Dot-Coms have people taking second look at their careers
Greg Hardesty, Orange County Register
21 May 2000
The Florida Times-Union
Greg Young has a cool job. He makes decent money at a startup, SideShow Network,
a "virtual" consulting agency that preaches the virtues of interactive
He is 33 years old. Married with kids. Doesn't even have to commute to an
But he, too, hears the voices:
Lots of people are getting rich. Filthy rich! And most of these hotshots are
making their fortunes at dot-com or technology companies.
What about you? Why are you such a loser?
Young isn't leaving his job, despite his regular habit of rubbing shoulders with
clients who pull in six-figure salaries and sit on stock options potentially
But it's hard to ignore the voices.
"A lot of people are thinking, 'I might be missing the boat,' " Young said.
"It's not just that the grass is greener on the other side but that it's
greener, taller and thicker."
Bombarded with media stories about Joe Blow making a killing off some dot-com
venture, or Jane Blow stuffing her bank account after a sky-high initial public
offering, many people with perfectly good jobs are reassessing their careers.
"The envy factor is running high," said Jean Hollands, chief executive of the
Growth and Leadership Center, an executive coaching firm in Mountain View,
Calif. "In the gold rush of the '80s, when entrepreneurs were striking it rich,
one of 20 houses on the street were owned by a millionaire.
"Now, it's about three of 20 houses. And most of today's millionaires are people
who just happen to work at the company down the street that had a great IPO, but
who still have time to go to their kids' soccer games and are pulling down $7
million a year.
"It's almost like what would happen if there were to be a plague: People are
taking emotional stock of their lives," Hollands added. "They're reassessing.
They're standing around shivering, figuring out what to do next."
With a strong economy and tight labor market, it's a good time to be an
employee. Companies are scrambling to goose pay packages by offering such perks
as variable and incentive-based compensation.
According to the consulting firm Hewitt Associates, the percentage of companies
that offer some kind of variable pay jumped 25 percent over the past decade.
An example of variable pay: Your job is to sell software to chief financial
officers. Your base salary is $80,000. If you sell $4 million worth of software
in a year, you earn another $80,000.
Suddenly, a simple salary doesn't cut it anymore.
"Everybody wants a bigger cut -- everybody wants the upside," said Mark A.
Stiffler, president and chief executive of Synygy Inc., a Bala Cynwyd, Pa.,
company that designs incentive compensation plans, mostly for large
"Even new employees want stock options or some ownership stake in the company,"
Stiffler said. "They almost view it as a right."
Bruce Fenton agrees that salary and financial expectations for young
professionals are too high. And he's one of the reasons.
At 22, Fenton founded one of the first full-service financial firms on the
Internet. Today, he is worth, on paper, several million dollars as top executive
at Atlantic Financial Inc. in Wellesley, Mass.
"There are a lot of unrealistic people out there," Fenton said. "A lot of people
who've become millionaires have made smart decisions, have lived for several
years beneath their means; many own their own businesses, and all of them are
"But because of the strong economy, many people feel they are entitled to
exorbitant compensation packages. What they should be concerned about is their
worth, and what they can contribute to a company's bottom line."
Publicity about the riches being made helps fuel unrealistic expectations in the
"There is no such thing as a gold mine or nirvana -- that's a mythical
perception," said Barry Miller, a career psychologist at Pace University in New
And many in the work force are tired of chasing it.
Celia Rocks, 41, recently left a high-powered public relations job in New York
City to start her own agency in the quieter environs of Hickory, N.C. -- not to
rake in the riches, necessarily, but to escape the money madness in the big
city, and to spend more time with family.
"There were girls I worked with who were whining about making only $125,000 a
year," Rocks said. "And I'm thinking, 'We're the insane people.' Everything's
about money. And it's causing many people to feel depressed.
For every stunning success on the stock market, such as Irvine, Calif.-based
Broadcom Corp. founders Henry T. Nicholas III and Henry Samueli, who became
multimillionaires overnight when their company went public in 1998, there are
dozens of failures you don't hear about.
Nor do most people think about how many hours the dot-com rich put in. For most
of those people, their work is their lives.
"People aren't hearing enough about what some of these people are giving up for
money: family, social time, vacations," said Michelle Burke, president and
founder of Executive Counterparts, a workplace consulting firm in San Francisco.
"And if you're measuring yourself against millionaires, that's a lose-lose
situation," Burke added.