Executive compensation in China is in a state of flux. Since the late 70s China has been transforming from a centrally planned economy to a more market-oriented one. The market is growing quickly
and China's contribution to global GDP is expected to surpass that of the U.S. in 2018. The demand for both local and expatriate executives is expected to further increase to maintain the boom
and executive salaries are by necessity becoming more competitive.
Unlike in the U.S. and Europe, equity compensation and stock options are fairly new forms of compensation in China. There is also greater accountability for executive compensation, as from 2006
Chinese-listed businesses are required to report the total compensation of individual board members and top management. However, transparency and what data companies choose to release varies
greatly. For example, releasing a median versus a mean salary changes the perception of executive compensation.
Listed firms are now able to propose the adoption of equity incentive plans, although executive salary and compensation in China, for the most part, comes from indirect compensation such as
executive accounts or under-the-table bonuses. There is still not a lot of regulation in company law regarding stock options, and when executives may sell their shares, it opens the possibility
of stock options being exploited.
Based on research done by Conyon (2016) executive compensation in China comes for the most part from salaries and bonuses, as stock options and equity incentives are relatively rare.
State-owned enterprises have a uniform salary management system, while private enterprises usually have a performance-based model. Conyon noted a positive correlation between the stock market,
accounting performance, and total compensation.
Determining pay based on performance can sometimes be difficult, based partly on the challenges of objectivity and how much information company management can access. If you’re missing key
information on earnings, it can be hard to determine performance-based pay. Thus external consultants typically come in to provide a more objective view of management's performance and determine
Calculating executive salary in China can be unreliable due to the benefits that often exist outside the employment contract or even off the books. The main source of income for top Chinese
executives is indirect compensation, for example flexible allocations for communications or travel expenses. As an example, in April 2011, Sinopec, a top petrochemical corporation, spent millions
in yuan on wine for top executives.
Under-the-table bonuses are also a big form of income as it angers the public when businesses declare huge salaries for their executives. A securities company in China delivered 300 million yuan
in cash at the end of 2008 most of which went to those in senior management. However, promotion is also a major, and perhaps the most important, form of compensation.
Expatriate executive compensation in China is growing aggressively as Chinese companies are recruiting internationally to attract the best talent. Between 2015 and 2016 China jumped from the 4th
to the 2nd place in the ranking of expatriate pay packages. The typical package for a middle manager grew from $276,000 to $290,000, or $231,000 when factoring in Tier 2 cities with lower
Compensation for local executives has been growing too - by 9.1% in 2017. According to Nikkei Asian Review the average compensation of Chinese executives is $150,000. Industries such as finance
and real estate lead the charge, with compensation reaching up to 25% higher than the $233,000 U.S. executive salary average for the same positions. These salaries typically include a base salary
with a fixed allowance for expenses such as entertainment or communication.
Talent recruitment in China can be challenging for several reasons. Companies are expanding without outlining a clear system for executive compensation. There’s also the balancing act between
attracting and retaining high performers without displeasing the public or shareholders with exorbitant compensation packages.
Recruitment in China for middle management and top executives is undergoing a massive overhaul. Salaries are rising both for expatriates and local talent and the way in which executives receive
compensation is changing as stock options are becoming part of compensation packages and businesses are forced to have greater transparency for their employee salaries. However, there is not much
legal regulation regarding stock options yet, so they are sometimes abused and thus are not a common form of compensation.
The direction of Chinese economy will be influenced in part by how businesses recruit their executive talent. If Chinese companies are able to provide consistency and clear standards in their
executive compensation, they will be able to recruit the talent necessary to grapple with both foreign and local markets. If not, it will be hard for Chinese companies to maintain their current
success and expand.
Ultimately, although strong economic growth and demand for talent are driving up the executive salaries in China, clear, accountable structures need to be put in place for executive compensation
if businesses are to recruit and retain top talent locally and abroad.
(July 2016) Cost of total expatriate pay package in China second highest in Asia Pacific region. Retrieved from https://www.eca-international.com/news/july-2016/cost-of-total-expatriate-pay-package-in-china-seco
Conyon, Martin. (9 February 2016) Executive Compensation in China. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/267406508_Executive_Compensation_in_China
Knowledge@Warton. (21 May 2012) Does China have an Executive-Compensation Problem? Time. Retrieved from http://business.time.com/2012/05/21/does-china-have-an-executive-compensation-problem/
Nylander, John. (20 May 2015) Expat Pay is Getting Fatter in China. Forbes Magazine. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/jnylander/2015/05/20/expat-pay-is-getting-fatter-in-china/#3e5a580f6864
Tanaka, Chihiro and Martin, Alexander. (28 June 2017) Average Chinese executive pay reaches $150 000 mark. Nikkei Asian Review. Retrieved from
Tian, Wells. (December 2009) Executive Pay in China: By No Means Simple. Asia Connect, vol 2, issue 10. Retrieved from http://www.aon.com/thought-leadership/asia-connect/Attachments/corporate-governance/Corporate-Governance-Dec09-Executive-Compensation-in-China.pdf