Is Salary a Proxy for Value? Not If You’re Steve Jobs

Compensation for a job well done can take on many meanings. To most of us, it’s simply a means to an end. We need to pay the bills and support our families. Our rate of pay is necessary to maintain our lifestyle. Most of us correlate our lifestyle and status to our income. And most of us probably correlate our relative worth to our income, at least within the context of our profession. For example, if you’re a doctor making twice as much as another doctor, you probably feel like the better doctor. Conversely, if you’re a java programmer making twice as much as an English teacher, I doubt you’d claim to be the superior citizen.

So why doesn’t Jobs maximize his salary? On the open market, how much could Jobs get in salary and bonuses?

In many professions, more money equals more respect. Take professional athletes. Many times we see players “insulted” by the $15 million offer because another player is making $15.5 million. The extra money seems inconsequential in real terms to the average person. Yet, players are stubborn and prideful and hold out because of the respect factor. The player comes across as greedy and out of touch with reality. Despite the negative press, they do it time and time again because that dollar value gives them respect (in their mind). Being the highest paid player has some cache to it, I suppose. Then we have guys like Steve Jobs.

http://www.usatoday.com/tech/news/2011-01-07-steve-jobs-pay_N.htm

He makes $1 a year in salary. In 2010 Apple stock grew 60% and achieved exceptional earnings under his guidance and yet he received no bonus. Of course, Jobs is in pretty good shape financially if not physically. He has an impressive personal fortune including 5.5 million shares of Apple; although he hasn’t sold any Apple stock in more than 12 years. Despite some recent health issues and a legendary competitive drive, the guy lives a life of comfort; but so do a lot of rich people. So why doesn’t Jobs maximize his salary? On the open market, how much could Jobs get in salary and bonuses? I’d wager that he could approach being the highest paid CEO in the World. Apple shareholders would fall over themselves breaking the bank for this man. Yet he holds at $1 almost mocking other CEOs. Strangely, his low salary adds to his mystique and value. Jobs has become a man that measures his own value in a currency other than dollars. What that is? I’m not sure.

But I am sure that very few CEOs in this country would work for a $1 and even less would say they’re better than Jobs.