Wednesday, May 22, 2024 May 22, 2024
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Editor’s Note: This story was first published in a different era. It may contain words or themes that today we find objectionable. We nonetheless have preserved the story in our archive, without editing, to offer a clear look at this magazine’s contribution to the historical record.

Do you make enough money? We know, we know: It’s not really your salary that matters most, but personal satisfaction with your job. And we’ve all been taught than it’s better to give than to receive. But let’s lace it: Dallas is a big-money city, and we all feel the occasional flash of greed. (Just how much would that second home in Tuscany really cost?)

We posed the question mother told us never to ask: How much money do you make? Naturally, no one answered. So we went to the public record to select nearly a hundred professionals from corporate lawyers to marketing directors-people just like you. We also visited with four professionals who made a career move at the right time-and stand to make a bundle now. Then we asked top local headhunters about tips for getting a raise, how to know when you’re in a dead-end job,whetherto accept a counter-offer, and more. The numbers we compiled-and the answers we received-might surprise you.

Hot Item: Melissa Mitchell

In one of the hotes summers on record, no one in Dallas was hotter than Melissa Mitchell.The city’s most desirable suitors were falling ever themselves to court her. They wined and dined her, desperate to impress. They dressed in their best duds, invited her to the choicest spots, pleaded with her.

No, Melissa Mitchell isn’t a prom queen. She’s a law student at SMU. And she’s in serious demand. She has a stellar academic pedigree, including an undergraduate degree in economics from Stanford. She’s excelled at SMU and is this year’s editor of the law review. She has already had a career in banking, and she will be 40 by the time she graduates next spring. That sets Mitchell apart and surprisingly, at a time when 40 is the benchmark for age discrimination claims, makes her even more desirable to Dallas’ top firms. Simply put, she stands to make a lot of money in a red-hot legal market.

Mitchell has experienced this kind of roaring economy before. In the 1980s, she was a banker in Houston when the Texas economy tanked. She had dreamed of settling in with a stable financial institution rooted in the community. There she would help people finance their dreams. But before she knew it, the whole thing turned into a nightmare of red ink. Suddenly, she was dealing with the underside of banking-loan workouts. That meant lots of contact with troubled businesspeople, government regulators-and lawyers.

Much to her surprise, she liked it. There was something energizing about plotting strategies and solutions with the bank’s attorneys. As her bank metamorphosed into a local arm of still another huge out-of-state lender, she moved to Dallas and joined a small company as a financial officer. But as the company thrived, she found herself growing bored. Again, the best part of the job for her was the most troubling for the business-working with its lawyers on the various legal wrangles that surfaced.

This banking experience makes Mitchell especially attractive to law firms, who frequently hear from their corporate clients that they like lawyers who understand the business side of their legal work. Local firms need lawyers who can one day bring in new business-lawyers who are partnership material.

Mitchell certainly looks like the type. She is mature, poised, and focused. She did not decide to give up a successful business career and take on $70,000 in debt on a whim. Indeed, by the time she’d finished her first year, she already had a strong sense of what she wanted. She knew she would stay in Dallas; she did not want to work at the local office of an out-of-town firm, and she wanted to practice commercial litigation. That’s what had jazzed her in the business world, and she wanted a career that jazzed her every day.

But her decision to change careers wasn’t just about excitement: It was about money. With the raging economy, the competition for top law students has grown increasingly fierce. As a result, the salaries offered to standout law students have skyrocketed. In July, Houston-based Vinson & Elkins, a firm with nearly 100 lawyers in Dallas, raised associate salaries an unheard of 20 percent across the board, pushing starting compensation past $90,000. That means that Mitchell, at the top of the top. is in a position to make a bundle.

After her first year of law school, she split her summer between two very different Dallas firms: Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, one of the biggest firms in the country, and Figari & Davenport, a small, elite-and purely local-litigation shop. This past summer, she again clerked with Figari & Davenport, and also with Carring-ton, Coleman, Sloman & Blumenthal, which at 75 lawyers is three times the size of Figari but hardly a gargantuan like so many of the firms pursuing her. The result of these clerkships? Mitchell now has two offers on the table; one from Carrington, Coleman, the other from Figari & Davenport. The firms guarantee her a job, but haven’t yet released starting salary figures. With Vinson & Elkins’ latest aggressive move, though, the offers are sure to be lucrative.

