If it seemed like there has been a lot of turnover at the top of Minnesota companies, it’s no misconception.
At least 11 CEOs on the Star Tribune’s list of the 50 highest-paid executives will not be on it next year. Of those, four longtime CEOs retired at the top of their games. Four — three of them in the retail-and-restaurant sector — were pushed out. And three of the public companies have either been or are in the process of being acquired.
That’s a turnover rate of 20 percent, about 5 percent higher than for the national S&P 500.
But a report released last week by the Conference Board shows Minnesota’s succession trends follow those of their national counterparts.
“Succession is inevitable,” said Daniel Forbes, associate professor at the University of Minnesota’ Carlson School of Management. “Everybody knows it is good periodically for the CEO position to turn over and sometimes they can be run too long by the same individual.”
Among the S&P 500, 73 CEOs exited, which is about 15 percent, according to Equilar Inc., a board and executive data tracker.
In Minnesota, Richard Davis at U.S. Bancorp, Kendall Powell at General Mills, Mike Hoffman at the Toro Co. and Jeffrey Ettinger at Hormel Corp. have retired. Each were succeeded by long-term executives steeped in their companies’ culture.
Dan Hanrahan at Regis Corp., Scott Anderson at Patterson Cos. and LuAnn Via at Christopher & Banks were removed by their boards of directors. Sally Smith of Buffalo Wild Wings resigned after a successful activist shareholder campaign.
Valspar Corp., G&K Services Inc. and Arctic Cat were acquired.
The Conference Board said the biggest increase in CEO turnover was among consumer product companies, “another signal that the sector is bracing for new strategic and market changes.”
Retail is seeing one of its biggest disruptions as online retailers and other demographic shifts affect people’s purchases. Likewise, there has been a shift in habits having to do with restaurants.
The Conference Board points to more stable rates of turnover in higher-performing companies as a sign that companies are completing a generational shift in leadership and also have concentrated more on executive compensation and succession policies.
Forbes said a measured and planned approach is the best for the rest of the company.
“When you have a succession that is planned, people within that company get the chance to know the mind of that person,” he said.
It also can help with planning for the inevitable costs of turnover, even when it’s a retirement of a long-term, effective CEO.
The realized pay of the 50 highest compensation packages this year in Minnesota totaled $447.7 million, up 16.2 percent from the previous year thanks mainly to a 79 percent overall increase in stock options that were exercised.
A resurgent market in the last quarter was a big factor, but another was the retiring CEOs who cashed in on accumulated long-term equity award they have amassed over the last 10 years.
Ettinger, Davis, Hoffman and Powell finished among the 15 highest-compensated CEOs in 2016. All exercised long-held options last year, and only Powell exercised fewer options than he had the year before.
Succession planning led by the CEO can make for a smoother transition on the market side as well, keeping stock more steady.
“That just leads the board to make what is the easy decision of keeping leadership internal, it’s a nice virtuous cycle,” said Mark Henneman, president and chief investment officer of investment advisory firm Mairs and Power in St. Paul, which holds many long-term investments in Minnesota companies. “We feel that like we see more of that here, managers and CEOs who are willing to promote their team.”
New CEOs Andrew Cecere at U.S. Bancorp, Jeff Harmening at General Mills, James Snee at Hormel Foods and Richard Olson at the Toro Co. all came up through operations or finance departments of their companies. Snee and Olson spent considerable time in their respective international operations as well.
Over the last year, they all spent time as the chief operating officer, which not only exposed them to the entire breadth of their company but also gives the board and investors a closer look at their individual leadership styles.
“My sense is that if you’ve got a company that is functioning well and they are doing talent development and grooming people, you expect the person to come internally, its roughly two-thirds of new CEO’s coming internally, I think that’s a good thing,” said David Larcker, a professor at Stanford Graduate School of Business.
From a compensation perspective it’s generally more expensive for a company to hire outside candidates according to Larcker.
Larcker says research shows that external CEOs receive approximately 15 percent higher pay than internal CEOs. That is accounting for any sign-on or make good compensation paid upfront to compensate some new CEOs for the long-term compensation they may be surrendering at their old companies.
“When you go on the outside typically you are doing that when you don’t have an internal person or you are having a problem,” Lacker said. “For that person its almost like you are paying them a risk premium to come into that organization.”