Moving closer to the action: Examining compensation design effects on firm risk

Cynthia E. Devers, Gerry McNamara, Robert M. Wiseman, Mathias Arrfelt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

247 Scopus citations


We examine the influence of CEO equity-based compensation on strategic risk taking by the firm. Building off the Behavioral Agency Model, Agency Theory, and Prospect Theory, we develop arguments about when equity-based compensation elements will increase or decrease executive risk propensity and, in turn, strategic risk taking. Incorporating a behavioral perspective into our models of incentive alignment provides us with new and potentially more accurate predictions about how individual elements of CEO pay will influence risk selection, as well as how equity compensation interacts with cash compensation and with other factors to influence risk preferences. In general, this study provides evidence that CEO equity-based compensation significantly influences strategic risk, but that this influence is more nuanced and complex than conventional treatments of executive compensation assume. In particular, we find that different forms of equity-based pay exhibit dissimilar influences on strategic risk and that their influence changes as their value and vesting status change. Second, we find that cash-based forms of pay moderate the incentive properties of equity-based pay, indicating that cash-based pay may affect how executives perceive risks associated with equity pay. Finally, we find that stock price volatility and board actions each also moderate the incentive effects of equity-based pay. In sum, our results argue for increased recognition of a behavioral perspective on executive compensation and greater precision in how we measure and model the incentive alignment properties of CEO compensation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)548-566
Number of pages19
JournalOrganization Science
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1 2008


  • CEO compensation
  • Corporate governance
  • Incentive alignment
  • Strategic risk

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Strategy and Management
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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