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Telstra chairman: If those darn kids can earn $5m playing Fortnite, why can't execs?

Plus: 35-year-old CEO who took over from dad blasts millennials for being entitled

The chairman of Aussie telco Telstra threw a bit of a strop at the firm's AGM in Sydney today, comparing exec pay packets to the vast amounts a small handful of lucky millennials can earn by being good at gaming's current hotness, Fortnite.

According to The Guardian, John Mullen told the meeting that big old money bags plonked on bosses' desks are often perceived as "immoral".

He warned that criticism over pay could dissuade talented execs from pursuing jobs in Australia's top companies.

Then, like an uninterested grandfather asking their video-gaming descendants if they've "won yet", Mullen turned his withering gaze on the Fortnite sensation.

"Young kids are earning $5m playing Fortnite," he said, "but when a business executive devotes a huge portion of their life... that it's somehow morally wrong they get rewarded for it."


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The comment was made to a backdrop of Oz shareholders trying to prise generous remunerations from executives' cold, dead hands. The Graun noted that last year a bunch of firms had received remuneration "strikes" (PDF), where a minimum of 25 per cent voted against bonuses in response to supposedly undesirable performance or decisions.

So it's unsurprising that Mullen might be feeling uneasy, but less so that he's not half wrong. The highest-earning professional Fortnite player has won more than $3m – and that's competitions alone, not including endorsements or income from simply streaming their own gameplay for viewers on platforms like Twitch, which could be enormous.

Every visitor to a stream is first plied with an ad, then subscriptions on top, which unlock little perks for viewers, are about $5 a pop, half of which goes to the streamer. Before his extraordinary defection from Twitch to Microsoft's rival service Mixer, Ninja, the biggest name on the Fortnite circuit, had 14 million followers and 50,000 subs. So do the maths.

However, if Mullen thinks it's easy to coin it playing a video game, he should know that you have to be very, very good at it (if you understand what's going on in this footage from a tournament, you're probably a millionaire).

It's the insane skill floor that keeps million of kiddiwonks glued to streams. They know they'll never get there, yet a talented few will. This summer a 15-year-old from Essex made headlines for winning more than $1m in a Fortnite tournament. The financial success of the game means developer Epic can float these astronomical jackpots – a trend that looks set to continue (until the sequel, at least).

However, the problem Mullen has is that people just don't understand why top managers are paid so much compared to those at the coalface who make things work. From the department of "Of course Forbes would publish this" came an an article that asked precisely that.

Millennial CEO speaks out on millennials

Next up on "Execs Say The Darndest Things" is one John Winning, of Australian white goods specialist Winning Group, whose father, also John Winning, one day woke the unemployed 19-year-old up and took him to work with him.

There, a Lion King-esque performance unfurled: "Look, Simba. Everything the light touches is our kingdom." And boom, a decade or so later, you're CEO.

The tear-jerker was retold in an interview with suits mag The CEO. Winning, now 35, who works at his family's business, criticised his own generation for being entitled.

"People are expecting more than what they put in," he told the Sydney Morning Herald. "Some of the people coming in for interviews, their expectation of what they should be paid versus how much they're expected to work is just crazy."

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As for that accursed generation, he said good workers are "few and far between", adding: "You train them up and by the time they've finished the two-month training, they're either looking for the next thing or asking for a promotion or more money.

"When I think of hustling, I think of rolling your sleeves up and working from early in the morning to late at night. They see hustling as a get-rich-quick scheme or another easy solution."

The problem? Inflated expectations due to posting the "best 1 per cent" of their lives on Instagram – a lifestyle he says they can't actually afford. "I think the world's living in this desperation of wanting more, and that's getting people into a lot of trouble," he said.

Still, Winning has displayed that "rare ability" to create value and overseen the company's expansion without – in his own words – knowing "what normal management is", while running an e-commerce website "when I knew nothing about technology, management or even retail".

Not all of us get that kind of opportunity. But, hey – at least you could always try your hand at Fortnite. ®

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