The Generalist CEO Pay Premium and CEO Risk Aversion

Document Type



managerial risk aversion; generalist pay premium

Identifier Data



Rights Management

Copyright 2023 Wiley


We investigate whether and how managerial risk aversion influences the structuring of the generalist pay premium. We use three candidate variables for managerial risk aversion: the CEO's equity portfolio vega, decision horizon, and wealth. We find that equity-based pay differs between generalist CEOs (who have broader experience spanning several industries) and non-generalist CEOs (who tend to have narrower, specialized industry-specific experience) based on their risk appetite. Further, how the generalist pay premium is structured depends on the risk aversion measure. Because generalist CEOs tend to be better paid than their counterparts, understanding their risk aversion level will help companies improve the structure of these CEOs’ compensation packages, and ultimately those of all CEOs. When vega is the risk aversion measure, CEOs get compensated for bearing risk. However, generalist CEOs with high vegas suffer a “risk discount” in their compensation. These generalist CEOs are associated with lower cash, equity, and total pay. CEOs with longer decision horizons get more equity and less cash, but this structuring does not extend to the generalist CEOs. Finally, wealthier CEOs get more cash and total pay. However, generalist CEOs who are wealthier get less cash pay.