In the last of Rob's interviews from PDX Con, he sits down to talk with Shams Jorjani, the last member of Paradox's old executive management team still with the company following the IPO and the arrival of new CEO Ebba Ljungerud. They discuss how the Swedish model in general and Paradox in particular attempt to balance the tension between financial and employee interests, as well as the challenges inherent in the pursuit of growth, as well as Shams' own changing role and perspective on the company.
Rob: I was talking to Johann the other night and hearing about his glorious life in Barcelona, hanging out with Fred. In so many words: dude sounds like he's got it made, he's pretty rich. The thing that occured to me is, no one can deny, Johann put in the fucking work, but at the same time, there's a lot of junior developers coming in to Paradox, it's a huge team now.
I think something that in the American model comes up is that a lot of people are on career ladders to nowhere, right? If you weren't in on the ground floor, you don't get the place in Barcelona, you're lucky to get retirement, what's like, how do you take care of the next generation of paradox talent?
Shams: That is, that is an incredibly good question. So, first of all––
Rob: You look like you got a fucking migraine during that question.
Shams: No it's—I wish he would just stop talking about as wealth. [Shams affects a slightly manic, put-upon demeanor] Like: 'We get it Johann: you're doing well!' It's fine. But it's also a counter reaction I think. Maybe Johann is the closest thing we have to you know, black hip hop stars in the U.S. When they make it they have to show it, right? Because he came from absolutely nothing. He was no—nobody's really super poor in Sweden, but he was really, really poor. So maybe it's a counter reaction to that.
But the question is super valid. I think it's probably safe to say that unless you get on board on the ground floor, you're not going to become rich through equity. There are of course tons of people who do become quite wealthy through you know, other means. We work in an industry where we're surrounded by Ubisoft's AAA office, DICE's AAA office, Epic's AAA office, all of them have surrounded us: Avalanche, Starbreeze, whatever.
Much like our games, we've decided that we do not want to get into an arms race over high salaries or making people rich quickly. There've been, you know, bonus schemes that Apple where car and autonomous car engineers have made some mad bonuses after a couple of years they've just retired. So you've got to set up a structure in your company where you're sustainable long term again, long term.
So what we try to do to maintain a strong value proposition and I think it is working for the most part is that we're recruiting a ton of senior people from DICE and EA who are stepping down in salary. Why? Because we can offer something that the other companies can't, a proper work-life balance. Nobody has to kind of buy a stack of adult diapers to make it through the crunch once every year. Everyone generally works 40 hour weeks, some people sometimes more, sometimes less.
So and we're very, very generous with lateral movement in the company, long paternity leaves maternity leaves, make the family work. And that's one of the reasons we gel quite well with Harebrained Schemes as well. They've always also had this as one of their selling points. You know, you can easily go to another company in Sweden and probably make more money but there's a difference, it comes back to what do you value? Is it money, is it time, is it the type of projects you work on, what is it? But we definitely need to improve in certain areas and continue to do well in the areas where we're stronger.
This transcript was edited for length and readability.
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