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Pay doesn't speak to rising executives

Published Sep. 28, 2005

So what do the executives of the future really want from work?

Not the big paychecks and corporate hierarchy that their elders wanted.

Promising young executives are more motivated by the prospect of challenge and responsibility, according to "Rising Stars: A Reflection of Their Time," a study released recently by Russell Reynolds Associates _ a global executive recruiting firm in New York City.

Russell Reynolds surveyed 150 "rising stars" in the fields of consumer markets, financial services and technology, all of whom were vice presidents or top-level managers younger than 45.

The survey was conducted partly for companies to use as a recruiting information tool. With today's tight labor market, employers are looking for clues to how they can attract and keep workers.

"Understanding the up-and-coming executives in America is a fundamental point for us," said Eric Vautour, managing director in the District of Columbia office of Russell Reynolds.

The survey found that the young executives ranked financial rewards lowest among the elements of the job that motivate them most. Only 7 percent of those surveyed scream, "Show me the money."

When rising stars look at potential employers, the possibility for growth and an entrepreneurial environment are valued more highly than a traditional corporate atmosphere or a global presence, the study found.

The rising stars like some structure, the human interaction and the discipline of working in a corporation, the survey showed. One "counterintuitive fact," Vautour said, is that the 25-to-45-year-old junior executives "are very happy. They like the corporate structure," whereas the older baby boomers generally do not.

The younger ones "just don't want a bureaucratic, hierarchical corporate structure," he said. They assume that the traditional corporate hierarchy is gone forever and they will not have to climb the ladder rung by tiny rung.

Young junior executives also seem to understand that their success can depend upon their ability to learn new skills in an ever-changing technological workplace.

Other findings from the survey include:

The entrepreneurial spirit is high among the rising stars. Thirty-five percent of those interviewed indicated that they own or have owned their own company.

The majority of junior executives plan to retire by age 55. Twenty-nine percent plan to retire at a younger age than that.

Most of these workers are quite loyal, contrary to popular belief. Those surveyed have worked with their present company for an average of seven years. Twenty-three percent have been with their company for 11 years or more.

What motivates them is not money (only 7 percent rated that highly), but rather "challenges" or "responsibility" (35 percent).

"So from a recruiting standpoint," Vautour said, "companies can't assume that offering more money will make (the perspective employees) interested."

The survey also found that these workers plan to have a lifetime of more than just work. Most hope to retire by the age of 55, the age when many ambitious high-level corporate officers are aspiring to become chief executives. They have a life that is more balanced than their predecessors, Vautour said.

What does this mean for tomorrow's workplace? "I think this portends very well for American businesses," said Vautour. There is a developing "stable but entrepreneurial cadre of executive talent who understand how to push the envelope but not over the edge."