January 10, 2007

More about “Why” the SEC’s December Rule Changes

According to this Reuters’ article, Chairman Cox talked about “why” the rules changes were made and the Chairman illustrated how the December rule changes to the SEC’s new executive compensation rules were not intended to hide pay levels at a Reuters summit on Monday. It’s unclear if the Chairman addressed “why now and not back in July” at the summit, but earlier media reports stated that the Chairman had believed at the time the original rules were adopted that a vesting approach for reporting option grants in the Summary Compensation Table was included as part of the new rule package.

Not quite sure I bite on that explanation. Below is something I received from a member following up on what the NY Times’ Floyd Norris wrote in his own blog last week:

“For what it’s worth, after digging around in the July 26th Open Meeting webcast archive, I found out that (i) Chairman Cox described the FAS 123R full grant value treatment in his opening remarks at the Open Meeting (ii) the SEC Staff described this as well in its opening remarks and (iii) the first Q&A exchange between Cox and Corp Fin Director John White (listen to the webcast archive at the 30:52 mark of the meeting) explicitly covered this issue. White, in response to Cox’s question about the treatment of options under the new rules, laid this out quite plainly, including the difference between FAS 123R for financial reporting purposes and for compensation disclosure purposes in the SCT (see 31:04 mark of the webcast archive).”

This fact finding seems to cut across the grain that the Commission really didn’t know what standard it originally adopted and hopefully will put an end to such musings, such as done in yesterday’s WSJ op-ed. The op-ed states: “The SEC’s mistake is regrettable, but the agency might be forgiven for overlooking what was a relatively minor point in its gigantic 450-page July rule.” I think anyone closely following the rulemaking during the proposal stage would argue that this was not a “relatively minor point”; this was a hotly debated issue as reflected in the comment letters submitted last summer by many major organizations.

What to Do Now: How to Implement the December Rule Changes

Regardless of the “why,” what’s done is done and we turn to what we practitioners care about most: the “how to implement” aspect of the December rule changes. Don’t forget to tune into tomorrow’s webcast: “The SEC’s December Rule Changes: How They Impact You.”

That webcast will be followed by another (and much longer) one next Thursday: “The Latest Developments: Your Upcoming Proxy Disclosures—What You Need to Do Now!.” Because this essential 2-Part Web Conference will be accessible only to those that are 2007 members of, we urge those of you who have not yet renewed for 2007 to do so now (all memberships expired at year end; grace period for non-renewers ended last week) – and anyone not a member should try a no-risk trial. If you need to renew, please renew online if you can as our HQ is overwhelmed right now.

Whining about Semantics

I can’t help but whine about last week’s WSJ opinion column that did some whining of its own about Home Depot’s former CEO ‘severance’ package. The WSJ claimed that most of Nardelli’s $210 million payout wasn’t really severance at all because the terms for much of that package were set when he was hired years ago.

I got news for whomever wrote that piece: just because severance arrangements are negotiated well in advance of a termination doesn’t change the fact that they are indeed severance arrangements. In other words, don’t bother writing that others are not properly using terminology until you master it yourself!

And One More Wake-Up Call

This statement in the WSJ opinion column”>op-ed should serve as one more wake-up call to boards and advisors: “That contract can’t be abrogated now simply because the board has concluded it made a mistake.” The statement might be true for Nardelli because he is gone – but it certainly isn’t true for every other CEO who still holds their job today.

As we have written about numerous times, boards get an opportunity each year to revisit their past mistakes when they are set pay levels for the following year. Remember that’s one of the primary purposes of going through the exercise of creating a tally sheet – it enables boards to find out if excesses have been created and then the board has an action item to try to rectify them.

One of the first steps a board can take is to ensure properly worded clawback provisions are added to outstanding contracts – see more in our “Clawback Provisions” Practice Area on

Boards really need to take action here. It seems hardly a day goes by without another example of a senior manager getting fired and still taking millions of dollars home with them despite poor performance. Who wouldn’t want $10 million in severance for six months on the job? That’s what the just-fired COO of JC Penney walked away with; seems like managers are incentivized to perform badly with some of these poorly negotiated employment arrangements…