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Keeping It in the Family

It's clich�, not to mention highly dubious, to say you're leaving your high-powered job to "spend time with your family." But a couple of recent departees insist they really meant it.

"As a project manager, you don't get to go and see what's behind the curtain," he says about his six-month turn in sales. "You can't always put a monetary value on getting new skills or doing something that gives you a springboard to get to the next level."

Chew discovered that while sales appealed to his competitiveness, he had no real passion for "chasing clients," as he calls it. But the experience in sales and marketing helped give him the confidence to subsequently start his own Web-marketing and -consulting business, which he ran for two years before joining Yahoo earlier this year.

George Dow, a Minneapolis-based executive coach, says there are other situations that may warrant accepting a pay cut. Older professionals, for example, may decide to downshift into jobs that are still challenging but not as time intensive.

This was, in part, the situation for a 56-year-old human resources executive who left a high-six-figure salary and a partnership in a Midwestern financial-services firm for a lower salary and a lesser position at a Silicon Valley company closer to her family. The executive, who requested anonymity because she doesn't have her current employer's permission to speak to the press, resigned from her previous organization after a leadership change left her feeling shut out of important organizational decisions. But, she acknowledges, the decision wasn't easy because she had equity in her previous company and a large degree of responsibility.

"To genuinely walk away from a lucrative situation because it's not personally fulfilling is difficult," she says. "[But] we didn't have a lot of debt, and we no longer required the same level of income." In the end, she says, she has mixed feelings about her decision, saying she underestimated the adjustment involved in starting over in a new city and a new company, but that she enjoys the new job's challenges and being able to spend more time with her family.

Public relations executive J. Scott Punk has been relatively content to trade salary for experience and quality of life. The 44-year-old executive has seen his salary drop more than 20 percent since 2002, when he was a director in Washington D.C. for one of the world's largest public relations companies.

Punk left the P.R. firm in 2003 for a high-level position at MRB Communications, a Washington-based advertising and public relations company with just 26 employees, since he thought that MRB's corporate culture would be a better fit for him. But the boutique firm couldn't pay him what he had previously earned, so he negotiated a four-day week and has also earned substantial annual bonuses of about 10 to 15 percent of his yearly salary.

Punk was happy at MRB, but when his partner was given a temporary assignment in London in May 2007, Punk jumped at the chance to live abroad, thinking he would get by on freelance consulting work. But company his partner worked for, ESI International, wound up offering Punk a job as senior manager of global public relations. He again negotiated for a four-day workweek and a full benefits package while telecommuting from his London home. The tradeoff? Another, smaller pay cut.

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