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How to Negotiate Like a CEO with Jotham Stein

George Grombacher June 5, 2022

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How to Negotiate Like a CEO with Jotham Stein

LifeBlood: We talked about how to negotiate like a CEO, why everyone should be taking some simple steps to protect themselves, how to think about your leverage, and how to think about contracts with Jotham Stein, employment attorney and author.  

Listen to learn how you can protect yourself and your career!

You can learn more about Jotham at Jotham.com, Instagram and LinkedIn.

Thanks, as always for listening!  If you got some value and enjoyed the show, please leave us a review here:


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Our Guests

George Grombacher


Jotham Stein

Episode Transcript

Come on

white blood. This is George G. And the time is right. welcome today’s guests Dr. Powerful Jonathan Stein. Jonathan, are you ready to do this 100% And thanks for having me on the show, Georgie, excited to have you on. Jotham is a principal of the Law Offices of Josh Stein. He’s got over 20 years, 25 years representing entrepreneurs, C suite executives and venture capitalists. He is the author of negotiate like a cel. Jonathan, tell us a little about your personal life more about your work and why you do what you do.

Jotham Stein 0:44
Well, I live here in Half Moon Bay, California, which is just over the hill, we say from Silicon Valley. And, in fact, I wrote the book part of all the book or almost all the book negotiated like a CEO in the Pete’s coffee house over here and halfmoon Bay. Nice. Yeah. And why did I write the book, I wrote the book, because I wanted to help people understand the employment world, how to protect themselves, what happens, all the good things and the bad things. I’ve been doing this for more than 25 years. And I one of the things I realized is not many people go into an employment relationship or have an employment relationship, they get fired from an employer, you know, their employer, and they didn’t know all the dynamics that that were there, they didn’t understand the documents that I didn’t understand how to read the tea leaves. And so since I’ve been doing it for so long, and I’ve seen not everything, for sure, because I learned something new every day. But I’ve seen so much I thought, Okay, I’m gonna like to really help people. And so and have fun writing the book. And so I did both of those things. The book itself will help any of your listeners to, if they’re at all interested in a career trajectory, or interested in protecting themselves are at all interested in learning about the employment world and, and I had fun writing in

both the the fictional the nonfiction part. And then I also wrote 50 United stories, which are completely fictional, but they’re sort of repeat events that happened, that I had a good time doing and as well as writing them.

george grombacher 2:18
Nice, even number there, Jonathan 59.

Jotham Stein 2:22
That’s because I wrote the book and then counted them up afterwards. Okay. There’s actually a 60s story in the 60s 60 and 61 in the acknowledgments section, so I could guess it six years 61, but there’s 59. In the text part, the acknowledgments, I hope, are interesting, too. There’s two there, those are not fictional, but everything else, the other ones are fictional and, but they’re, they’re built based on my experience of 25 years, you know, repeat sort of stories, if you are in the, the, you know, the book publishing world, we call them genres, I just call them genres of events that repeat themselves.

george grombacher 3:00
Yeah, I can. I can only imagine you talked about how you learn every day. And I’m sure that there are those 59 or so different things that seem to happen over and over again, for people with different positions at different companies all over the world, probably, because we’re human beings and human nature, and all that good stuff. So I’m always fascinated, I appreciate sitting in a coffee shop and doing writing because I find myself doing the same thing. Did you have a routine that that you went through to actually write the book?

Jotham Stein 3:32
Well, I think I Yeah, the routine was go sit in a pizza coffee house, because that’s where you’re gonna have, that’s where I can write, I couldn’t, I like to write separately from where I where I work. And the work is either and have an office in Palo Alto or work in my office in my house, but I like needed to get away from that. And so as long as I got to the Pete’s I knew I was going to be productive, the issue was getting to the pizza, right? You know, being able to spend some time there and not in the regular work I have or other things that are going on in my life. And so I would sit down, and in my younger younger days, I hated noise around I couldn’t concentrate with noise around now. It’s a beautiful thing. It just it’s like a, like, a cloud of of productivity that helps me and I because it’s just the den in the background. And and so I opened up my computer and and start writing. And, and that was basically my process. Nice.

george grombacher 4:28
All right. So you talked about how this book is for anybody that that I forget how you put it but wants to have a career. So for people who are listening, would you say hey, this really applies to you if you intend to be working in an employer employee relationship, or is it too early for some people to be thinking about it? Is it too late?

