Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Hedge funds silent on "golden coffins" and other governance issues

Apparently its not enough for some CEOs to get massive compensation packages, lavish corporate perks and a golden parachute when they get fired for mismanaging their enterprise.  Now there are "golden coffins" too.  According to the Wall Street Journal, golden coffins are generous posthumous payouts to senior management and dozens of corporations offer generous death-benefit packages that might include allowing heirs to collect unvested equity, posthumous severance payouts, supercharged pensions and/or years of postmortem salaries.

With executive pay coming under intense scrutiny in the wake of the banking crisis, corporate governance issues are moving to the forefront.  Hedge funds -- except Carl Ichan -- are surprisingly silent on the matter.  This is a mistake.  Corporate governance is a non-controversial issue, but one of great importance.  Fighting the good fight right now are a couple of pension funds, academics and proxy advisors.  These are mostly passive players, however, and corporations are not under meaningful pressure.  

That could change if hedge funds enter the fray.  Aligning with other governance activists would demonstrate that hedge funds are a responsible part of the modern capital equation.  It would also show that hedge funds can be watchdogs and enforcers of fair play in the markets in what this blog calls the "new financial world order."  Lastly, it would advance their business interests as shareholders in corporations that are less wasteful, have better boards, and are less protected by poison pills and other anti-shareholder defense mechanisms.

Organizations that hedge funds should cooperate with on the issue of corporate governance include:

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