pushing some decisions toward the top, casting doubt on the common idea that firms flatten in order to push ideas down the organization. Closed for comment; 13 Comment(s) posted.
- 07 Feb 2012
- Working Paper
Many studies as well as anecdotes document a link between the structure of chief executive officer (CEO) compensation and various measures of earnings manipulation. In this paper, HBS professors Oberholzer-Gee and Wulf analyze all components of compensation packages for CEOs and for managers at lower levels in a large sample of firms over more than 10 years, between 1986 and 1999. Results suggest that the effects of incentive pay on earnings management vary considerably by both type of incentive pay and position. Overall, it appears that the primary focus of compensation committees on equity incentives for CEOs overlooks a critical component in curbing earnings manipulation. If one wanted to weaken incentive pay to get more truthful reporting, diluting bonuses-particularly that of the chief financial officer (CFO)-would be the place to start. This may be the first study to analyze the relationship between CEO, division manager, and CFO compensation and earnings management.
- 25 Jan 2012
- Working Paper
The size of a CEO's executive team has increased dramatically in recent decades, but little has been known about its composition. Using a rich dataset of US firms from 1986 to 2006, this paper documents the dramatic increase in the number of functional managers in the executive team. The size of the team in these firms doubled over the time period from five to 10 positions, with approximately three-fourths of the increase attributable to functional managers (such as Chief Financial Officer, Chief Marketing Officer, and so on) rather than general managers. The paper explores the drivers of these changes. Findings are critical for practitioners, and specifically CEOs, as they structure their executive teams and more generally as they make decisions to implement or execute strategy.
- 02 Apr 2009
- Working Paper
Corporate hierarchies are becoming flatter: Spans of control have broadened, and the number of levels within firms has declined. But why? Maria Guadalupe of Columbia University and HBS professor Julie M. Wulf investigate how increased competition in product markets—and, in particular, product market competition resulting from trade liberalization—may be fundamentally altering how decisions are being made. Guadalupe and Wulf also shed light on the possible reasons behind certain organizational choices and on the importance of communication and decision-making processes inside firms.