Orange County Register about dot-com millionaires

News- economics and investments

Working stiffs envious of dot-com millionaires

Greg Hardesty

26 June 2000
The Star-Ledger Newark, NJ

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 marketing.

He is 33 years old. Married with kids. Doesn't even have to commute to an office.

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 worth millions.

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 Stiffler, president and chief executive of Synygy Inc., a Bala Cynwyd, Pa., company that designs incentive compensation plans, mostly for large corporations.

''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 hard workers.

''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 workplace.

''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 York.

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.

''I mean, I look at Julia Roberts, who makes $20 million a movie, and I go, 'Oh my God. I'm nobody.' And that's not right.

''And I can't even look at Bill Gates anymore - I want to throw up. Whatever he's worth these days, it's not normal. It's not realistic."

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.

Working stiffs envious of dot-com millionaires Working stiffs afflicted by 'grass is greener' syndrome The grass may really be greener elsewhere

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