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Until it became common practice in the s to offer stock grants to a relatively broad spectrum of employees, most people were content merely to receive them at all. Though stock compensation has been bruised by stock-market trends and accounting changes, employees still welcome equity awards and are more savvy about them than they used to be.
They now typically wonder whether the grants they are offered are competitive with what they would expect from another employer in their industry. As more information has become available about the practices and functions of stock grants, employees need solid data on grant practices.
Particularly in high-tech startup companies, it is more important to know what percentage of the company a stock option grant represents than it is to know how many shares you get. In a publicly traded company, you can multiply the number of options times the current stock price, then subtract out the number of shares times your purchase price, to get a quick sense of how much the options are worth.
In a younger company, where shares are less liquid, it is harder to calculate what your options are worth , although they are likely to be worth more if the company does well than the options you might get in a publicly traded company. If you calculate what percentage of the company you own, you can create scenarios for how much your shares could be worth as the company grows.
That's why the percentage is an important statistic. To calculate what percentage of the company you are being offered, you need to know how many shares are outstanding.
The value of a company also known as its market capitalization, or "market cap" is the number of shares outstanding times the price per share. Knowing that there are 20 million shares outstanding makes it possible for a prospective manufacturing engineer to gauge whether a hiring grant of 7, options is fair.
Some companies have relatively large numbers of shares outstanding so that they can give options grants that sound good as whole numbers. But the savvy candidate should determine whether the grant is competitive by the percentage of the company that the shares represent.
A grant of 75, shares in a company that has million shares outstanding is equivalent to a grant of 7, shares in an otherwise identical company with 20 million shares outstanding. In the example above, the manufacturing engineer's grant represents 0.
Although stock options can be used as incentives, the most common types of options grants are annual grants and hire grants. An annual grant recurs each year until the plan changes, while a hire grant is a one-time grant.
Some companies offer both hire grants and annual grants. These plans are usually subject to a vesting schedule, where an employee is granted shares but earns the right of ownership -- i. Recurring annual grants are usually paid to senior people and are more common in established companies whose share price is more level. In startups, the hire grant is considerably larger than any annual grant, and may be the only grant the company offers at first.
When a company starts out, the risk is highest, and the share price is lowest, so the options grants are much higher. Over time, the risk decreases, the share price increases, and the number of shares issued to new hires is lower. A good rule of thumb, according to Bill Coleman, a former vice president of compensation at Salary. For example, in a company where the CEO gets a hiring grant of , shares, the option grants might look like this.
Tables 1 and 2 show recent grant practices among high-tech firms that offer annual grants and hire grants, respectively. The data, which comes from published surveys, is expressed in terms of percentages of the company.
For illustration, the grants are also expressed in terms of number of options in a company with 20 million shares outstanding. The dataset includes both startups and established companies, especially companies just prior to and just after an IPO.
Annual stock option grant practices in the high-technology industry. Level Annual grants as a percentage of shares outstanding Options based on 20 million shares outstanding CEO 0. Stock option hire grants in the high-technology industry. Level Hire grants as a percentage of shares outstanding Options based on 20 million shares outstanding Officers CEO 0. Founders typically retain a significantly larger percentage of the company, but their shares are not included in the data. To take an extreme example, if employees were granted an average of 1 percent of the company each, there would be nothing left for anyone else.
As a company prepares for an initial public offering , a merger, or some other liquidity event a financial moment at which shareholders are able to sell, or liquidate, their shares , the ownership structure typically shifts somewhat. At an IPO, for example, high-profile senior executives are usually brought in to provide additional credibility and management insight.
Although it dilutes their ownership, it's done to increase the value of the company by enticing the highest caliber of senior managers and thus improving the potential of the investment. The people who design stock option plans anticipate liquidity events by setting aside large reserves of options for these late-stage hires.
As a result, the ownership structure of a high-tech company at a liquidity event resembles that in Table 3. Again, the numbers are expressed in terms of both percentage of shares outstanding and number of shares in a company with 20 million shares outstanding.
The data comes from published surveys and from analysis of S-1 filings. Ownership levels at a liquidity event in the high-tech industry. Level Ownership levels as a percentage of shares outstanding Ownership based on 20 million shares outstanding President and CEO 2. Information excludes founder's holdings. Fortier emphasized that it's important to bear in mind the changes in compensation practices over time. Johanna Schlegel wrote this article when she worked at Salary.
Need a financial, tax, or legal advisor? Search AdvisorFind from myStockOptions. Although this article was written during an earlier era in the use of stock compensation, the general approach and method that it discusses are still currently used by pre-IPO companies.
For more recent data, see the FAQs on stock grants and stock grant practices and sizes in pre-IPO and private companies.
In a startup, it's not how many: A savvy candidate determines whether the grant is competitive by the percentage of the company the shares represent. People who read this article also read: Stock Option Fundamentals Part 2: Key Documents Stockbrokers' Secrets: Stock Option Strategy Part 1.More...