I told my boss that I'm going to resign, and he offered me twice my current salary if I stay, what should I do?

TLDR: I was offered a job by a customer of my company, and then counter offered nearly 3X my existing pay to remain with my company. I took the customer's offer, and never regretted it.

I worked for one of the largest computer hardware, software, and services companies in the US as a pre-sales engineer (SE). I was very good at my job, and outperformed my peers substantially. I developed a couple of sales strategies (though I was NOT a sales person) that were very effective, and were adopted nation-wide. This resulted in an early promotion and pay raise (from $35K to $45K - remember, I was a relative new hire, and this was in the ‘80s).

When the company announced a new product line, I immediately invested the time to learn about it, and quickly became one of the "top 5" recognized experts for that product within the marketing organization. Because of this, I was repeatedly asked to make technical presentations at our largest customers, most of which resulted in significant sales revenue for those account reps.

But I had a couple of accounts where I was their primary SE. One of those was a smaller company, but one which was tremendously well-respected in their field - an innovator in the true sense of the word. I loved working with their business and IT executives, who were constantly challenging the status quo and trying to figure out ways to leverage our technology to improve their business.

Then one day, their CIO asked me "How could we get you out here full time for about 9 months to a year, so we can try to implement some of the ideas we've discussed?" I went back and talked to my manager, and he told me that it would require a professional services contract, at the rate of $250/hr. (Again, remember - mid 80's.) I laughed, because that would basically translate to $500K/year (or 10 x the $45K they were paying me). But when I told the customer the rate, he immediately said "Have them draw up the contract. We'd like you to start ASAP."

When I went back to tell my boss, expecting him to be delighted. Instead, he was anything but... He told me that the company would never allow *me* to be the resource that filled that contract - they simply couldn't afford to do so. He then pointed out that my two strategies had resulted in the sales of $85+ MM, and the new technology introduction work I had done had already resulted in sales of well over $28MM for that product in our area. So they could never let me, personally, fulfill that services contract...

But, of course, the customer didn't want "just anybody", they wanted me - the person that had been coming up with the new and creative solutions to their business problems. So, over a drink after work, the CIO of the customer made the observation that "Somewhere between what you're making now, and the $500K your company wants for your services, there's probably a number that we could BOTH be very happy with... Think about it, and let me know if you'd like to talk further about that. Meantime, talk to XXX and YYY (two other people who worked for them as consultants), to help you understand what consulting is like and how to fairly set your rates, etc."

I talked with XXX and YYY, learning that I could realistically expect them to pay me about $150K (more than 3X my current salary, remember). So then I did some REALLY serious thinking about this offer.

I loved working for my current company, but had known for some time that I was seriously underpaid for the level of work I was doing. (The other 4 "product experts" all made at least 2X what I made, because they'd been with the company a LOT longer.) I realized that much of my "innovation" at work was well outside the job description, and that the "pay structure" was not designed to appreciate and compensate my efforts. I had already been promoted ahead of people who had been around 3–5 years longer than I had, and some of my peers were already voicing some resentment about the "favoritism" shown to me. It would be very difficult for the company to pay me what I was really worth...

I also loved working with the customer who was making the serious offer. I'd had offers from customers before. Probably 1/2 of the accounts I called on made me a job offer at some point after we met - but none of them had realistic plans for how to use my talents and abilities. They just saw a smart guy they wanted to hire, and knew that my company typically underpaid their top people. But this customer was launching a complete business process re-engineering effort (before that term became a buzz-word), centered around using innovative technology to enhance their ability to do the job. It would be a huge challenge, involving the application of new and emerging technology, and an "open checkbook" approach to funding R&D - which I would be leading. The prospect was very exciting to me.

After giving it much thought, I tendered my official resignation notice to my boss on a Friday afternoon, at the end of the day. He was visibly shocked, and asked me to hold onto the letter and bring it back in on Monday morning. I agreed to do so. When we met on Monday, it was in his boss' office, and both were smiling and looking very happy. My boss told me that they had spent the entire weekend working the "issue" and had managed to do something unheard of in company history. It seems I had been "flagged" at the highest levels as a "person to watch" and they did not want to lose me. As a result, they were taking the unprecedented step of offering me a 2-step promotion, along with a pay raise to $85K in salary, with another $15K in bonus eligibility. They told me that to get approval for this amazing offer, they had to get sign-off from the corporate VP of HR - over the weekend, no less - but that everyone had agreed that I was indeed working well above my pay grade, and should be compensated accordingly. I think they were shocked when I asked if I could have 24 hours to think it over...

While thinking it over, I realized that I had already mentally processed the "divorce" from my current company. They had under-paid me for several years, and were trying their best to make it up to me, but were still only offering a little over 1/2 what the "customer" was offering. Then there was the work itself. How often does someone come along and offer you the opportunity to create an entirely new business process, leveraging ANY technology that could be reasonably brought to bear on the business? How often do you get offered a virtually unlimited R&D budget, and get the kind of obvious support from the business executives that I was seeing here?

In the end it was an easy decision to leave. I realized that a large, cumbersome organization that would have to chase down it's VP of HR on the golf course on a Saturday to make an exception to the salary structure would NEVER be able to fairly compensate the "outliers" who were truly exceptional, and didn't fit the mold. And I realized that most of my peers were dealing with that issue by allowing themselves "comp time" instead... They took long lunches, or left work early to go play golf, or went shopping on their way back from a customer call. I could not play that game and live with myself.

So I took the customer offer, and it was definitely the right choice. I've never enjoyed working anywhere as much as I did there for the next 5 years or so. We accomplished things that were pretty incredible. Ironically, I was still probably the best pre-sales engineer for my old company, because we were on the leading edge of technology that entire 5 years, and 90% of it came from them. We became their best "reference account" for a whole slew of products, and were even invited to speak at kick-off meetings for a couple of their product families. None of that would have happened if I'd accepted the counter-offer, and I would probably have been miserable within a year or two...


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