Honors Program Theses


Open Access Honors Program Thesis

First Advisor

Lee Nicholas


Executives—Salaries, etc.; Financial statements, Unaudited;


To investigate the ethics behind compensation plan calculations, to determine if unaudited measures are being used in publicly traded companies, and how often unaudited measures are being used I considered twenty-six companies from a variety of industries. These included technology, agriculture, retail, finance and insurance, health care, natural resources, and others. Industry leading companies were selected to be studied as well as some of personal interest. Companies that have been speculated by financial analysts, recent published articles, or studies as companies that have unethical compensation plans and have used unethical accounting practices in determining executive compensation were also considered. These companies are similar in that they all must meet the same standards in order to be traded publicly.

Upon selecting the companies to study, I began to gather data on them. I mainly looked at the companies’ financial statements and proxy statements. All publicly traded companies are required by law to file the proxy statements with the SEC every year, so they are available to the public. Within the proxy statement, “a company must disclose information concerning the amount and type of compensation paid to its chief executive officer, chief financial officer and the three other most highly compensated executive officers” (SEC). Therefore, I looked at the proxy statements to learn the amounts and other financial data about companies’ executive compensation plans. For each company I recorded the CEOs total compensation for the past three years as well as the amounts of the salary, bonus, stock, stock options, non-equity incentive plan, pension, and other for the current year. This data is shown in Table 1 in the Appendix. I also studied how the various parts of these plans are computed.

In order to further gain an understanding of a company’s executive compensation plans, I studied other aspects of the plans that were disclosed. By law, companies are also required to disclose, “The criteria used in reaching executive compensation decisions and the degree of the relationship between the company's executive compensation practices and corporate performance” (SEC). This information is shown in various tables and descriptions in the proxy statement. I studied these tables and descriptions in order to improve my knowledge of the many ways that companies evaluate and distribute compensation to executives and to evaluate the ethics of these compensation plans.

Year of Submission



Department of Accounting

University Honors Designation

A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the designation University Honors

Date Original


Object Description

1 PDF file (27 pages)