“Once every twenty years you forget your place . . . there’s no place for emotion in this. You of all people should understand. Business is business.” Don Eladio to Gustavo Fring in Better Call Saul
Season Five of Better Call Saul just concluded in dramatic fashion and the final episode contained a scene that is instructive for young professionals interviewing to gain employment or advocating for a salary increase. Without giving anything away, a cartel underling was introduced to the head honcho, the jovial but menacing Don Eladio, “as the new man up north.” The underling understood it was imperative (indeed, a matter of a life or death) that he make a good impression on the Don, and was terrified when Eladio put his arm around him and said with a disquieting smile, “Let’s talk you and I. We’ll get to know each other.”
The authors of LOA! are huge fans of Better Call Saul and, before that, Breaking Bad. That said, we debated about this blog entry as we would never want to spoil the show for those who might not have seen it yet. Ultimately, we thought the lesson from the recent finale was so appropriate that we wanted to include it this week, and so we made every effort to do so while eliminating any spoilers. Had you seen the first draft of this blog, you might have been annoyed with us! If you haven’t seen BCS yet, check it out!
And so they did. After pouring tequila, Don Eladio skipped the small talk and went right to the heart of the matter. His first question was aggressive, blunt, even crass: “How do you think you’ll make me money.” The Don’s question is often unstated but always implied in every job interview and request for greater pay. More diplomatically stated the question could be phrased, “How will you make money for the company?” or “Why should the company hire you?” More technically stated the question could be phrased, “How much money will you make the company in excess of your cost?”
For the math to work at for-profit companies, some if not most employees are expected to produce revenue significantly greater than their cost. If everyone just covered their cost, there would be no profit, and thus no incentive for the owner to keep the enterprise going. Revenue producers are needed to feed the owner and big dogs at the top, and to cover the cost of those in support positions. If you’re in a support position such as Accounting, Human Resources, IT, Investor Relations, or Marketing, someone else must produce revenue to cover their cost and your cost, as well as generate profit. This is no reason not to do work you enjoy, but it makes you more vulnerable so it’s imperative that your contribution be recognized, and that others appreciate your value to the organization.
At my first real estate job, every transaction I initiated generated fees –acquisition, construction, property management, asset management, and, later, disposition fees. I shared in none of these. I earned a salary and maybe a cash bonus. I was there to make money for the owners of the company in excess of my cost. And I was grateful for the opportunity to do so. It’s how the working world works, especially when you’re first starting out.
When interviewing for a job, or seeking to negotiate a salary increase, understand that Don Eladio’s question is on the table whether it is asked directly or not. And answer it persuasively whether it is asked directly or not. Because not only will doing so impress the boss, but why would anyone hire you, or pay you more, if you cannot?