My first ever part-time job paid $1.85 an hour, which was minimum wage in those days, and my inaugural full-time job out of college I earned $11,500, with no health benefits.

Fortunately, I was a fairly robust young buck circa 1980 and managed to sidestep any major health-related disaster that could have sent me to the proverbial poorhouse — not that I wasn’t halfway there already.

Once I made the transition from daily newspapers to b-to-b publishing, I was naively astonished at the salaries and perks accorded the heads of the industry associations that I covered.

When I asked if the high-to-stratospheric salary scale was commonplace throughout major trade groups, one veteran editor asked me rhetorically, “Why do you think most of them never leave?”

And while it’s true that many top-level vacancies at major trade associations stop just short of requiring papal smoke from a chimney to elect a successor, and even though I’m battle-hardened after 17 years in the field, I was nonetheless more than a little surprised when our office received a Form 990 from the American Institute of CPAs for the fiscal year ended July, 31, 2002.

The return, of course, detailed all requisite institute finances and, as mandated for non-profit groups, disclosed last year’s salary and benefits paid to institute officers as well as president and chief executive Barry Melancon.

According to the documents, Melancon was paid a salary of $747,000 and an additional $214,458 in benefits for an aggregate package of $961,458.

That represented a 22-percent increase over the prior year, in what could be generously termed as “rough” for both the institute and the accounting profession overall.

Nice work if you can get it. If my math is correct, that’s more than 83 times what I earned in my first post.

Last week, one of the preeminent national newspapers featured a story in which they compared Melancon’s 2001-2002 salary with those of, among others, federal regulators — Securities and Exchange Commission chairman William Donaldson specifically — and stated that the head of the financial watchdog received annual compensation of roughly $142,000.

Personally, I think that’s an apples-to-oranges comparison. No one goes into government regulatory work to earn an exorbitant salary.

If you want a more accurate barometer, compare Melancon’s salary to those of other heads of major non-profit trade organizations with large membership numbers and draw your own conclusions.

I’ve also received a host of emails from members demanding to know how someone could be given a merit increase of that size when the institute has been largely stripped of any regulatory and self-policing power and was lambasted in the media for doing little during the string of massive accounting scandals. Several missives even pleaded for me to help to bring the institute salary structures to a “saner level.”

Allow me to reiterate what I told them: I do not contribute one dollar to any AICPA executive’s salary. Therefore, it’s not incumbent upon me to campaign for a change at the top.

It’s up to dues-paying members to convince the powers that be that maybe it’s time to take a closer look at those employee reviews before liberally handing out double-digit raises.

Twenty or so years ago a 22-percent increase would have put me at $14,030.

Damn, that would have been just enough to take a chance on a stock tip I received that year on a young technology company in Redmond, Wash.

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