Jotham Stein 4:51
Well, it’s never too early. So someone This is book is written for everyone it’s it’s titled is negotiate like a CEO because the idea is Didn’t CEOs protect themselves in employment, the overwhelming number and two, a new a very strong employment agreement or which is nothing more than a severance agreement negotiated on day one, or a strong offer letter. So you can only negotiate for such things if you have leverage, but a lot of people have a lot more leverage than they think, particularly in this world where the employees are out there looking to hire good employees, it’s sometimes a one line sentence in an offer letter in a one pager off letter, it could make all the difference in protecting an individual if things go wrong. But even if you have no leverage, if you’re trying to someday be like a CEO, or never don’t even want to be like a CEO, but you want to improve the trajectory of your career, my book lays out many of the things you should look out for many things, you should think about the tea leaves, and so forth. So even though you might not have leverage at the beginning of your career, and I want to stress that some people have a lot more leverage than they think. But even if you didn’t, you go into a situation or your job fully informed. And that can make all the difference, because part of the information I talked about in the book is, you know, people fort trying to force you out. And that happens at all levels from the first year, first person who has been hired all the way up to the CEO. And if you see that tea leaves, you see those indicators, you’re probably better off getting a job somewhere else, or at least getting a job offer from somewhere else. So you’ve protected your downside. So that’s why this book can help. Literally the first, the first year, he’s just gotten out of college and getting a job all the way up to the CEO.

george grombacher 6:43
Think that makes a lot of sense. And he talks about how CEOs protect themselves. And that’s either through conditioning, it’s knowing how valuable and it’s a, it’s a self worth and a recognition of their worth in the marketplace. Why wouldn’t I as just a mid level person, or just getting started my career path, look at myself in that same way and act as if and start as I mean to go.

Jotham Stein 7:09
Because you’re joining an organization or a company and you hope that what you’re bringing is valuable to them. And listen, some people don’t have leverage and and early on your career, you don’t have as much leverage to be able to, to command protection, if you will, to be able to negotiate for production. But nonetheless, you are a person, you have L skills, you’re bringing that to a company as a mid level manager or as an early manager, or as a senior manager, but not yet at the C suite level. The company values that some companies honestly valued a lot more than others. But once they hire you, and once you’re good at your and they believe you’re going to be good at your position, they want to keep you there because unless they’re trying to force you out, but for the most part trying to build their company, they want to keep you there because you’re doing a good job for them, you’re going to be doing a good job for the shareholders down the road. And also the cost of of hiring somebody replacing somebody can be really quite high in many companies. And so that’s the reason that you should think positively about yourself and everything you bring to a company, even if you’re at a mid level position.

george grombacher 8:19
Yeah, I appreciate that. So you’ve mentioned these tea leaves and keep an eye out for an indicator that they’re trying to get rid of you or they’re trying to force you out. What what are some of those?

Jotham Stein 8:31
Well, being isolated, people suddenly changing review, you’ve always had good reviews, and suddenly you’re getting bad reviews or mediocre reviews, a change in your boss or a boss’s boss, and you you start getting a negative feedback. There’s many different things that can cause this isolation, passive aggressiveness and a boss. And so those are sort of the indicators, that’s really important to to understand and to take a step back and think about the other part is your own personality. Many people see they have the information that the writing’s on the wall for their career, but they don’t they don’t hear it in a sense, they don’t process it. And the best example I can give of something that’s in the book that has no relation to CEOs at all, but it’s good for everyone else is what’s called a performance improvement plan. I have a discussion of that, and I have one of the fictional stories is about that. And and what happens with performance improvement plans is they’re often not always but they’re often the kiss of employment death, the company is not giving you a performance improvement plan to improve your performance. They’re doing it to protect themselves, if you ever go and get fired and complain and bring a lawsuit, and they’re and so but many people get those performance improvement plans and they actually whereas a professional like myself or somebody who’s seen 100 of them or so were stories of 100 or representative people would say you have no chance to beat this performance improvement plan. You have no chance to be there, for any length of time, maybe they’ll accept your performance improvement plan and you’ll perform, but six months later, they’re going to force you out again, if you read the tea leaves, but by personality is so many people are so successful in their career so much in their job is so much part of them that they believe they can succeed. And that’s a perfect example of a situation where the tea leaves can be there, the writing can be on the wall, but then the, you know, what’s in our brain here, doesn’t want to accept that and believes that, hey, we’ve always done it well, before we can, we can make it work. And there’s a discussion in the book about that. Now, now, why that is doesn’t relate to CEOs, because people don’t put board of directors don’t put CEOs and CEOs don’t put their management team, their senior management team on peps performance improvement plans, they just walk in and say, Well, it’s time for you to leave, or some other version of, you know, please resign, or we’re firing you. They they don’t do PRP performance improvement plans.

george grombacher 10:58
Got it? I think that makes a lot of sense. Does practicing law in California, is I imagine that that adds more complexity and nuance than in other states, or am I wrong?

Jotham Stein 11:12
It’s complete complexity and nuance for sure. But I’m only licensed in five states. So I can’t say that it’s more complex or more nuanced than another state. And so that I just don’t have that information. And, and so I can tell you, though, that in the world of particularly like Silicon Valley, entrepreneurial world, there’s a lot of complexity because there are many different areas of the law that can be implicated, or you have to consider when somebody walks in the door and says, I’m an entrepreneur, and and here’s my issue, or I’m an entrepreneur, and I want to protect myself.

george grombacher 11:50
What percentage, roughly speaking, do you think people actually read their read their offer letters and employment contracts?

