PayPal CEO Dan Schulman is now worth millions, but he started his career with a paycheck of $US208. He made a modest salary and was an assistant to an account executive at AT&T for his first job, in 1981.
He stayed at AT&T for 18 years and worked his way up to run a team of 40,000 people, overseeing the core consumer business. His executive office was so big it had its own bathroom. Schulman went on to run Priceline, Virgin Mobile, and now PayPal.
Schulman says his corporate climb came down to grit and a difficult personal moment that served as an important career lesson. “Eventually, through perseverance and some luck and a lot of hard work,” he “rose to become the youngest member of the operating group,” Schulman told Business Insider on our podcast, “Success! How I Did It.”
But while he was at AT&T, his sister died; Schulman took a leave of absence.
When he returned, he found his team had not only remained loyal, but they had done an incredible job without much oversight. Schulman made sure their hard work was recognised, and that he didn’t steal credit.
“I realised my team had really hung in there with me and I just realised that what we had accomplished was completely what they had accomplished,” Schulman said.
“I gave them full 100% credit. I think what I learned there is giving credit to others actually attracts more and more people to your team because they want to be a part of that team … In many ways, leadership is about defining reality and inspiring hope, but if you have these great people around you and they know that what they do is going to be recognised, it can be incredibly powerful.”
Below, listen to Schulman tell the story of how he took three companies public during his career, or keep scrolling for a transcript detailing his rise through AT&T from a $US208 starting paycheck.
- Former Apple CEO John Sculley
- Angel investor Jason Calacanis
- Former Microsoft CEO and Clippers owner Steve Ballmer
- Box founder and CEO Aaron Levie
Here’s the part of the interview wherein Schulman discussed his initial salary:
Alyson Shontell: Your career got started, it seems, at AT&T. In the early ’80s you joined — and did I read that your first job was $US14,000 pay?
Dan Schulman: Yeah, yeah.
Shontell: So that was at AT&T?
Schulman: I think my weekly paycheck was something like [$US208], biweekly or something net. I still have it somewhere. I spent the first 18 years of my career at AT&T and it was a wonderful place that kept me moving all the time. I mean I started off as entry level a position as you can get at AT&T. I was an associate account executive, which means I was an assistant to an account executive, and account executive was just the salesperson at the time. Then I became an official account executive and then a sales manager and then a product manager and eventually, through perseverance and some luck and a lot of hard work, rose to become the youngest member of the operating group.
I ran AT&T’s consumer business, which at the time was a $US22 billion revenue stream, $US8 billion of EBITDA and 40,000 people or so and I was 39 when that happened. And then, to my parents’ chagrin, because they thought that was like the best job in the world, this big office that actually had a bathroom in it and they couldn’t imagine anything more that their son could do, I left to join a startup, an internet startup, which really befuddled them.
Shontell: You had a bathroom in your office? That’s how you know you’ve made it.
Schulman: I did. Never since and never want one there again, but yes, that was a big part of being a senior officer at AT&T.
Shontell: But that’s a really impressive path. I mean, it’s 18 years but you start in this kind of humbling job, you have your first paycheck still that was [$US208] and then you become its eventual president, managing 40,000 people. What do you think are the steps that you took that were the most important to help you climb that corporate ladder?
Schulman: I do think there’s no substitute for really hard work. But I think the thing that launched my career at AT&T, I had a pretty tragic thing happen in my family. My sister died and I was leading a big team at the time and I had to take time off. It was a difficult, difficult time and when I came back, I realised my team had really hung in there with me and I just realised that what we had accomplished was completely what they had accomplished. I gave them full 100% credit.
I think what I learned there is giving credit to others actually attracts more and more people to your team because they want to be a part of that team because they know that it’s a team that is going to work together as one team, nobody’s going to try to take credit over somebody else. In many ways, leadership is about defining reality and inspiring hope, but if you have these great people around you and they know that what they do is going to be recognised, it can be incredibly powerful.