Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?

FRAMINGHAM (05/01/2000) - Cliff McBride wasn't exactly looking for a job. He was content enough with his work as a database administrator for the U.S. government. But then a friend of his wife's told him about Interwoven Inc., a hot Silicon Valley e-commerce company that was looking to hire. As it happened, Interwoven was throwing a brand-new BMW Z3 convertible, or its cash equivalent, into the bargain.

McBride's head turned.

BMW Z3s are among the trendiest of the new come-ons in this squeaky-tight information technology market, a market that is forcing recruiters and their clients to go through unheard-of contortions to attract and retain skilled employees.

Other attractions, including million-dollar "loans" that are wholly forgiven and expensive real estate, are increasingly common, says Brent Longnecker, executive vice president at Resources Connection, an executive recruiting firm in Santa Ana, California.

The scarcity of IT talent is forcing some employers to recruit highly skilled IT workers the way they recruit top salespeople, with tantalizing offers of sports cars, long vacations and other perks. What can a company in desperate need of skilled technical professionals offer? Here's a brief look at some positions that are extracting fabulous bonuses (some employees are anonymous, to protect their paychecks):

Chief Technology Officer

-- Company: A Fortune 1,000 brick-and-mortar operation on the West Coast.

-- Hiring bonus offered: $1 million, payable in $250,000 increments over four years.

-- Experience needed: 10 or more years as chief technology officer (CTO) or MIS director.

-- Skills needed: Candidate must be a proven, successful and "gifted" leader of a large IT organization.

-- Attraction strategy: Experienced CIOs and CTOs with families to care for are more interested in financial security than in the risk associated with dot-com startups. To attract and retain top executives, established companies must create golden handcuffs. This company did this by constructing a "loan forgiveness program" - like those created for elite athletes - that doles out financial rewards over several years.

-- Recruiting strategy: Go for broke, but don't go broke. The company offers its top-dollar "loans" - along with a hefty equity share in the company - only in very special cases.

"Too many companies give out 2 percent of their stock to senior executives as a matter of course," says Longnecker. "The person that brings [venture capital] backing with them and a reputation with a big e-commerce name like eBay may be worth 3 percent, but someone who can do the job may only be worth 1 percent or 0.05 percent."

-- Retention strategy: Bend to the needs of top-level people. "If a CTO needs four weeks off, a ‘research sabbatical' or a berth for his yacht, most companies will make it happen," says Longnecker.

Chief e-commerce architect

-- Company: Mirronex Technologies Inc., a Princeton, New Jersey-based e-commerce hub linking Fortune 1,000 companies with IT outsourcers.

-- Hiring bonus offered: In addition to a six-figure salary and stock options, a new BMW Z3 or cash equivalent.

-- Experience needed: Candidates must have designed and built successful enterprise e-commerce systems from the ground up.

-- Skills needed: Familiarity with Java, XML, systems integration; also soft skills, including team leadership and project management.

-- Attraction strategy: By January 1999, the company had already spent two and a half months attempting to attract candidates for the position of chief architect, with no takers. (Other positions baited with the BMW Z3 include an SAP/Internet integration specialist, an electronic data interchange/Web integration specialist and a Java developer.)Mirronex thought up "The First Great BMW Giveaway" and alerted the press. CNN covered the story, and the rest is history. So many people called that the switchboard "blew up," and Mirronex had to shell out $70,000 for a new one, says Stephen Neish, director of business development.

-- Recruiting strategy: The company had to wade through 10,000 résumés, including one from a lifelong cattle rancher. "But we ended up with the five best people in New Jersey," says Neish. Only one new hire opted for the car; the others grabbed the cash. which was payable in monthly installments.

-- Retention strategy: "It's no good having a good recruiting strategy if you're an average employer," says Neish.

In addition to working on cutting-edge projects, Mirronex employees are treated to daily games on the company soccer field, twice-monthly "pub nights" and family ski trips.

Senior software engineer

-- Company: Interwoven in Sunnyvale, California; provides content-management infrastructure for large enterprises.

-- Hiring bonus offered: In addition to a six-figure salary and stock in the publicly traded company, a two-year lease on a BMW Z3 convertible or the cash equivalent.

-- Experience needed: Seven or more years building enterprise-scale databases.

-- Skills needed: Deep understanding of relational database management systems (Oracle, Sybase, Informix), Unix platforms and systems administration, plus team building and team management.

-- Attraction strategy: In March 1999, Interwoven needed to hire 20 engineers in a very short time. Toward that end, the company created a 30-second ad shown in Silicon Valley movie theaters with an attention-getting hook: "Work for Interwoven; win a Z3!"

"We thought a Z3 represented the best in engineering," says spokesperson Kevin Hayden. (The company had never heard of Mirronex or its offer.)Thousands of résumés poured in - one every 15 minutes, by the company's count - but only 1 percent of those were worthy of attention. Nevertheless, says Hayden, "we were able to locate and hire great people for all 20 positions."

-- Recruiting strategy: Applicants had to earn their cars. Senior engineer McBride went through a "grueling" interview process before he was hired, he says. He's currently deciding whether he wants the cash payment or the roadster itself (which he can buy outright at the end of the lease). "I just test-drove one, and I'm talking to the dealership now," he says with a discernible smile.

-- Retention strategy: Keep engineers happy with a congenial environment, challenging work and daily dinners of spicy Thai food. In three years, not one member of the engineering team has quit. wFryer is a freelance writer in Santa Cruz, California.

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