At a meeting I attended recently a CEO of a large corporation made a comment that I thought was rather interesting. He was amazed that today's college graduates changed their professional careers, on the average, at least three times and switched companies six times. He said in his own case he has worked for one company all his professional career, working up the ladder in all facets of the corporation, finally becoming chairman.

I can understand his frustration. There are some companies, like his, that spend a lot of money and time training people they have identified as potential leaders only to have them leave for jobs in other companies.

Part of the answer is that the economy has been expanding for the longest period in recenthistory. The demand for workers has been as great as it has ever been. Switching jobs, therefore, has become a lot easier. But that is only part of the answer.

At one time people grew up with a company; in some cases, grandfather, father and son worked for the same company. People developed a tremendous loyalty for the company they worked for. There were company outings, people wore company logos on their shirts and caps, the company would sponsor baseball, bowling and golf leagues. It was all one big happy family.

When changes did occur, they were not unexpected, and the employees knew, in advance, how these changes would affect them. Management, for its part, did what was necessary to keep the company viable and competitive by investing in new products, facilities and training to update the skills of their workers. So what happened?

Two words: stock options. Stock options have become a major part of a manager's income. The value of his stock options increases as the value of the company's stock increases. Therefore, any strategy that does not increase the value of the company's stock is given a lower priority.

Let someone else develop the new products, and if necessary, they can be acquired in other ways.

The same goes for new technology. Unfortunately, this rationale has meant that many American companies have come out with products and technologies that were first developed by some foreign company. Many American companies seem to be more interested in restructuring, or with whom they can merge, or what parts of the company they can spin off, or whatever else they can think of to drive up the stock price.

So a lot of the old companies that granddad and dad grew up with have disappeared, swallowed by large conglomerates- or worse, some venture-capital group.

With all this shuffling and reshuffling of companies and parts of companies it should be no surprise that employee loyalty, for the most part, no longer exists. Workers no longer see their career as a straight line eventually ending at or near "the top."

Today the employee feels that the top officers of the company are only interested in themselves, instead of the well-being of the company, so why should they feel any different? So, if an opportunity should come up with a different company for more money or a better position, they'll take it without the slightest feeling of remorse.

On the other hand, if a company needs to fill a position, it wouldn't hesitate to hire someone from outside, if necessary. This is another sign of the times.

In the past, a company took pride in promoting from within. A company would only hire from outside if it needed special expertise that didn't exist on the inside and it would dramatically benefit the company.

There was a time when top officers considered it one of their most important responsibilities to identify potential leaders and personally plan their development. These candidates were given various assignments and were only promoted after they proved themselves. The ones that reached the top had experience in all areas of the business and demonstrated they could be successful leaders.

Many managers have abdicated this responsibility. If they need to fill a position, the head hunters find the required people. The execs still get their fat salaries and bonuses, but their jobs are made a lot easier.

The bad thing is that the development of talented inside employees is no longer given top priority, and consequently career paths become obscure. When outsiders are brought in to fill top managerial positions, talented inside employees see their chances for promotion considerably reduced.

When outside opportunities present themselves for more money or better positions, no one should be amazed when these employees jump ship.

So who's to blame?