Today I celebrate the anniversary of one of the major milestones in my life. Forty four years ago as a young naive recently graduated engineer I left the Purdue University campus to take my place in the corporate world. It was a very different world back then than what it is now.
Corporate Loyalty – I would over the years become very loyal to the company brand. I wouldn’t think of going to a competitor even if doing so would save me a few bucks. I was proudly part of an institution that valued my contributions. The 1970s were a time of high inflation. To ameliorate that problem my company gave me some pretty serious raises during those years. I think my salary doubled during the first six years.
Three Legged Stool – The three legged stool for companies back then was Owners – Customers – Employees. Each was given equal treatment. When company profits increased the stockholders got a hefty dividend, the employees got substantial raises, and customers saw increasing services at the same cost. Everyone benefited from the fruits of their labor.
Employees were Assets – Not only did our employer pay us to reflect our contributions, we were considered assets to them. They provided good healthcare and other benefits to show their appreciation. We were not thought of as liabilities that needed to be reduced at all costs. If you were no longer needed in one area you were provided the opportunity to move into a different part of the company.
Pensions – If you stuck with the company for thirty or more years you would receive a pension that would allow you to live comfortably during your senior years. They did not give you a lump sum of their choosing and shove you out the door. In addition to your fixed pension plan you could also enhance it with an additional saving plan (401k) which the company would match up to a given percentage of your contribution.
Of course as the years went by much of the above eroded into what we have today. At the beginning of the Reagan years a new masters degree program called Masters of Business Administration (MBA) which preached that employees were no longer assets but liabilities. Downsizing started happening when these new MBAs starting filling corporate offices. The three legged stool was quickly thrown out the window in favor of treating the stockholders as kings and everyone else as serfs.
Over the last few decades these fundamental changes have resulted in the middle class disappearing from the U.S. landscape. I envy those who are just now starting out in their work lives for all the opportunities that they will have given our quickly advancing technological knowledge. Given the recent DNA and brain mapping the future is almost unlimited for these areas. But I don’t envy them when it comes to having a secure life where you are valued and fairly paid for your contributions.
Too bad we haven’t managed to keep the best of both worlds….