President-Elect Trump has nominated many company executives, directors, and founders for cabinet positions. Not surprisingly, they have substantial experience with equity compensation and its wealth-building potential. As we mentioned in a blog commentary soon after the election, Trump himself has received stock options grants in the past, though they eventually became worthless.
Stock compensation has emerged most prominently in the news in relation to Rex Tillerson, Trump's nominee for Secretary of State. Tillerson is a 40-year employee at ExxonMobil and is its outgoing CEO. His substantial holdings of company stock and unvested stock grants have raised many issues for the company and for him, as discussed by a recent article in Fortune magazine. This is the type of situation that requires a company to tread carefully while balancing its stock compensation philosophy and its commitment to reward a successful executive. In addition, the company must consider the executive's need to avoid conflicts of interest and his or her desire to minimize taxes.
Special Feature Of ExxonMobil Stock Grants
Incentive compensation awards for senior executives at ExxonMobil are not paid out until 10 years after retirement and cannot be accelerated for any reason except death, a rare requirement that strongly encourages (or even forces) long-term alignment between shareholders and executives. (For more on stock retention guidelines, see the related FAQ at myStockOptions.com.) There is a tax-code provision, IRC Section 1043, that allows political appointees to sell stock and defer capital gains taxes on investments that they need to divest, assuming the money is reinvested within 60 days into diversified mutual funds or government securities. (For more details on that provision, see an article about it by three accounting professors in the publication Tax Notes.) However, for Tillerson, that would merely defer gains on company shares he owns, not the income from his unvested RSUs.
Grants Surrendered While Trust Created
According to the related 8-K filing by ExxonMobil, Tillerson will surrender about 2,026,000 restricted stock and RSUs. In exchange for the surrender and the cancellation of these grants, the company will make a cash payment into an irrevocable ethics-compliance trust equal to the value of the company stock under a market-based formula, discounted by about $3 million under guidance from federal ethics authorities. The trust will receive around $180 million. The payout under the trust follows the terms that would apply to the unvested grants if he were still at the company, while also adhering to conflict-of-interest requirements. For example, distributions to Tillerson will happen only in a way that is consistent with the 10-year payment schedule that would apply if he were keeping the stock grant. The trust also has an interesting type of clawback provision that will be triggered if Tillerson ever again works in the oil and gas industry while there are still undistributed funds in the trust. Any remaining funds in the trust would then be forfeited, and "the money would be distributed to one or more charities involved in fighting poverty or disease in the developing world" (see Section 2g of the cancellation and exchange agreement).
Tillerson will also give up $3.9 million in an unpaid deferred cash bonus, and he will divest his ExxonMobil shares within 90 days of his confirmation. For additional details on the arrangement for his stock and executive compensation and his company stock holdings, see the letter that Tillerson sent to the Office of the Legal Advisor for the Department of State on various ethics undertakings.