Mellody Hobson, the president of Ariel Investments, recently shared her favorite piece of advice to Money Magazine.
When I was 22, a friend who is very successful explained to me that no one ever got rich through earned income. “Look at all the great wealthy families,” he said. “From Carnegie to Rockefeller, it was never how much they made at work that made them wealthy – it was their investments.”
And that made me shift from thinking about a paycheck to thinking about building equity and long-term wealth. And it has helped me a lot. Instead of a raise, I ask for more stock.
This may be good advice for a senior level executive at a large corporation. Those who make the compensation decisions may have the authority to grant stock. The concept suggested by Mellody’s advice may also be helpful for those working at a small company at the onset. Then again, perhaps there is no cash available and the promise of stock is all that can be offered.
I have the feeling that most people are like me, however. They work at a large company and don’t have the option of bargaining for alternative compensation. My boss, for example, would not have the ability to simply grant me stock. I suppose that the vice president of my division could put a request through our human resources department, but in the end, it would still come from the same budget. So practically, I see no difference for the company between offering stock or cash as a raise other the simplicity of cash. I cannot see my large financial corporation seeing a stock grant as a preferable alternative to a typical raise.
Another issue I have with accepting company stock in lieu of cash is related to diversification and risk. An employee is deeply vested in the success of the company and the company’s desire to keep you. Look no further than Enron to see what happened to employees who relied too much on their own company. While the senior management at Enron lied to its employees about the company’s health, many employees suffered more during the company’s collapse. They suffered because they relied on the company for much more than just their income. In addition to salary, the employees most affected held too much company stock, particularly in 401(k)s. Enron actively encouraged its employees to buy company stock outside of retirement, as well. If your company’s stock started nosediving with imminent failure and the management decided to freeze stock so you could not sell it, how would your finances be affected?
So would you take Mellody’s advice? I think she’s right about shifting from an income-from-paycheck mentality to income-from-investments mentality, but is company stock the best path? Would you ask for more company stock in lieu of a raise?
The smartest advice I ever got, Money Magazine
Published or updated August 4, 2008.