Jotham Stein 12:00
Not so large, I don’t know the anecdotal but I can tell you. There’s an awful lot everybody’s going to read that it’s one or two pages, the problem is they may not understand it. And they might not understand what the company is protecting themselves against. Remember, the company is giving you an offer letter that says at will employment, because the company is protecting itself. So then you get up to the employment agreement, which is 345 pages, whatever, eight pages, 15 pages, and I would say most people do their best at reading it. But again, not understanding the terms, not understanding the words, not understanding why these clauses are in there. But when you get to very important things like stock option agreements, which equity, you get stock options and restricted stock unit agreements, profits, interest agreements, I would say that very small number of people actually read and understand them. And certainly don’t read and understand the documents that are that are incorporated in those, which is really critical, because one sentence changed, can really have the difference between screwing you down the road if things don’t go right and helping you down the road, protecting it down the road.

george grombacher 13:10
How much influence can I have on that though? employee says, Okay, great. You got the job here. Here’s your here’s your employment agreement. Here’s your stock option plan and all that. How much influence can I have on that?

Jotham Stein 13:23
Well, they you won’t have any influence on the plan itself. But the actual document that’s given to you whether it’s an employment agreement, an offer letter, or the stock option, agreement, the issue is whether you’ve negotiated protection, and that’s one of the themes of the book is trying to protect yourself as much as possible. And it depends on leverage, how much does the other side want you and how much are you willing to push? And that’s really context dependent. It depends on what you’re doing. It depends on how much the company wants you expect. It depends on how much the what the potential employers sort of organizational structure is, and experiences. It depends on what parts of the country are in and what and what perhaps what what areas, or fields. So let’s say, for example, I’ll use the example of coders people do coding very in very high demand. And they can demand in a one sentence protection in their employment and their offer letter just coming out of just coming out of undergraduate more than a lot of other people can can demand at a mid level because they’re in such high demand. So and imagine a situation where a company wants is short of coders or engineers, and it’s a hot market, which it is now and somebody asked for one line sentence if you terminate my employment for any reason, but cause and then you narrowly defined cause you will accelerate the vesting of my stock options by one year or two years. Right. That’s one sentence period. That’s the employment agreement. That’s one sentence in a in an offer letter that’s possible, sometimes, depending on what your leverages similarly, if you terminate my employment for any He’s and you will pay me three months of separation pay or severance pay is also something that in one sentence period, sometimes the, even a young employee or a mid level employee can, can Can, can get. And they certainly often can get it either leverage increases, if they have a job, and they’re now laterally moving to another job. And but you know, there’s certain companies that never give protection to anybody. That’s their company policy, except for maybe the CEO and the CFO, they always get it. But but in other situations, that’s why I say it’s context dependent. Even a young employee mid level employee could sometimes get that protection.

george grombacher 15:40
I like it. Well, it certainly strikes me that that we are living in a time right now, where if you are good at what you do, you are in high demand, particularly in your neck of the woods, but I’m sure it is that way all over the country, in every city and state. So why not ask for the things that you want? Why not negotiate like a CEO? Why not get a copy of the book, Jonathan, let’s just let’s just take ownership of our careers for God’s sakes.

Jotham Stein 16:08
Yes, I couldn’t agree more. If if you read the book and the 59, fictional stories to underscore it, you’re likely to say, you know, hey, that happened to me, or that happened to a friend I knew about. So all I know about. But if you want, you can get a copy of the book at amazon, you can Google negotiate like a CEO, and it will come up and probably through Amazon. If you wanted to learn more about the book before buying it, you’re welcome to go to negotiate like a ceo.net that’s negotiate like a ceo.net. And you’ll be more information about the book more information about me, too, or the fictional stories I believe are on the website there to entice you to your listeners to potentially read it and, and you know, other other other information about the book and I myself,

george grombacher 17:00
love it. Well, I don’t want to forget Jotham people are ready for that difference making tip, what do you have for them.

Jotham Stein 17:08
If you have any leverage at all, make sure you go into an employment relationship, your next job with your eyes wide open, and make sure you do everything possible to protect yourself in employment, whether that protection is protecting your equity, stock stock options, but not or whether it’s separation pay, or whether it’s getting paid medical premiums, Cobra premiums on exit, protect yourself or something else that’s important to you protect yourself as employment, so that when you go into your job, you can be free to do the best job possible and don’t have to worry as much about about what would happen if something goes wrong.

george grombacher 17:48
I think that is great stuff that definitely gets come to awesome. Thank you so much for coming on. Again. If you enjoyed this as much as I did, show Jotham your appreciation and share today’s show with a friend who also appreciates good ideas go to negotiate like a ceo.net. And check out two of those 59 stories and pick up a copy of negotiate like a CEO wherever you buy your books. And certainly, I think that we all know that we’re supposed to really value ourselves and everything that you’ve been talking about resonates with me so much because we are valuable and no matter what stage of our careers we’re in, we need to treat ourselves as such. So I appreciate your work. Thank you again.

Jotham Stein 18:29
Thanks for having me on your show.

george grombacher 18:31
And until next time, keep fighting the good fight. We’re all in this together.

Unknown Speaker 18:36

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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