So Mitchell has time to make a decision. In the current market she’ll be able to weigh the offers and take command of her own career path.

-Joe Calve

Selling An Image: Arnel Trovada

Arnel Trovada has always had a knack for selling; every job he’s held since college has been in marketing, sales, or public relations.But it was’t until about two years ago that he finally sold himself on own business.

Trovada, 32. started out as mar-keting director for a local film and video company, developing new accounts for the business. He spent nine years in marketing with different firms, and while he enjoyed the work. Trovada says corporate life did have its disadvantages. “I liked the job. but there was a cap to it,” he says. “Unless you get into a director position, you’ll probably cap at $40,000. The lowest director salary is probably $50,000. but not many are available.”

In February 1997 he went solo with Trovada Public Relations & Marketing. Past and present client groups range from business to fitness to entertainment. Locally, Trovada represents the human resources firm People Solutions, along with Urban Architecture, the minds behind the Dallas Children’s Zoo. He’s done publicity for A&E’s documentary division, and he even helped Fabio make the transition from romance-novel icon and butter salesman to fitness guru with his book. Fahio Fitness. Currently, Trovada is coordinating a national campaign for Bally Total Fitness that features stars from Baywatch. All that work paid off: Within a year of starting up, Trovada had tripled his annual salary.

Despite the financial rewards, Trovada says, being an entrepreneur is not for people who are squeamish about instability. “The scariest part was, six months into it, I realized I had to keep going out and getting more projects all the time,” he says. “The most difficult thing right now is duplicating myself.” He now has three people working for him part-time, and he hires out on an as-needed basis. When Trovada was working in the corporate world, he never considered all the things he didn’t have to do. In that situation, he says. “They take care of the business, you take care of the work.”

Trovada harbors big hopes in terms of expansion. “I’d like to definitely be a national PR and marketing firm,” he says. And technology is making it possible to do so from this area. “People always think I’m calling from New York or L.A, They say, ’I can’t believe you’re in Dallas!’”

Some of that expansion, if Trovada is lucky, may end up being linked to Tom Hicks. Trovada chaired a recent Press Club of Dallas roast of Hicks and has been getting referrals from Hicks’ associates as a result. Connections like those have convinced Trovada that his gamble will pay off. “Sometimes I have to pinch myself,” he says. “Companies are paying me to do mis job that I love.”

-Jennifer Wegman

Taking Advantage of the Technology Boom: Cameron Weeks

Only seven years out of college, 28-year-old Cameron Weeks backed into the kind of high-paying, fast-track career that positions her for the future. It’s a job she never dreamed she’d be interested in when she graduated from college.

A San Antonio native, Weeks had majored in political science and law enforcement at the University of Oklahoma and thought she wanted a career at the FBI or another federal law enforcement agency. But a stint as a private investigator convinced Weeks she wasn’t cut out to be a sleuth. “It was a comical year,” she says. “When I went out on dates, guys wouldn’t believe me when I said I was a private investigator.” The final straw: “I had to testify in court in a worker’s comp case against a man who lost$l million,”she says. The “victim” showed up in court in a neck brace and said he couldn’t move. Weeks had surreptitiously taken a video showing him running with his dog and working on his car. Through other people involved in the case, Weeks heard he was making death threats against her.

To give herself time to reevaluate her future, Weeks took a job in retail at Harold’s in Highland Park Village-a drastic and much-needed change from tracking people as an investigator. Then she found work as a sales representative with Physician Sales and Services, a national company that provides the supplies used by a physician’s office. She moved to Portland, Ore., for two months of training, which included time driving the deliver)’ van. “That was a humbling experience,” she says.

Weeks worked at PSS for five years, becoming a territory sales rep for Garland, Greenville, Sherman. McKinney. and the White Rock Lake area. On straight commission, she made $85,000 her last year there, minus $ 10.000 in expenses.

