Self-worth and market value
A guy I know positions himself as somebody who almost never had a job other than a CEO. Fresh out of university his first job had been VP, but four years after that he was already CEO and he never looked back. It’s hard to check whether this is true – he started in the early 90’s in the CEE. He set his price at 12,000 eur/month, anything else would be insulting, as he put it. In the span of our relationship, he worked for top tier tech companies and private equity funds, trying to adjust companies to the content of business books: his positioning was impeccable. His results? Well: he was average. In the tech business he was an Excel manager: others filled in the cost lines in his P&L, and competitors consistently beat him in the market. Nothing special.
I know another guy, this one in the pharma business: his price is 30K eur/month: but for that money he’s prepared to do anything, as he says, to deliver – similarly to the morally flexible “thought leaders” in McKinsey; or in the top banks in the USA paying billions of dollars in fines and out of court settlements every year; or his (higher ranking) colleagues in pharma who hire the likes of McKinsey to optimize profits, no matter what.
An HR manager from Western Europe on assignment as an expat at a global food & bev company in Hungary nicely explained to me – as a side note in a conversation – that he considered search guys to be arrogant and brainless idiots who drive BMWs, get business from organizing BBQ parties for YPO members, and do absolutely nothing valuable. Who knows, he may be right. I know some search consultants who make over 85,000 eur/month, by simply having a conversation with less than five people a day. They used to be CEOs of market leading companies in their geography and they’d never go back to trying to manage 1000’s of people for the same money or less. The clients who pay their fees perceive their value very differently than the bitter HR manager who never hired top players himself.
We all know the prices of the suits running global companies.
All these people have successfully adjusted to the market: they have quantified their worth. Now: if the conditions change and the market no longer pays the price (or if they go to jail), there is a problem: their self-worth, even in their own perception, is ruined: a gap develops between what they project they’re worth and what they’re actually worth. This often leads to nothing less than personal tragedies.
As recently as two hundred years ago, people were considered to be more valuable than the products they produced or the process they served, and the cream of the crop in many professions joined guilds that put only 2-10% markup on their products or services: the lower the markup, the prouder were the masters. Not only craftsmen, but also academics in universities were organized in guilds. What made guilds special? Only quality mattered. What was the measure of quality? Usefulness to the community and mastery for the individual. This applied to other orders in society as well: the military, law, politics (for this we need to go back way more than 200 years) and religious organizations.
Quality people back then would have never come to the conclusion that they needed to quantify their worth. (For example, even if there had been demand, Clemens Wenzel Lothar Fürst von Metternich Winneburg would have never thought about charging any amount of money for giving a speech, opposite to modern politicians and celebrities who refuse to move a finger unless they’re paid for it; in fact, many consider people doing things for free to be losers, or look at people offering help for free with suspicion).
Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, the stoics, Plotinus, Thomas Aquinas, Meister Eckhart, Jacob Böhme, Muhyi al-Din ibn al-Arabi, Confucius, and many others whose names will never be known are simply not matched by Hegel, Kant, Freud, Jung, Heidegger (with all their merits considered), let alone, God forbid, by Zizek, Harari, Kurzweil, Flink, Musk, Zuckerberg, Gates, Jobs, Schmidt, Page, Bezos, Sinek, Robbins (or any other platitude mongering motivational speaker) or by any other F100 CEO or contemporary politician.
Quantitative differences, even in the trillion dollar magnitude are insignificant when compared to qualitative differences, which may indeed be astronomical.
For closing, an anecdote: I heard a story on the Joe Rogen show about the confidence level of a rich (but short) guy in social situations (the story was told by the guest who knows the guy and the conclusion was that money makes men more confident). It reminded me of my ex neighbor (also a short man) who works with his hands, has never made more then 1,500 eur/month, yet there is no man or situation that may shake his relaxed confidence; in other words: he doesn’t derive his self-worth from market conditions.