Felice B. Klein, Kevin McSweeney, Cynthia E. Devers, Gerry McNamara, and Spenser Blosser
Scholars have devoted significant attention to understanding the determinants and consequences of executive compensation. Yet, one form of compensation, executive severance agreements, has flown under the radar. Severance agreements specify the expected payments and benefits promised executives, upon voluntary or involuntary termination. Although these agreements are popular among executives, critics continually question their worth. Yet severance agreements potentially offer three important (but less readily recognized) strategic benefits. First, severance agreements are viewed as a means of mitigating the potential risks associated with job changes; thus, they can serve as a recruitment tool to attract top executive talent. Second, because severance agreements guarantee executives previously specified compensation in the event of termination, they can help limit the downside risk naturally risk-averse executives face, facilitating executive-shareholder interest alignment. Third, severance agreements can aid in firm exit, as executives and directors are likely to be more open to termination, in the presence of adequate protection against the downside.
Severance agreements can contain provisions for ten possible termination events. Three events refer to change in control (CIC), which occurs under a change in ownership. These are (1) CIC without termination, (2) CIC with termination without cause, and (3) CIC with termination for cause. Cause is generally defined by events such as felony, fraud, embezzlement, neglect of duties, or violation of noncompete provisions. Additional events include (4) voluntary retirement, (5) resignation without good reason, (6) voluntary termination for good reason, (7) involuntary termination without cause, (8) involuntary termination with cause, (9) death, and (10) disability. Voluntary retirement and resignation without good reason occurs when CEOs either retire or leave under their own volition, and voluntary termination with good reason occurs in response to changes in employment terms (e.g., relocation of headquarters). Involuntary termination refers to termination due to any reason not listed above and is often triggered by unsatisfactory performance.
Although some prior work has addressed the antecedents, consequences, and moderators of severance, the findings from this literature remain unclear, as many of the results are mixed. Future severance scholars have the opportunity to further clarify these relationships by addressing how severance agreements can help firms attract, align the interests of, and facilitate the exit of executives.
Bret Bradley, Sam Matthews, and Thomas Kelemen
“Strategic leadership” is the umbrella term used to describe the study of an organization’s top leaders—what they do, their interactions, and how they influence important organizational outcomes. The three major areas of focus within this field are the chief executive officer (CEO), the top management team (TMT), and the board of directors. Although each area has vibrant bodies of literature on important topics of inquiry, the integration of research findings, frameworks, and insights across the three areas remains underdeveloped. For example, the study of leader personality is a rich line of inquiry within the broader management literature, and all three areas are developing, albeit at different rates and with little integration across the three areas.
The work on CEO personality is the most developed, and the work on board personality is the least developed. CEOs personality traits that have been studied include the Big Five personality traits (conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, openness to experience, and emotional stability), locus of control, core self-evaluations, narcissism, overconfidence, hubris, humility and regulatory focus (a person’s general approach to goals as either promotion focused or prevention focused). TMT personality traits that have been studied include the Big Five, trait positive affect, propensity to innovate, and competitive aggressiveness. Finally, board of directors’ personality traits that have been studied include only personality diversity.