Google parent Alphabet has recently spun-off its self-driving vehicle division into a completely new entity called Waymo. The company has definitely had trouble retaining talent, even some of their leading senior experts. The leading executives parted ways with Google even after they were being paid for their services handsomely. But, Bloomberg reports that excessive payouts based on the valuation of the project was the primary reason for these exits.
To keep employees working on the autonomous project glued to their current positions, Google started an interesting payout program. This compensation system multiplied the salaries and bonuses of employees based on the progress of the project. This might’ve also been done to keep the staffers happy and prevent them from leaving for another similar opportunity — as autonomous mobility has been on a rise.
Further, the report adds that there are no exact numbers on how much the payments were and who received them. The payouts were said to accumulate when certain milestones were achieved by the self-driving team at Alphabet. One of the employees, who’s left the company, said that a multiplier of sixteen (16) was applied to his basic compensation and bonus over four years of his employment. This has been described as under:
In addition to cash salaries, some staffers were given bonuses and equity in the business and these awards were set aside in a special entity. After several years, Google applied a multiplier to the value of the awards and paid some or all of it out.
Due to the hefty compensations at their disposal, a couple sources have referred to it as “F-you money”. The engineers working on the self-driving project no longer required the financial security offered by the program. They, thus, decided to move out of Waymo and pursue own ventures or lend a hand in other similar opportunities. It has been described as under:
Early staffers had an unusual compensation system that awarded supersized payouts 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 people familiar with the situation. Two people called it “F-you money.”
This doesn’t exclusively mean that the large sums of money received as compensation for their work on the project were the only reason for their departure. It, however, can be seen as one of the most significant reasons, according to the statistics mentioned above. The division is now no longer focused on building their own autonomous vehicles, but instead the software powering these vehicles. Bloomberg also adds that the compensation system was completely overhauled around the same time when Waymo came into existence.
These payouts led to the departure of the self-driving team’s long-time CTO and director Chris Urmson in August’16, who has since started his own venture with ex-Tesla employee Sterling Anderson. A clutch of other early employees quit their Google jobs to start the self-driving Otto, which has now been acquired by Uber. And another collective moved out with heavy pockets to start Argo AI, which has received a $1 billion investment from Ford a couple days ago.