KB Homes: Where is the Compensation Committee?

As noted on Wednesday, ProxyAnalyst recommends a vote against the Compensation Committee members of the board of directors at KB Homes. The Los Angeles-based homebuilder has continued to grant substantial stock awards, retirement benefits and bonuses to its CEO Jeffrey Mezger while the company has underperformed over the last five years.

In 2009, Mr. Mezger was awarded a base salary of $1M. However, after awards of stock options, stock grants, incentive awards and a slew of other compensation benefits, his salary rose to more than $9M.  While his total pay has fluctuated over the last five years, it has in no way tracked the overall performance of the company for that period.

The following graph reflects the company’s stock price performance for the period. It is not a pretty sight with the company losing almost 70% of its share value during that period.

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What I find most troubling is the manner in which the Compensation Committee failed to adequately address shareholder concerns while shoveling executive pay out the door. The compensation problem at KB Homes hasn’t gone unnoticed by at least some shareholders.

Last year, the company was targeted with a proposal calling for an advisory vote on future compensation packages doled out by the board. The proposal received a majority of the motes cast on the issue. However, the company rejected implementing the proposal saying:

Although a majority of votes cast were in favor, the proposal failed to achieve the affirmative vote of the majority of shares of our common stock present and represented at the 2009 annual stockholders meeting, the applicable standard under our by-laws. Based on this outcome and given the significant legislative and regulatory momentum underway at the time of the 2009 meeting and through to the present time to establish a mandatory advisory vote for all U.S. public companies, your Board continues to believe that it is in the best interests of all stockholders to evaluate adopting an advisory vote mechanism when definitive rules are established.

So what the company said here is interesting for two reasons.

First, it points out a glaring flaw in the proxy voting system in which a company – in this case KB Homes – can count votes present or broker non-votes in calculating the total votes counted.

Let’s put this in the context of a presidential election. You and I vote for our candidate (he is running against the incumbent). Our guy receives a narrow majority (say 35 million) of the votes cast in the election out of a total of 60 million votes cast. However100 million voters were eligible to cast their votes. But 40 million of them stayed home. The incumbent says, “100 million voters are eligible to vote and if they didn’t, we will assume they voted for us, the incumbents.” So the incumbent counts an additional 40 million votes in his favor and walks away with the election.

Doesn’t sound fair but that is what KB Homes executives did in 2009 on the say-on-pay shareholder proposal.

Second, the company argues that because legislation is pending in Washington that might be a game changer on executive pay practices, it somehow shouldn’t have to pay attention to the wishes of a majority of its voting shareholders. What was that legislation anyway? While Congress has been debating financial reform for some time, nothing has materialized and the SEC has not taken any grand steps to obligate companies to obtain shareholder approval of pay awards. There is no real risk of legislative reform and I suspect that company executives knew that but obfuscation rather than reality seems to be the order of the day in that statement.

That brings us back to the situation at hand. The four directors, Stephen F. Bollenbach, Timothy W. Finchem, Michael G. McCaffery and Luis G. Nogales have not served the best interests of KB Homes shareholders in granting these pay packages to the company’s executives. Mr. Nogales is over-boarded (he serves on three other boards), Mr. Bollenbach is overpaid to the point that his independence is called into question and the Committee as a whole has not publicly demonstrated any sort of public leadership that could clarify its decision to pay executives outsized pay packages at shareholder expense.

About John Richardson

John Richardson is the CEO of JMR Portfolio Intelligence, a Washington DC based human rights consultancy.
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