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Executive Compensation and Aspirational Peer Benchmarking

60 Pages Posted: 6 Oct 2017 Last revised: 31 Oct 2017

Tom Schneider

Boston College

Date Written: October 1, 2017


Small firms provide an excellent, yet previously unexamined, laboratory for studying the controversial practice of compensation benchmarking since small firms have the opportunity to benchmark against 'peers' that are orders of magnitude larger than themselves and whose executive compensation eclipses their own. Using a comprehensive, hand-collected dataset of explicit peer group relationships, I document that small firms engage in upward compensation benchmarking to a much greater degree than large firms do. In contrast to the prior literature studying larger firms, I find that small firms choose aspirational peers that reflect their executives' shifting opportunity sets. For these firms, I find that compensation benchmarking is indicative of future growth and performance, and the rate at which pay adjusts towards peer levels is sensitive to the transferability of managers' human capital. Contrary explanations that peer benchmarking is prone to agency problems are not supported by the data. Overall, my results suggest that growing and outperforming small firms strategically and preemptively use upward benchmarking to adjust pay in an effort to retain valuable managerial talent.

Keywords: Executive Compensation, Benchmarking, Peer Groups

Suggested Citation

Schneider, Tom, Executive Compensation and Aspirational Peer Benchmarking (October 1, 2017). Available at SSRN: or

Thomas Schneider (Contact Author)

Boston College ( email )

140 Commonwealth Avenue
Chestnut Hill, MA 02467
United States

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