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Wall Street Journal, July 28, 2008 article


The Wall Street Journal

July 28, 2008




Hiring a CEO
From the Outside
Is More Expensive

New Study Highlights
Cost of Failing to Plan
For Leader Succession

Chief executives recruited from outside a company earn significantly more in their first year than those promoted from within, according to a new study.

Executive-pay tracker Equilar Inc. found that external hires in 2007 and early 2008 received median compensation of $6.6 million, 65% more than the median $4 million for internally promoted CEOs. The compensation figure includes salary, cash bonuses and equity incentives.


The study looked at CEOs hired during fiscal years ended between April 30, 2007, and March 31, 2008. Its results generally agree with past research. Compensation experts say outside hires tend to be paid more to offset the risks and costs of leaving one company for another, including lost benefits and equity.

The new study examined an unusually broad set of companies -- nearly 1,300 across three major Standard & Poor's indexes. On average, outsiders were paid more at all companies, regardless of size.

Among the largest companies, in the S&P 500-stock index, median compensation for outside hires totaled $12.1 million, about 75% more than the $6.9 million for internal hires. The disparity was even greater for small companies. In the S&P 600 SmallCap Index, external recruits were paid a median of $3.6 million, more than twice the $1.6 million paid to internal successors.

When Avid Technology Inc. tapped outsider Gary Greenfield as CEO in December 2007, the Tewksbury, Mass., digital-media software maker agreed to pay him a $900,000 annual salary and a target bonus of $900,000 or more; he also received a $600,000 signing bonus and restricted stock and stock options valued at $7.5 million. That is several times more than the $2.4 million compensation of predecessor David Krall in 2006, his last full year as CEO.

Mr. Greenfield had been CEO of GXS Inc., a closely held software maker, and an operating partner with Francisco Partners, a private-equity firm. Avid declined to comment.

By contrast, Randy Ramlo is being paid less than predecessor John Rife as CEO of United Fire & Casualty Co. The Cedar Rapids, Iowa, insurance company promoted Mr. Ramlo to CEO from chief operating officer in May 2007. This year, it will pay him a $350,000 salary -- 70% of Mr. Rife's $500,000 salary last year. Mr. Rife also received a bigger bonus and more stock options last year. Mr. Ramlo didn't receive any new stock options following his promotion. United Fire declined to comment.

Compensation consultants say the findings highlighted the importance of succession planning. "It's very expensive not to keep their leadership pipelines full," says James F. Reda, founder and managing director of New York-based James F. Reda & Associates LLC. "Once you run out of talent and you have to go outside, you're going to pay a premium."


Of the nearly 1,300 companies surveyed by Equilar, 136 replaced their CEOs last year, including 38 that hired outsiders. Small companies turned outward most often, probably because they lag behind larger organizations in succession planning, says Tim Sparks, president of Compensia Inc., a San Jose, Calif., compensation consultancy.

Not surprisingly, companies whose shares had performed poorly were most likely to hire outsiders, Equilar found. Experts say these companies may have been looking for fresh leadership. When Mr. Greenfield took over at Avid, for example, its shares had tumbled to $25.42 from a March 2005 high of $67.68.

Internally promoted CEOs received less compensation than CEOs who had been in place for at least two years. "It's like replacing a Hall of Famer with a rookie," Mr. Sparks says. "You would expect that first year public company CEO to be paid less than the person he's replacing."

Companies give large upfront equity grants to externally recruited executives to align their interests with those of shareholders, Mr. Sparks says. Internally promoted CEOs usually have a well-established stake in their organizations, he notes.

Such grants are also meant to help retain newcomers and often come with strings attached, says Frank Glassner of San Francisco-based Compensation Design Group Inc.

Write to Cari Tuna at cari.tuna@wsj.com1

Theory & Practice is a weekly look at people and ideas influencing managers. Send comments to theorypractice@wsj.com2. For an archive of past columns, visit

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