Employees at Google’s self-driving car unit are leaving – not because they feel undervalued, were treated badly, or their bonus packages weren’t reflective of their work – it’s because they were being paid too much.
As reported in Bloomberg, early employees of Google’s car subsidiary, which officially became a standalone business called Waymo in December, received “supersized pay-outs based on the project's value.”
“By late 2015, the numbers were so big that several veteran members didn't need the job security anymore, making them more open to other opportunities.”
According to insiders, two people called it ‘f*** you money.’
The unusual pay system began soon after Google revealed its first self-driving vehicle in 2010. The system tied employee pay to performance of the project, and some were given bonuses and equity in the business. A multiplier was then applied to the current awards based on periodic valuations of the division – causing bonuses to balloon. The precise metrics are not known.
In December, the original remuneration system was replaced with a more equal structure, which paid all employees the same. However, the pay-outs still remained high, to prevent a talent exodus to innovative rivals. In late 2015, a large multiplier was applied to salaries, which saw some staff members receive multi-million dollar payments.
The problem lay in the fact that the goals of the project were still far from reality, although staff were still awarded for reaching key milestones, subsequently devaluing the bonuses.
Departures from Waymo increased in 2016, with some employees able to start their own autonomous vehicle businesses from the equity gained during their tenure with Google – people familiar with the situation said.
Chris Urmson, previous Leader of the project, left in August and is working on a start-up. Bryan Salesky, a former Google Car Executive, started Argo AI. Other early project members left to form Otto, a self-driving trucking company, now owned by Uber – Bloomberg reports.
Ruth Porat, Chief Financial Officer of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, spoke about Google’s operating expenses during an earnings conference call with analysts in early 2016.
She suggested a different approach to incentives at Other Bets (several units held by Alphabet) in the future: "It is about getting more ambitious things done. We’re doing that in a framework to ensure we are disciplined with our resources, and this was just calling out a milestone established some time ago."