In 1997, she was recruited by Parametric Technology Corp.. one of the world’s largest engineering software sales and consulting groups. She started as a territory rep but recently became a major account rep. Peter-Bilt Trucks, which uses the software to design and build their rigs, is her biggest customer. She’s become successful in a job she would never have dreamed she could have tackled after college.

“I didn’t take one business class,” Weeks says. “1 took no computer classes. All I know how to do is turn the computer on. You can*t say the word can’t-that’s my advice.”

When she first started. Weeks was working 12- to 14-hour days, but the pace has slowed some. She occasionally has to travel to Lubbock and Seattle. “1 work longer hours and I don’t have the flexibility I had at PSS,” she says, “But the industry is better and my career path is accelerated. You’re very marketable when you have technology experience.”

Parametric not only pays a base salary, it reimburses her expenses. Her income has more than doubled. “It’s very stressful, but that comes with the territory when you’re making the big bucks,” Weeks says. What she likes best about the job: “You deal with executives of companies and financially impact the company’s bottom line with our product. We can help them get their products out first.”

-Glenna Whitley

Making the Jump for Big Money: Tom Kessler

Atage 40, Tom Kessler left behind his job as an editor at the Dallas Morning News to jump into the volatile world of Internet entre-preneurship. He had a wife, three children, and a comfortable, good-paying job at a large organization-but he wanted more. News had become “sort of like the movie Groundhog Day-every day is different, but the details are the same.” And even though Kessler says that he’s like most people because he has “a mortgage, kids, credit card bills to pay,” he isn’t. Lots of mid-level managers feel professional stasis, but not everyone does something about it.

Kessler, along with Todd Copilevitz and Bob Shema, both former News employees, launched WaveBase 9, an Internet media company, in January 1996. In just over 30 months, the group has had three offers from organizations that wanted to either buy or invest in the company. The WaveBase 9 web site has received positive reviews from the Microsoft Network and others, and over the past 12 months revenues have reached nearly $750,000, Kessler is on his way to building a real company.

Only three years ago, he didn’t know whether his idea would fly. But he knew one thing: Corporate life was getting old. After 13 years at the Morning News {eight as editor of the Arts section), Kessler realized he had risen about as far as he could, with little to show for it. His staff was doing the work he’d loved-reporting on the local arts scene. Kessler’s time was spent tending to the details of personnel and editorial management.

Now, Kessler is certain his decision to leave was a smart one. Seated behind a clean desk that looks like an example of the infamous “paperless society,” his hands clasped together in front of him, he speaks about the changing world of the Internet the way some people speak of the Industrial Revolution. “The Internet can be a radio station, a magazine, TV, even the U.S. Postal Service…. It is going to become the primary communication medium of my lifetime. That’s a tremendous opportunity.” In Kessler’s view, being part of the first Internet era will one day earn him bragging rights. He’ll be able to say to his grandchildren, “Yeah. I was there in the middle of it.”

The turning point for WaveBase 9 was landing a major account from the Susan G. Komen Foundation in January 1996, when the company was still a part-time venture. Kessler and his partners designed three separate web sites for the breast cancer organization, and in doing so built their portfolio, Other contract work followed, and the company also began producing and designing their own web sites, rather than sites for outside clients. ( web site that could only come from Dallas-is one such site, featuring bargain tips, shopper profiles, and links to area stores.) The future of these sites and WaveBase 9 is promising, but Kessler knows that, especially with the Internet, things change quickly. “The rules are being written now,” he says.

Whatever happens, Kessler stands to make a lot more money out of WaveBase 9 than he would have at the News. Right now his income is only marginally greater than what he earned as an editor, but Kessler is an equity partner in the company, and he has always seen WaveBase 9 as an acquisition target. If revenues keep growing at the pace already established, WaveBase 9 might attract the attention Kessler hopes for.

Kessler expresses guarded optimism at the idea. “My equity position here is way beyond my 401(k).”

-Warner McGowin



Terry Patch, andre david & associates: “Make sure you have added value to the organization, so you know It’s legitimate to ask for an Increase. Then, try to find out what other similar organizations are paying for similar kinds of work. You’ve got to be comparing apples to apples. That way you can say two things: One- ’I’ve made a lot of contributions to the company, and here they are.’ Two-’My peers are making this amount at another organization. What can I do to get to that level?’

