Brit Wittman, CCP, CECP, turns to comics relief when he seeks refuge from the demands of managing executive compensation for a major corporation. Chevron’s general manager for executive compensation has been collecting comic books for 40 years.
"I’d been doing it in secret for a long time but now my secret is out," Wittman said with a laugh. "I’ve been collecting since I was 10. I read them and save them. I am more of a collector than a seller or trader. It gives you a lifelong pursuit. It is a nice outlet. There are online communities and annual conventions, where some people even dress up as their favorite heroes — I don’t."
The 50-year-old has been a total rewards practitioner about half his life. He moved to the Chevron position on Oct. 30, 2017, after nine years in a similar job at Intel. During much of his career, he’s volunteered with WorldatWork, including his current position, secretary of the Society of Certified Professionals Board.
Comic Book Cover
Size of collection: 30,000
Oldest comic: “Detective Comics” (No. 13), from March 1938
Most valuable comic: A first edition of Wonder Woman’s initial appearance from the early 1940s (approximate value $50,000).
Favorite characters: Wonder Woman and Batman. “Batman is easy to relate to because he doesn’t have a super power, he just wants to do what’s right. Plus, he is really rich so that appeals to my exec comp side; he is CEO of Wayne Enterprises.”
Comic book market: “There is quite a collectible market right now. Popular characters are in high demand, but it is all about condition. The majority of my collection has little or no value, but I have a few gems”
Why find time to volunteer at WorldatWork?
I’ve learned a lot from WorldatWork — the courses, conferences, webinars and Workspan. I want to give back to the profession and to the organization that has helped me be successful. Plus, it offers networking opportunities, which is a great way to stay current.
What do you do at Chevron?
My duties include maintaining relationships with the compensation committee and board of directors; working with independent consultants, who have become a bigger player on the executive compensation scene; planning annual salary structures — pay, bonuses and stock grants; dealing with regulatory filings; developing competitive compensation packages to attract top talent; benchmarking data to stay ahead of the trends; and shareholder engagement, which has become a bigger part of the job.
What have you learned so far in your role?
Executive compensation covers about 450 of Chevron’s 50,000 employees, or just less than 1% of the workforce. It’s a fascinating area. Executives make up no more than 5% of the total payroll, but changes in compensation start at the top and lead the way. It sets the tone and helps drive strategy. Pay is aligned with performance more than at any other level. Plus, their compensation is a lot more public.
Who Is Brit Wittman?
Married to Enid Sorkowitz with son Aidan, 15, and daughter Ava, 12.
Hobbies: Martial arts, nearing a black belt in Chung Kuo Chuan after earning a black belt in Tae Kwon Do several years ago; skiing (an interest renewed by his daughter); video games, which he plays with his son. “It’s a way to spend time with him and get to know his friends, who say their dads won’t play with them.”
Frequent flyer: He spends much of the workweek at Chevron’s San Ramon, Calif., headquarters then flies back to the family’s Portland-area home. “Geography is becoming less import-ant, but you need to build relation-ships first. Once I do that at Chevron, and learn more about a new industry, I hope I will be able to work remotely more.”
Notable compensation quote: “The intersection of people and money is fascinating.”
- 2017-present: Chevron Corp., General Manager, Executive Compensation
- 2008-2017: Intel Corp., Director of Executive Compensation
- 2006-2008: Dell Corp., Director of Executive Compensation
- 1999-2006: Cisco Systems Inc., Di-rector of Leadership Development/Director of Executive Compensation
- 1994-1999: Lucent Technologies Inc., Compensation Manager, Executive Compensation and Benefits
- 1990-1994: AT&T Corp., Compensation Coordinator, Executive Human Resources
Advice for a total rewards professional considering a major career move like you recently made?
Don’t make a move lightly. You need to fully understand what you want to get out of a change. Sometimes people want to leave an organization. They think the grass is going to be greener and they don’t do their due diligence. A couple of times in my career, I have fallen for the ‘shiny penny’ and made a move that was not best for me. But don’t be afraid to move. There were times in my career when I was ready to move long before I did. Think holistically — plan a career, not just the next job.
Where do you see the total rewards field heading?
We are at the dawn of the age of data. Data analysis will align compensation with performance management data. The next five to 10 years will be very strategic. There will be more interpretation and analysis, automation, algorithms and robotics. The compensation department will still exist and will be much more strategic. There will be more blurring of the lines between full-time and contract workers while geography will become less of a factor. Executive compensation will continue to operate under the bright spotlight of regulatory scrutiny as executives will be rewarded more for good results and good behavior. Compensation and benefits for all employees will continue to be one of an organizations’ greatest expenses and we will be facing new challenges in how to maximize the return on that investment. Those challenges are why I get up in the morning.
Economics was a reasonably good preparation for reward, and I took things like business policy and industrial relations, so that gave me an insight into some aspects of HR. I like what sits behind the numbers, and I was more interested in asking “Why?” than “What?”
As a buyer with Marathon Oil Co., some of my work overlapped with benefit provisions — the company provided you with cars — and I became responsible for sourcing cars and dealing with maintenance, and that got transferred to human resources. I ended up working on the reward and benefits team, started writing job descriptions and got my first exposure to job evaluation and benchmarking. I remember being quite surprised that it was possible to ring up a competitor, ask your equivalent, “How much do you pay for a geophysicist?” and they would tell you.