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LubesnGreases has completed its Lubricant Industry Salary Survey, an exclusive study conducted every other year that polls the lubricants industry on compensation for key management positions. Information was gathered directly from individuals who work for lubricant manufacturers and distributors, and was compiled and analyzed by an independent statistical and research firm. We present the results in this three-part series.

October: Plant Managers

November: Sales and Marketing Executives

This Month: Laboratory & Technical

Managing a lubricant companys laboratory or directing its research and technology efforts involves a lot more than just cooking up chemicals and spitting out test results.

Companies prize the leader who can oversee a budget, manage a staff, juggle time and resources, communicate with other departments, create a steady flow of products, and be a steward for quality and the environment.

Whew. With a job description like that, its no wonder the average salary for laboratory/R&D managers at lubricant companies tops six figures. Career opportunities are at a very high level right now, adds an industry recruiter, and thats translating into higher pay and attractive incentives for qualified job-seekers.

Ken Pelczarski of Pelichem Associates, an executive search firm in Downers Grove, Ill., specializes in matching lubricant firms and professionals. Despite todays shaky economic picture, Pelczarski says his firm has seen no drop in the number of job openings for technical and laboratory directors as the year draws to a close. Many companies are following up on their plans to spend on hiring, and were not seeing problems at this point with them pulling back due to concern about the credit crunch.

On the other hand, fewer candidates are able or willing to relocate now, he added, especially to cities that are known as high-cost-of-living areas. Also limiting relocation is the poor housing market, which is tying many executives to their current positions. In a situation where the prospective hire may need to relocate, there is some reluctance, Pelczarski is finding, as it is more difficult for them to sell their homes to move away.

For these reasons, he added, companies may find they have trouble right now finding a great number of strong candidates. Some of the best managers are staying put, and that means a smaller pool of qualified candidates. Lube companies are finding they need to hire locally – which obviously narrows their options – or dig deeper to help with relocation expenses. Either way it may take a year or more to find the right person, Pelczarski said.

Kari Mallory, vice president, administration, at lube blender and marketer Royal Manufacturing, says it can take even longer than that, so rather than wait until a specific position comes open, her Tulsa-based company is watchful at all times for talented professionals.

We network all the time, and always keep our ears open for any kind of good people, Mallory said. Then we try to find a way to bring them on board when we can, not just wait until we have a specific need.

This takes persistence and patience, she conceded. Most recently, her company wooed a noted grease expert from India, with a PhD and strong formulating experience. Besides needing the help of an immigration attorney, Royal also had to wait out several rounds of visa lotteries, until it at last won the right to bring him aboard. Dr. Anoop Kumar joined the company in early October, two years after the hiring process began.

Looking at Numbers

For R&D and laboratory chiefs, the good news is that the tight job market means many are well rewarded. According to the LubesnGreases 2008 Lubricants Industry Salary Survey, such managers make an average $114,000 a year. Thats right in line with the average $113,700 paid nationwide for all managers in the natural sciences area, per the U.S. Department of Labor. And its almost $7,000 more than the respondents in this job category made in 2006. A wide range of salaries are included in this years results. The highest-paid lab/R&D manager reported making $266,400 a year; the lowest made $40,000. In 2006, the high and low salaries were $240,000 and $48,000.

Its important to remember that the pool of respondents is completely confidential and varies each time the survey is conducted, so year-to-year comparisons cannot be made. Still, this years survey found many of the same underlying trends as ever: Larger companies generally pay better. The more people a manager supervises, the better the compensation. Geography does play a role, especially where the cost of living is acknowledged to be high.

If you went into the technical department at a lube manufacturer, who would you find in charge? The average manager is just under 50 years old, and has 22 years of experience, our Salary Survey shows. This department leader has been with the company for 12 years, spending the past seven in this job.

Chances also are fairly good – but not bankable – that the manager is male. Eighty-six percent of the respondents in this job category were men and 14 percent were women. Thats a much higher percentage of women than seen in the plant manager and sales/marketing manager segments of this years survey, where women were only 5 percent and 6 percent of the respondents, respectively.

Staff Loads

All of the laboratory/R&D managers responding to the salary survey work for lubricant manufacturers, none for lube distributors. And they say they supervise an average of five people. (The median is two employees.)

Thats important because the pay scale definitely climbs steeply for managers who have larger numbers of employees under their eye. Ten percent of the respondents have more than 12 people reporting to them, and they make an average $158,000 a year. Those supervising 6 to 12 people – 13 percent of the respondents – report making an average of $121,000 a year. The rest of the respondents have lighter staffing loads, with five employees or fewer, and report their average pay is $106,000.

Pelichems Pelczarski sees lab manager and technical director salaries in roughly that range, or even a bit higher. Quite a few recent hires weve seen have been in the range of $130,000 to $150,000, for the highly qualified individual who is managing five to 10 people, he said.

Geography also plays a strong role in how well managers are paid. Respondents in the U.S. Southwest reported the strongest average salaries, at $157,000; median salary for the region was $144,350. Next-highest pay went to respondents in the Northeast, who average $125,000 (median: $110,000). And almost 30 percent of the respondents hailed from the Northcentral region, where salaries average only $99,000, with a median of $91,350.

Beyond the Degree

Another factor that seems to make a difference in pay is professional credentials. LubesnGreases asked lab and technical managers if they held Certified Lubrication Specialist status from the Society of Tribologists and Lubrication Engineers, and 34 of our 92 respondents said they do. These CLS holders average $116,500 a year, $4,000 more than those without the credentials. Overall though, other factors such as number of employees supervised, geographic region and size of company appear to be a much stronger predictor of earning power.

Is gender another factor? Women lab/R&D managers report somewhat lower average salaries, at $93,300, than the men who responded ($117,500). But there are a number of differences that may account for this gender gap. The women respondents tend to be a few years younger on average than their male counterparts (47 years old for the women, versus 50 for the men), and have an average of 16.5 years experience. The men average 22.6 years in the field, giving them six more years of earning history.

Also, two-thirds of the women say they work for companies with 100 or fewer employees, where salaries tend to be lower overall. Of the men, 45 percent have landed jobs at companies with 500-plus employees, where the top salaries are earned.

Raises and More

Looking ahead, laboratory/technical/R&D managers have reason to feel valued. Eighty-eight percent of them say they received a raise in salary in the past 12 months, and 65 percent expect to see a bonus this year. Others say they expect stock (17 percent) and profit sharing (28 percent) for their efforts this year, but only 2 percent earn a commission as part of their compensation.

Thats in keeping with the trends seen by Pelichems Pelczarski. More perks, special benefits, relocation help – were seeing all of these offered for the right candidates, he said. And were also seeing some companies going outside their normal compensation scale, to offer sign-on bonuses, temporary living allowances and very generous relocation packages.

For the lab manager or technology director who is ready for a change, Pelczarski said the same job-seeking skills are needed now as ever. You need to network as much as you can, discreetly, and make yourself known to a good recruiter.

And from the companys side of the table, even if you cant offer the best salary, you need to lay out what other things you can offer, like a good working environment, assistance with relocating, benefits and especially the opportunity to advance.

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