An Empirical Examination of the Compensation-Dividend Relation to Compare Conflict Resolution Strategies at Public versus Private Firms

Amy J. N. Yurko


While agency theory predicts that the unification of ownership and control of private family firms reduces agency concerns, some prior studies suggest that the complex family relationships of private, family firms increases agency conflicts.  To investigate these conflicting predictions, this study empirically examines with regression analysis how executive total compensation levels relate to dividends at public versus private firms to compare the conflict resolution strategies of public versus private firms.  For public firms, this study finds a positive compensation-dividend relation, indicating that public firms increase total compensation levels to reward executives for supporting firms’ dividend policies and realign the interests of owners and managers from the conflict created by dividends.  Drawing from special access to Forms 1120, this study examines a large sample of privately held U.S. firms.  For private firms, this study finds a negative compensation-dividend relation, indicating that private, family firms do not use compensation to realign the interests of owners and managers and overcome the conflict created by dividends.  This new evidence suggests that the ownership structure of private, family firms systematically mitigates agency concerns to some degree.  On a practical level, this study indicates that firms can provide compensation arrangements that support firms’ dividend policies, and that regulatory agencies should continue to focus on public firms where the great dispersion of ownership systematically increases agency concerns.   

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