The rich man can ride
And the hobo he can drown
Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters
lyrics by B. Taupin
(c) 1972 Dick James Music Limited
Way back in the Dark Ages when I graduated from law school (1986), I first learned about parking space envy. I had no idea a flat space lined with concrete could be such a status symbol. I came to realize that it’s not the size that matters, but the location.
I worked for a large law firm with offices in a high rise bank building with an attached parking deck. The deck did not have enough spaces for everyone who worked in the building, so newbie lawyers like myself got on the waiting list and parked down the street, where it was much cheaper anyway. Then we waited for a spot to open up. It usually took about a year.
Not only was parking in the deck a status symbol, but the location of the parking spot in the deck denoted the rank of one’s status. A sort of parking deck hierarchy, if you will. The covered walkway to the building was located on the fourth floor of the parking deck, so to get a space on this floor was the holy grail for the parking elite. But you had to work your way down there. First you parked on the top floor out in the open. Eventually, if you stayed at the firm long enough, you could end up on the revered fourth floor.
You were not allowed to jump the que. If somebody did, there was hell to pay. I learned this when I casually mentioned to a partner, a mouse of a man with a Hercule Poirot mustache and a Napolean complex, who had yet to reach the pinnacle of parking status, that an associate (gasp!) had scored a spot on the fourth floor.
His delicate mustache started to twitch.
“I’m going to have to make a call about this,” he said, as his mustache continued to twitch.
I had to smother a laugh. I thought he was kidding.
He was not.
As I learned later when I worked for corporations, reserved parking is a significant perk for executives. At my first company, while the rest of us parked out in the open, the executives had their own parking lot under roof.
At my second company, ironically located in the same building as the first company, the new company had done away with the covered deck, and instead reserved the front row of parking, closest to the building, for the executives. And the very first spot was reserved for the CEO and his sleek black Maserati. It was so well known that this was his spot that there wasn’t even a sign. Everyone (save an unsuspecting visitor or two) knew not to park there. I think it may have been part of the new employee orientation tour. I’m not sure, so don’t quote me on that.
Some companies are doing away with this perk, while others are not. According to a USA Today article called “Despite huge salaries, CEO’s cling to their perks,” perks are “a sticking point for a lot of executives. They feel it’s part of their compensation package. And it’s a stature thing.”
Well it certainly seemed to be a stature thing for our friend Stewart Little, the partner at my first law firm. He needed all the help he could get in that department.
Parking is not the only perk granted to executives. According to the USA today article, Martha Stewart’s company, Omnimedia, paid her $55,725 for a weekend driver and $29,538 for a personal fitness trainer. This is on top of her salary of $2.7 million and the $2.5 million she earns in licensing fees. It’s a good thing. If you’re Martha.
Ray Irani, an executive at Occidental Petroleum, received almost $400,000 worth of financial planning in addition to his $76.1 million compensation. He must really be bad at math. Doesn’t H&R Block offer financial planning? They could have saved him a bunch of money. Oh wait, he didn’t pay for it; the company did. It was probably a write off for the company; either that or they took it out of the employee’s Christmas party fund. Sorry, no ice sculpture this year. And the party will be catered by Chipolte (only one burrito per person, please.)
And the CEO of Macy’s, who earned $14.9 million in 2010, also received a 40% discount on merchandise, which was valued at $53,000, and then received more than $33,000 to cover the taxes on those discounts! As if he needed the employee discount in the first place! He is either cheap or greedy; I put my money on greedy.
That’s what’s so infuriating about these perks; they go to the folks who need them the least. If you are already making over $1 million per year, you don’t need a free car and free gasoline.
You also don’t need, and certainly don’t deserve, a $58 million jet for your personal use when you want to go fishing in Florida, when at the same time you are laying off 1/3 of your work force. Jet Blue will do just fine. Besides, they offer free Wifi.
But of course, it’s not about need. It’s about status and ego. I learned that the hard way too.
My former company had offices in several buildings scattered around the city. The building I worked in was located 1/2 hour away from the building in which most of my clients worked. Every week, I spent one day at the remote building, which was located next door to the manufacturing facility. I also traveled there other times during the week, sometimes making the trip back and forth more than once a day. I felt like a pebble in a slingshot on those days.
Sometimes I did a conference call instead, but often there is no substitute for a face to face meeting. I wanted my clients to be assured that I was accessible. Plus, they used to have cookies at meetings. I always go when there are cookies on the table.
Parking was at a premium at this building. There were only two short rows of parking right in front of the building. The main parking lot, affectionally known as Outer Mongolia, was located almost a 1/4 mile away.
Employees from the manufacturing building, who arrived at 7:30 a.m. for their shift, took an entire row of parking. No one ever told them not to park there, probably because no one wanted to take this up with the union.
I was not so lucky. There were only three reserved spots in front of the building (other than visitor parking). One was for employees from other buildings, such as myself, and two were reserved for the two VPs who worked there.
I will admit that I felt I was entitled to a spot in front of the building. Driving back and forth for meetings, I did not have time to walk that 1/4 mile several times a day. Hey, I never claimed to be perfect. Who doesn’t like a perk, even if it is borrowed? So, when one of the VPs retired, I started to park in his spot.
Boy, was that a mistake. The remaining VP sent her assistant to my office to tell me I could not park there any more. She even sent the assistant with a copy of the policy that described the rule, with the relevant language highlighted, probably by the VP herself.
Why did the VP care if I parked in this spot? Didn’t she have more important things to do, like squeeze some director’s cajones for overtipping on his expense account?
Mind you, she knew it was me and she knew why I came to the building. We had a cordial, even, I dare say it, a friendly working relationship. Considering that I was a minion, and all. She knew full well I was coming to the building as an accommodation to my clients, who reported to her.
It was not about enforcing the policy. It was about her ego. She was an executive and I was not, and she wanted to make that perfectly clear to me. How dare I presume to think I was as important as her. I may have a law degree, but she was a Vice President. Dammit.
Two can play at this game. You won’t let me have a convenient parking space? Fine. I won’t come here any more. I immediately sent an email to the clients and told them I would not be holding regular office hours until the parking situation was resolved. My clients were not happy, but I was furious. Yes, I was being petulant, but this was her fault, not mine. She started it.
I came across another article, in CEO.com of all places, appropriately entitled “7 Common Perks that do more harm than Good,” which sums up how I feel about reserved parking and other excessive perks:
Here’s the problem with most perks. . . [All] they really do is create artificial distinctions based on arbitrary, sometimes self-serving criteria. That’s why dropping silly perks is a great way to break down a few barriers between you and the people you most need to connect with: your employees.
How ironic when the purpose of the perks at my old company was to create those distinctions and barriers. Executives can’t be expected to park next to factory personnel, those masses of humanity that operate the machines that make the product that bring in the revenue that enables the executives to have free cars and free gas and boondoggles on the company jet.
Perks like reserved parking tell the minions like me that “I’m more important than you are. So important, in fact, that my poop doesn’t stink.”
The real irony (karma is such a bitch!) is that a few months after this happened, the new CEO eliminated all reserved parking spots.
Since the VP didn’t get to work until after 9 a.m., she ended up having to park in Outer Mongolia with the machine-operating masses.
Sorry, Ms. VP, but your poop does stink, just like it does for the rest of us. And you are not Batman, either.
BTW– at my current job, there is no reserved parking. For anyone.