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By Jack Ganssle

For Love or Money

Published 1/29/2007

Last week's column engendered quite a lot of often spirited responses. A number of readers touched on a common theme: engineers, in general, love their work, subordinating wages and sometimes excess overtime because the profession is just so much fun.

Any guesses about the average engineer's IQ? I have no idea, but have worked with a lot of brilliant folks over the years. Many of these engineers are every bit as smart as high level corporate executives, yet have chosen to forgo the money in favor of a fascinating job.

We could have been execs. The big dogs, top of the heap, making the big bucks.

Last week Ford announced a $12.7 billion dollar loss for the year. The big bosses are planning to lay off 44,000 people (other reports I've read say 36,000), about a third of the company's staff. Allan Mulally, CEO, was quoted the same day saying they're likely to grant generous bonuses to high-level executives "to make sure we are paying competitive wages and benefits."

Somehow I doubt any engineers will be included. Their wages are already considered competitive.

Mr. Mulally's compensation is interesting:

  • Base salary: $2m/year
  • Bonus: $3.5m this year
  • Stock awards this year: $6m minimum
  • Stock options this year: $5m minimum
  • Hiring bonus: $7.5m plus $3m in stock
  • Money paid to offset goodies he might have gotten from his previous employer: $11m
  • Golden parachute: twice his salary and bonus.
  • Traveling coach: "You will be required to use the corporate aircraft for personal travel under the Company's Executive Security Program. When traveling on personal business, you will be entitled to have your wife; children, and guests travel with you, at company expense."

(See http://edgar.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/37996/000114036106016173/ex10_1.htm).

Do click around on edgar.sec.gov under Ford's filings for lots more fun information about executive and director compensation plans, all courtesy of a company that's shrinking, dumping workers like mad, and that has $128 billion in long-term debt. As they borrow another $25b, the folks with the key to the executive washroom shower themselves with goodies.

Though there's a growing movement to reign in corner-office pay, I think that most of the complaints about CEOs making 150x their workers are poorly-reasoned. But why does it take tens of millions a year "to make sure we are paying competitive wages and benefits?" Are these folks mercenaries who simply go to the highest bidder? They're apparently working for money, not for the love of the job.

So I asked a doctor friend about his career. He hates it. The hours are long, the patients demanding, and insurance a nightmare. But he loves the fancy car and big house, and can't bring himself to chuck the results of 15 years of college.

A lawyer told me with a smirk that the money is unbelievable. "Do you love your job," I persisted? "It sucks. but the money is great!"

Are we engineers alone in our passion for the work? In our willingness to put salary as number four or five on the list of motivators? Probably not; some gifted educators give up promising business careers for the passion of teaching. And I'm sure there are others.

We could have been execs. The big dudes, top of the heap, making the big bucks.

But we chose not to. We traded money for love.

Are you happy with that decision?