The symbolic salary


Photo: Irish Times

You’re a Silicon Valley mogul. Worth hundreds of millions. Maybe billions. You’re faced with a problem: How much do I pay myself? You have majority shareholding in your company, draw down hundreds of thousands of dollars annually for expenses, make billions if you exercise stock options. But how do you quantify what your work is worth? Should you be earning a million a year? What’s the CEO two blocks down paying himself?

The solution that emerged was: pay yourself a symbolic salary of $1 a year. Steve Jobs did it. Page and Brin do it. And Zuckerberg has followed suit.

But is it an elegant solution? Or just alliteration?

What is the $1 annual salary symbolic of? Don’t just over a billion people live on a dollar a day? What does it mean for a billionaire to say “well, for the work I do, I earn a dollar a year”? What does this say about the attitude to work and where does this sit with “the labourer is worthy of his hire”?

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