Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Nuclear Management Compensation (Part 1)

We have posted previously on the general topic of competing priorities (cost, schedule, political, personal career interest, etc.) being a potential issue for nuclear managers to balance in making safety decisions.  We have also recently posted regarding the possible influence that cost and schedule pressures may have had on BP personnel in the events leading up to the spill and in several prior BP accidents.  Lastly we highlighted some research results that suggest that compensation incentives may have perverse impacts on desired results.  In this post we turn directly to the issue of compensation for executives with corporate responsibilities for nuclear plants and their operations.  In subsequent posts we will discuss the potential implications of compensation on nuclear safety management.

We researched compensation data that was available in SEC filings of public corporations owning nuclear facilities.  As a practical matter this is the only publicly available information on this subject.  In their annual prospectus, corporations disclose data for the top five compensated executives - the CEO and four other “NEOs” (Named Executive Officers).  In some cases the executive who is the Chief Nuclear Officer is an NEO.  In other cases a higher level executive, typically head of the generation business unit or other operating officer, is the NEO with direct, attributable responsibility for the nuclear facilities.  To obtain an overview of compensation practices we looked at CNOs when available and, if not, the responsible NEOs .  We compiled data for compensation levels, the structure of compensation, and the performance metrics being applied by the corporation. 

Total Compensation

For NEOs with direct nuclear responsibilities, total average annual compensation is now $2.5-3 million (the range for our sample was approximately $1.25 to $5 million).  We counted salary, annual bonus, non-equity incentive awards and equity incentive awards.  We did not include changes in retirement benefit accruals (which can be quite large as well) or other miscellaneous fringe benefits. 

In virtually all cases the level of compensation has shown a significant increase in the last 3-4 years.  This may reflect increased competition for nuclear executive talent rippling through the industry and/or the increased business value associated with nuclear generation assets.  The figure below illustrates how compensation has changed over recent years in two nuclear organizations, one operating a single unit and the other a small fleet.

Compensation Structure

We also examined the structure of executive compensation with an emphasis on the amounts of compensation that are fixed on an annual basis (typically salary and benefits) and those amounts that are “at risk”, meaning they are performance-based.  We found that compensation is heavily incentive based where the amount of total compensation that is earned based on performance now averages greater than 70% (the range for our sample was 60% - 80%).  As with total compensation, the percent of compensation at risk has increased significantly in the last 3-4 years.  The next figure shows the trend lines for the same two corporations as in the first figure.

These results are not an accident as the SEC filings for these corporations set out compensation policies that are heavily weighted toward performance.  For the most part incentives are based on the current year performance though for some specific incentives such as stock options, rolling three averages may be used.  The principal objective appears to be to align executive pay with shareholder interests.

Performance Metrics

Typically the compensation structure uses a combination of corporate level performance and business unit performance to determine incentive payouts.  At the highest level of the organization, the CEO, metrics may be exclusively corporate level and almost always focused on earnings per share (EPS).  Lower tier executives generally have a significant portion (60-70%) of their incentive determined by corporate performance (almost always EPS) with the remainder determined by business unit or personal goals.  The metrics for nuclear business units are typically capacity factor and budget based, occasionally using an index of 8-10 metrics.  This performance will generally be associated with about 20% of the total incentive.  The remaining 10% of incentive is usually associated with some type of safety performance.  OSHA industrial safety measures are most common though we identified one corporation that used a “nuclear safety culture” metric.

In Part 2 we will try to ascertain what impact these factors could have on nuclear safety culture and safety management.

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