Cooling Stock Market Has Some Tech Giant Employees Exploring Their Options
Stock-based compensation is less exciting when the stock goes down.
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It hasn’t been a pleasant year for the tech giants so far, who’ve lost billions in market cap in 2022. Meta’s share price is down 6% this year, Alphabet is down 8%, while Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft are all down approximately 10%. More losses may be coming as the Federal Reserve prepares to raise interest rates, and the declines already have some tech giant employees considering what’s next.
The tech giants pay via a combination of stock and cash, and when the stock doesn’t go up, it exposes them to retention and recruitment issues. Employees can more easily overlook bad managers or subpar compensation packages when times are good — as they have been over the past two years — but it’s harder to do that in a sluggish market. When share prices tank, people start looking around.
“This is the first time, at least in modern Amazon history, that the stock has had challenges for a prolonged period of time,” Jake Singer, an ex-Amazon employee, told me. “Is it just my LinkedIn,” he wrote recently on the social network, “or is everyone I worked with at Amazon quitting?
Amazon, in particular, has struggled with retention over the past year, a preview of what may be in store for its counterparts. The company’s stock has stagnated since early 2021, and now it’s trading well below its price from a year ago. Amazon already pays less than the industry standard, which its employees tend to accept in exchange for the opportunity to work there, but the stock’s appreciation in recent years has dulled the pain for many who feel underpaid. That’s no longer in play.
“They basically use the stock movement,” said Singer, “as a way to not give you extra shares, or raises, or any of that.”
When Amazon Web Services engineer Charles Stover asked for a raise in early 2021, for instance, his manager replied his raise would be Amazon’s stock price going up. To the manager, it seemed like a good bet. Amazon’s stock had been on a torrid run, nearly doubling since Stover joined in 2019. A few months later, Stover left anyway. But had he stayed, his manager’s promise would’ve proven untrue. Amazon’s stock is down more than 10% since his departure last July.
“When the stock was higher, everyone was exceeding their target at Amazon. Everyone got used to it, and they should have. But that ‘exceeded target’ was what they were worth, and what other companies would pay them today -- if not higher,” Stover told me. “Now that it’s going down, Amazon will absolutely claim to be giving raises to make up for it, because they are. But those raises are trash, below what the engineer made when the stock was high, and below their competitors.”
Stock price drops alone won’t drive a person out of a company, but they can help nudge employees to go. “I believe that it’s contributing,” Singer said. “But I'm sure there are plenty of other factors as well.” A wave of leadership departures after Jeff Bezos handed the company to Andy Jassy, for instance, might be playing a role in the company’s turnover as well, as it’s made it more challenging to move with speed. But the falling stock price doesn’t help. “It is certainly a catalyst, but not the cause,” said one former Amazon director.
A turbulent market is unpredictable. It may send more star employees from middle-tier tech companies to the relative safety of the tech giants. It may make those who’ve delighted in recent stock appreciation look for bolder returns via entrepreneurship. Or the tech giants could head off the risk by throwing bags of money at employees to get them to stay. These companies will have to move quickly. Amazon, which did not respond to a request for comment, lost another 3% of its share price today.
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Senate Panel Approves Antitrust Bill Restricting Big Tech Platforms (Wall Street Journal)
Big Tech antitrust has some momentum. The Senate Judiciary Committee moved the American Innovation and Choice Online Act to the Senate floor, bringing it one step closer to becoming law. The bill prohibits Big Tech companies from preferencing their services over competitors in their products. It’s the most sensible Big Tech bill we’ve seen so far, but it’s facing opposition in the House of Representatives and running out of time as the midterms approach. Still, it’s a wonder to see anything get this far — especially given Big Tech’s aggressive and expensive counterattack — and it’s certainly setting off alarms in Silicon Valley.
“Nobody cares about what’s happening to the Uyghurs,” tech investor Chamath Palihapitiya said in widely circulated remarks this week. Palihapitiya’s callous remarks sparked a social media backlash, but we unfortunately see this attitude quietly reflected too often by companies with business interests in China. When does ‘humanitarian CEO’ Tim Cook speak up on behalf of the oppressed minority? Apple’s suppliers have reportedly used their forced labor. It’s easy to pile on Chamath — and boy did he ask for it — but harder to fix endemic problems that deserve more attention.
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What Else I’m Reading
Scott Galloway on Web3’s false promise of decentralization. Not Boring’s Packy McCormick’s response. The NASDAQ is down 10% off its all-time high, a full-blown correction. M.G. Siegler calls this moment The Great Deflate. Microsoft bought Activision Blizzard for $68.7 billion, here’s an explainer. People are ripping off dead artists' work and selling them as NFTs. And of course, NFTs may be coming to Facebook. GIFs are for boomers now (put me in the boomer camp). TikTok’s CMO went rouge and is out. I’ll be speaking at SXSW in a featured session with Square co-founder Jim McKelvey. Substacker Jeremy Anderberg shouts out Big Technology in a Q&A with Substack (thanks!). An argument that extended school closures was an ill-advised policy choice. Fentanyl pusher Insys Therapeutics was worse than Theranos.
Quote Of The Week
“If you allow unfettered monopoly power to concentrate, its power can rival that of the state.”
— FTC Chair Lina Kahn to CNBC this week.
Quote Of The Week Pt. 2
“I asked Wharton students what they thought the average American worker makes per year and 25% of them thought it was over six figures. One of them thought it was $800k. Really not sure what to make of this (The real number is $45k)”
— Wharton Professor Nina Strohminger
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Poll Of The Week
The market is rough, but people on Twitter tell me they’re buying the dip. Also, a good number of folks are all cash — pretty surprising. Let’s see how this looks if the market drops further.
The Rise Of Conservative Social Media — With The New Yorker's Clare Malone and Stanford's David Thiel
Clare Malone is a staff writer at The New Yorker who recently wrote about Gettr, a rising conservative social network. David Thiel is the big data architect and chief technology officer of the Stanford Internet Observatory, where he's researched Gettr's usage. The pair join Big Technology Podcast to discuss Gettr — and its counterparts' — potential to take on incumbent social networks. We dig into the network's growth, its funding sources, and how mainstream social network policies open the door for its success.
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