Take the Money and Run? by
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(38 Stories)

Prompted By Temptation

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Like most guys, when the topic of “temptation” comes up, I immediately think of sex before money.  And with gigolo not being a likely career option for me, for many reasons, I can’t realistically imagine combining them.  Plus, as I was born into a comfortable professional family and have been a comfortable professional all my adult life (starting off as an associate at a big NY law firm has a way of assuring that), I have never viewed money — or at least accumulating a lot more money — as much of a temptation.  Reminds me of the joke about the old Jewish guy who is hit by a car and the good samaritan who places a coat over him as he is lying on the sidewalk waiting for the ambulance asks him if he is comfortable.  “I do OK,” the guy replies.

I checked the WSJ for the stock price, did the math and took a deep breath.  Gentlemen don't tell, of course, but the resulting number was deep into eight figures, and that was before the decimal point.

In any event, when faced with this prompt, I did realize that I had at least one moment in my professional life where money was indeed a temptation.  In 1999, by pleasant coincidence, I was offered the General Counsel position at two separate firms.  One was the international component of the accounting firm where I had worked for many years.  The other was something being offered by consultants at my old firm, but it was for a start-up dot.com that they were putting together with a big telecom.  Much as I liked the wooing, I felt that the former was clearly the more comfortable (that word again) choice for me.

But then the consultants threw a compensation package at me that included not only a nice salary but also stock options based on a formula tied to my salary and the current price of the telecom’s stock when the start-up went public – – as, of course, it would inevitably do. I checked the WSJ for the stock price, did the math and took a deep breath.  Gentlemen don’t tell, of course, but the resulting number was deep into eight figures, and that was before the decimal point.

I was not unmindful of the downside of the start-up, beginning with the inherent riskiness of it, my uncertainty of the consultants I would be working with (who dismissed my accounting colleagues as “bean counters”) and the fact that, at least for a while, I would have to commute most weeks from my home and family in NY to Denver — albeit I was assured that most of the travel would be on the corporate jet. Still, a part of me starting thinking that I could do this for at least five years (when my options would vest) and then, as the movie (and the Steve Miller song) says, “Take the Money and Run.”  And do whatever the hell I wanted to do with the rest of my life.

Ultimately, I took the other position instead.  Again, it just felt more comfortable.  But I surprised myself that I could have even been tempted to consider the start-up position, based solely on the amount of money they were throwing at me.  At some point, I began to wonder if I was the punchline of another old joke: “We already know what you are.  We’re just haggling about the price.”

Sometimes one is able to later see the “what ifs” of resisting or succumbing to temptation.  Happily, this was one such situation.  I took the former job and was comfortable there for many years, just as I thought I would be, even if I didn’t feel as if I had hit the lottery.  As to the start up, well, this was 1999, remember?  The business — and they could never even satisfactorily explain to me what the hell it really was — never went public, folded within 18 months and its parents wrote off about $100 million.

Did I wisely resist temptation or was I just a chicken?  I report; you decide.

 

 

Profile photo of John Shutkin John Shutkin


Characterizations: been there, well written

Comments

  1. Suzy says:

    John, this is a great story about the temptation of money, not sex. (Only a couple of the stories on this prompt are about sex, as it turns out.) Your temptation and response are nicely laid out, and I love both of the jokes you include: “I do okay” and “just haggling about the price.”

    How nice that you were vindicated in your choice by the fact that the startup folded within 18 months. There were certainly many other startups that did make millions for those who were in on the ground floor, and you would probably have been kicking yourself if this had turned out to be one of those. Were you wise or just chicken? Hard to say. I have no idea what I would have done in your place.

    • John Shutkin says:

      Thanks, Suzy. I am sure that I am the better person for my resistance to this temptation. Just kidding. If this had been the next Microsoft and I had walked away, you would probably find me huddled over a drink in a cheap bar every night mumbling to myself “I coulda been a first-mover…”

      Word to the wise: stay away from businesses with the word “Cyber-Solutions” in its name.

  2. John Zussman says:

    This story is a great take on the Temptation prompt and I love the insight and humor with which you tell it. It really hit a nerve with me, having spent my career in Silicon Valley, where so many of us have stories like this, and not all with the same happy ending. (I could tell you about the time Larry Ellison personally offered me a job at Oracle, years before their IPO when it only had about 250 employees, and I turned it down because I didn’t want to work in a big company like that!) But I like the way that, despite making what turned out to be the right decision, you understand it might easily have come out the other way. In the end, all we can do is make the best decisions we can at the time, and try not to have too many regrets in, well, retrospect.

  3. Betsy Pfau says:

    What a great way to respond to this prompt, John! I love that you added the age-old Jewish jokes (yes, I’ve heard them, but they are so apt, and still funny). The second offer was tempting, but there are not guarantees and hindsight being what it is, there is not doubt you made the correct decision. On the other hand, doing that sort of grueling commute wouldn’t have been fun either, so I’m sure that weighed into your logic at the time.

    And IPOs frequently don’t work out. My husband (who was there when Andersen Consulting turned into Accenture and profited handsomely from it) tells the story that a million things had to go perfectly for him to walk away with as money as he did. That is extremely rare. We all know what happened to Arthur Andersen (remember Enron). AC was lucky to have gotten out from Andersen Worldwide before all the cookies crumbled. Long story, lots of legal arbitration internationally, but it all worked out for my family.

    • John Shutkin says:

      You are so right, Betsy, about how impossible it is to predict how these things will work out. Indeed, at KPMG, things went in the exact opposite direction. When KPMG Consulting spun off and went public, it ended up in bankruptcy a few years later. KPMG — the “bean counters” in my story — is still doing just fine as a Big Four. In fact, that was another temptation I resisted: the early opportunity (i.e., “temptation”) KPMG partners were offered to buy KPMG Consulting stock options. As I think about it, maybe I am a financial genius after all.

      Nah….

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