Does family ownership matter in executive pay design? By: Yarram, Subba Reddy; Adapa, Sujana. Personnel Review. 2021, Vol. 50 Issue 3, p880-899. 20p.

Purpose: The purpose of this study is to analyse the level and structure of executive compensation of family and non-family businesses and if minority shareholders are expropriated by family businesses in the Australian context using excessive pay. Studies on compensation practices of family businesses are limited to the European and North American contexts. This study, for the first time, considers the Australian context, which is unique with its transparent compensation disclosures, and a principle-based corporate governance framework to examine the level of compensation as well as the association between pay and performance.

Design/methodology/approach: A set of family and matched non-family firms for the period 2004–2014 are examined in a panel data setting. Robust models are estimated to examine the association between compensation and a set of economic, governance and ownership factors.

Findings: This study finds evidence that family businesses in general pay lower levels of compensation than non-family businesses. An investigation of the role of economic factors on compensation of family and non-family businesses shows evidence that supports the optimal contracting theory. Further examination of governance factors on compensation levels and pay–performance sensitivities shows there is a limited role for managerial power approach in explaining the executive compensation practices of family businesses in Australia. These findings infer that family businesses, given their interest in non-financial goals, do not pay excessive compensation to their executives to expropriate minority shareholders.

Research limitations/implications: These findings have implications for theory relating to executive compensation and human resource management in all types of businesses, including family firms. These findings offer support for the theory of optimal contracting. Empirical analysis shows no evidence of entrenchment effect or managerial power in family businesses in Australia. In terms of theory-building, there is role for socioemotional wealth model in addition to optimal contracting theory and managerial power approach.

Practical implications: The findings of this study also have implications for practice. Compensation practices may be designed in such a way that executives and firms pursue broader social goals such as the sustainable development goals or more generally non-financial objectives. Businesses may not necessarily use only financial outcomes when assessing appropriate level of pay of executives. Often, the financial outcomes may involve wealth transfers between different stakeholders and may not necessarily lead to improving the societal well-being. In terms of human resource management, the findings of this study emphasise the need for explicit consideration of socioemotional wealth of all family-related and non-related employees when designing recruitment, training, reward and recognition policies.

Originality/value: This study highlights the role non-financial factors play in executive pay setting processes in family businesses in a highly transparent and principle-based governance framework. Family businesses in Australia are not motivated by monetary considerations, and that their interest in non-financial objectives leads to less emphasis on the link between compensation and performance.