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The Flattening Firm: Evidence from Panel Data on the Changing Nature of Corporate Hierarchies

Raghuram Rajan, Julie Wulf

NBER Working Paper No. 9633
Issued in April 2003, Revised in June 2020
NBER Program(s):Corporate Finance, Labor Studies

Using a detailed database of managerial job descriptions, reporting relationships, and compensation structures in over 300 large U.S. firms, we find that firm hierarchies are becoming flatter. The number of positions reporting directly to the CEO has gone up significantly over time while the number of levels between the lowest managers with profit center responsibility (division heads) and the CEO has decreased. More of these managers now report directly to the CEO and more are being appointed officers of the firm, reflecting a delegation of authority. Moreover, division managers who move closer to the CEO receive higher pay and greater long term incentives, suggesting that all this is not simply a change in organizational charts with no real consequences. We discuss several possible explanations that may account for some of these changes.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w9633

Published: Rajan, Raghuram G. and Julie Wulf. "The Flattening Firm: From Panel Data On The Changing Nature Of Corporate Hierarchies," Review of Economics and Statistics, 2006, v88(4,Nov), 759-773. citation courtesy of

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