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I thought sunlight was supposed to be the best disinfectant. And is it disclosure or how we make use of it that is the problem?

What's interesting is that without public disclosure, you have to think these companies were disclosing through salary surveys, right? If so why wasn't pay moving via that process as rapidly. If you align to company size, industry, etc--with the same comp philosophy in place--why wouldn't pay move at the same (or similar) clip? Is this an indictment on salary surveys as much as it is an indictment on disclosure and exec comp processes?

Oh, and great post!

Thanks for the comment and compliment Joe.

Sunlight is a great disinfectant, but it doesn't work for everything. For example, some wounds, let's say burns, heal better when kept out of the sun.

I agree. The compensation survey process is flawed. It is, though, less personal than disclosure at the executive level.

IO think the big issues is that disclosure, on its own, does not always do what we want it to.

Daniel Ariely, wrote a great post on disclosure of another kind. http://danariely.com/2012/07/09/disclosure-not-good-enough/

We saw some drop in pay over the past few years (take a look at the chart from Forbes near the top of this post). The question is whether this drop was due to the drop in markets or "Say on Pay" votes. We will find out over the next few years (although my guess is on the stock market, not voting.)

Pay WAS moving in lockstep via executive salary surveys in the past. Analyses of size-adjusted surveys even in the 1970s and 80s showed asymptotically improving confidence coefficients as continual constant reference to the same sources by exec comp committee advisors drove the level of agreement up through the 1990s. The dispersion of executive pay by industry and size diminished tremendously over the last fifty years. Competition is more open. Only in the smallest and the fastest-changing firms will you find great variations and high standard deviations.

Remember, pay COMPOUNDS when flat percentages are applied to base rates. And the greater publicity given to outlier cases drives up the norm. No one cites the low-paying cases to justify their next increase. Nobody wants to get "the average" because that's an insult. Everyone deserves an "above average" increase, and the effect of that logic at the top tends to strip an inordinate amount from the available payroll.

In addition, surveys are what they are: reports of specific samples, in most cases. Note that the number of public firms required to reveal their top pay dropped by more than half since the 1970s. Surveys are a whole different and bigger topic, because companies not granting increases tend to avoid survey participation or to compensate their execs with non-cash elements that are less reported and harder to understand even if seen at all. Future articles will appear on that.

Thanks Jim, as always, for a great addition.

As I eluded to in my earlier comment, disclosure without an offsetting control mechanism generally serves the interests of the disclosee (discloser?) more than anyone else.

Outstanding post, Dan.

Many have touched on this in the topic already, but executive pay continuing to rise is a product of the "ratchet effect" where every company chases the median compensation or higher (in the process raising executive pay for all since by definition all executives are not median or better in performance).

The whole entire peer bench-marking process only even exist because Hay started the process of having executives share their salaries with one another a few decades back as a way to promote their methodology. Ira Kay talks a bit about this in an awesome conversation on executive pay that you can read more about here:


Thanks for sharing the post. It's extremely well written, and I also love the infographic.

Keep writing.



Very nice infographic. Thanks, Dan.

I thought I'd mention that there is also a great discussion on this topic going on here:


and another here...


My Apologies. The second thread is here:


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