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International Executive Equity Awards

August 27 2007 - A recent survey has shown that many US companies are seeking to remain globally competitive by significantly decreasing the size of their equity awards to non-US executives, a significant change in compensation strategy.

Only 24 per cent expect to grant the same number of shares to executives at the same level in the organization and are differentiating long-term incentive (LTI) award sizes by geography, aligning awards to local circumstances.

Towers Perrin's 2007 Global Long-Term Incentive Policies Survey is the third in six years and draws on responses from 61 US multinational companies across a variety of industries with median revenues of US$21 billion and including more than a quarter of the Fortune 100 companies. It found that companies are intending to decrease stock option and restricted stock awards, instead focusing on alternative performance-related plans, such as performance shares. More than a quarter have reduced LTI participation levels and more than a third plan to reduce them in the future.

James Matthews, principal and head of the compensation unit of Towers Perrin's Global Consulting Group said:

"We continue to see a significant shift in the direction of US multinationals' use of long-term incentive programs worldwide. With the expensing of stock options and greater shareholder pressure, companies are focusing on the cost of equity and being more careful about how much they distribute.

"The old approach - exporting US award sizes to executives around the world - was very attractive to non-American executives, given that non-US companies did not offer such generous rewards. But in today's more cost-conscious environment, this approach is hard to defend."

The survey found that most companies still apply the same LTI plan design globally, but 42 per cent now differentiate awards by geography (up from 39 per cent in 2005, and from only 5 per cent in 2001). A further 11 per cent provide awards with a value that represents a consistent percentage of salary globally (often lower outside the US).

The survey found that only 13 per cent of companies that customize awards geographically have separate guidelines for each country. Most group countries with similar competitive values into regions or tiers and provide common LTI award levels, creating separate guidelines by:

  • region ( 35 per cent)
  • tier (22 per cent), or
  • by both region and tier (26 per cent)

Award sizes to non-US employees commonly are set as a percentage of the US award size. Median policy award sizes are:

  • 80 per cent in Europe (71 per cent in 2005)
  • 60 per cent in Asia, and
  • 60 per cent in the remainder of the world (55 per cent in 2005)

James Matthews continued:

"The 37 percentage point spike over six years clearly shows that US multinationals are finding more value and consistency in granting awards tied more closely to regional market levels. It's actually a shift toward an approach Europeans have found highly successful in global markets. Organizations still seek to establish a consistent global policy, but they are implementing that policy in a more differentiated and customized way in each region or country, taking into account local practices and regulations."

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