“You’ve got to be confident to have that conversation. You have to have a comfort level with your supervisor. And timing is everything. You need to know how the business is doing, because if it’s not doing well, you’re usually not going to get any more money, regardless of your contributions. But If you don’t ask, you’ll never know.”



Tom Davies, 25-year compensation professional, board member of Dallas Human Resource Management Association: “My advice to the individual Is to approach his management. Most companies these days realize the value of giving this information out Every company has a vested interest-whether they realize It or not-in letting their people understand their pay structure. If you’re working for a company that plays its cards close to the vest, the American Compensation Association publishes an annual survey of salary budgets for companies. It Is the kind of information companies use to decide If they’re being competitive in their salary structure. The first question for the Individual needs to be: ’How does this company pay me,’ then ’Do I believe them?’”



Jamey Rosamond, managing partner with the Savannah Group, Inc., a technology consulting firm: “Sometimes people don’t even stop to look at their surroundings. But we recognize three key elements In deciding whether someone is stalled in their career: Their work environment, their compensation, and the quality of their work. If you’re working in a place you don’t like, or you’re not being paid enough, or the quality of what you’re working on Isn’t good, then you might decide to make a change. And this list can be tailored to an individual’s situation. Some elements might be more Important than others for an individual, and you can weigh them however fits your situation. But It has to be a total package.”



Steve Preston, Partner, Walgren & Preston Inc.: “It’s always a good idea to keep your resume updated and your skills honed. Keep up with what’s happening in your field. Talk to people who do what you do, and stay In touch with the ones you admire and respect. When it comes time to change companies, the more people you know who admire and respect you, the better off you’ll be. The way to get that recognition that’s going to help you out later is to do great things where you are. If you have a chance to write about a project you’ve been Involved with, then do it. If you can find the opportunity to speak at a conference about what you know best, don’t pass up the opportunity. And don’t wait to be asked. Sometimes you have to create the opportunity for yourself.”



Kay Walgren, Partner, Walgren and Preston: “In 1986 and ’87 there was a real hiring frenzy, but employers were more willing to go down a little in the credentialing process. There was more flexibility. Now, I don’t see that happening. While employers in the past were willing to lower the bar to find the people they needed, that’s not happening these days. Employers I’ve worked with want it all, and corporations will take all the time they need and leave the office empty before they’ll bring somebody on board who doesn’t meet their needs. There’s an awful lot of demand, and there’s not a deep pool of candidates.”



Fred Halstead, Partner, Ward Howell: “Learn the characteristics of the successful people in the organization and try to emulate those. In one, it may be strong teamwork, in another individual action. Or It may be important to be careful about what you say. The key Is to identify what the characteristic is.”


Halstead: “No. Anybody who accepts a counter offer will be limited from then on. You weaken the bond of trust and loyalty because you were willing to look outside. So it becomes very difficult to succeed.”

[Editors’ Note: We found it interesting that all our headhunters agreed on this point]


People are understandably touchy about their salaries, so the information In this article comes mainly from public sources. Public companies are required to file certain compensation Information with the Securities and Exchange Commission (available directly from the SEC or via Our criteria on selection of Individuals were the position and the age that most closely matches our own readership (except for Excel’s Kenny Trout, who we threw in because we thought you’d be interested). Public entitles that provided information voluntarily or under the Texas Open Records Act include Dallas County, The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas Area Rapid Transit, and the Dallas Independent School District. Further information and confirmations came from individual Interviews. Figures do not include perks, benefits, and other forms of compensation, including stock options and bonuses. All figures are the latest available.



Terry Patch, with andre david and associates: “Four steps: Read, Listen, Participate, and Analyze. If your firm is going through a merger, it’s incumbent on you to read about the new organization. Listen to your management, and to the word on the street, about what the deal will mean to you. Participate in any discussions or sessions about the merger. Finally, analyze your situation based on what you know. You want to determine if your job is being duplicated, or if there is a place for you in the new organization. It’s always a risky decision, but the more you do your due diligence, the better off you’ll be. The main message is this: Don’t be passive.”


D Magazine

D Magazine