Monday, November 30, 2009

The Style Factor In Leadership

Whether you’re heading up a group at work, directing the global operations of a major corporation or managing a team of little league or pro athletes, your leadership style is often the critical factor in how successful you’ll be.

I was reminded of that a couple of weeks ago as I watched the NY Yankees parade up New York City’s Canyon of Heroes as the City honored them for capturing their 27th World Series title.

At the center of all the joy and jubilation stood Joe Girardi, the Yankees manager who led them to a phenomenally successful season and who basked in the glow of a job universally seen as well done.

Girardi was widely praised for blending the disparate personalities on this team of multi-millionaire superstars, including those newly added to the team, and creating an atmosphere among the players that recognized the maturity and wisdom of his veteran players along with the free-spirited nature of his younger talent.

What a difference a year makes

Interestingly, this was the same Joe Girardi who, a year earlier, had been castigated by the NYC press, for his failure to get the Yankees to the playoffs after 12 straight years of achieving that goal under his predecessor.

Too stiff, too aloof, too much of a disciplinarian screamed the media as Girardi failed to get the Yankees to the playoffs in 2008. They said his leadership style rubbed the veteran players the wrong way and was better suited to working with young and inexperienced players who needed the strong direction and authoritarian approach that he displayed.

His way or the highway

While it was widely acknowledged that he was a great tactician and a master baseball strategist it was often quoted that he could be prickly and difficult to get along with and lacked the skills needed to lead a team like the Yankees.

To back up their claim, the media pointed to his short stint as manager of the Florida Marlins in 2004, where, in spite of being named Manager of the Year for his work on the field, he was fired by ownership for his unwillingness to work well or get-along with the team’s top management.

They compared him to Tom Coughlin, another New York City sports leader, who as coach of the NY football Giants was famous for his command and control management style best exemplified by fining players who showed up 5 minutes early for meetings because he thought that was too late.

Never too old to change

And they reminded Girardi, that after consistently failing to get the Giants to the Promised Land, the 62 year old Coughlin, also recognized as a brilliant tactician, made a dramatic change in his management style by dropping his dogmatic approach and recognizing the individual needs of his players. It was that change that was cited as the key to the Giants victory in the 2008 Super Bowl and Coughlin’s own parade up New York City’s Canyon in February of that year.

It looks like the press might have been right because after the let down experienced by the Yankees in ’08, Girardi approached the 2009 season with a looser, more collaborative approach that in the parlance of the management gurus went from an authoritarian to a participative style of management.

His new found management style was credited with making the Yankees more relaxed, more focused and more productive.

The takeaway – functional expertise is important, leadership skills are an imperative.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Executive Engagement: Reversing The Negative Fallout Of 2009

Companies claim “our people are our most important asset” … but 2009 tested that assertion and makes me wonder how strongly they believe it.

Years of corporate surveys have shown that the key factors influencing executives’ engagement are opportunities to use their talent as well as increased career development and training. But in tough economic times like these, many companies act like it’s a lesson unlearned and drastically cut their employee development efforts.

Now, the results of those cuts are starting to show.

A recent Watson Wyatt survey found that engagement among high performers and executives – the populations companies can least afford to disengage – is down a staggering 23% and the same survey indicated a decline of 20% among those who would recommend their company as a good place to work.

That’s clearly not good news for attracting, involving and retaining valued employees and portends difficult times ahead in the war for talent when the recession ends.

Misplaced priorities

Most companies spend big bucks for outplacement and severance on those they exit as a way to reduce stress and help their former employees gain greater control over their careers. but for those who are retained, companies have provided little or no support.

Yet these folks are under greater pressure, their workloads have increased and their career aspirations have been put on hold.

How come? Doesn’t it make sense to offer help to those who stay as well as to those who go?

Retention by fear

Frightened, insecure, overworked and disgruntled executives are now more common than ever.

Yet, even though they know that sustained double digit unemployment, hiring freezes and reduced home and investment valuations have produced a thick layer of nervous and unhappy leaders – many companies appear not to care.

That lack of concern sends a message to workers throughout their organizations that they should just be grateful they have a job. And that message is getting through loud and clear.

I coach enough execs to know that many are not only worried about the possibility of losing their jobs, but are upset that their workload is growing longer, their objectives are beyond “stretch”, their future prospects appear limited and the recognition for their efforts seems non-existent.

That doesn’t bode well for them, the companies they work for or the economy as a whole.

A simple fix

Many companies cite recent economic conditions as the reason they’ve reduced expenditures on their employee development efforts.

Unfortunately, they used a hatchet instead of a scalpel to cut those costs and lost sight of the fact that programs that enhance career development – and give executives opportunities to maximize their contributions and really help their employers – are low-ticket items with the potential for high-ticket returns.

The best and most evolved of companies know that, now more than ever, they need their executives to be at the top of their game. They continue to invest in their people and recognize that it doesn’t cost much to instill and maintain a culture of career awareness and growth.

It’s time for others to learn that lesson and reverse the downward spiral of executive engagement that 2009 brought.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Networking Not Working For Today's Job Seeker

Looking for an executive-level job? One that offers financial opportunity, challenge and satisfaction ... even during times of double digit unemployment?

Then forget all you’ve heard about networking in a job search ... it usually doesn't work.

An old and outdated approach

The conventional job hunting wisdom says that you should network incessantly. The more the better, with the hope that someone can point you towards a job. Keep smiling, dialing, texting and emailing and get your resume out to as many people as possible.

Well, how’s that been working for you? If you’re like most job seekers, the longer you search, the more precipitous is the drop in activity ... with each day bringing less activity and fewer responses.

You network more, but with less to show for it. Why? Because the process is flawed.

Why traditional networking doesn’t work

Most execs assume that networking is about meeting the greatest number of people possible and telling them you're looking for a job. Unfortunately, the usual result of that activity is that a lot of people know you’re out of work … and that's about it.

As executive job seekers eventually find out, it's not about how many people know you're looking... and it's not about people keeping an eye out for that particular job you want.

That rarely works.

First of all, people don't usually hear about specific positions that match your needs and secondly, after a week or so, with many other more pressing items on their plate, they simply push your concerns right off it.

If "give me your resume ... I'll keep an eye out for any openings" is the response you've been getting, then you already know how accurate that is.

Think like an investor

Often the best opportunities are not advertised or on the desks of executive recruiters.

We know that the truly golden opportunities are "company-centric." They're based on the unique needs, challenges and opportunities that are specific to a given company and arise long before someone converts them to a job description. It's these opportunities that comprise the "hidden job market" ... the optimum path for executives pursuing employment.

Hidden jobs always exist. However, it's up to you to uncover them and then make a solid business case for the company's investment in you.

So if you haven't been thinking along these lines, time to change your MO ... five simple steps:

1. Target 25 companies you'd like to work for

2. Research them thoroughly ... know as much as possible about each one

3. Identify their needs, challenges and opportunities

4. Determine how you would fit into their structure

5. Quantify and justify how you will improve their top and/or bottom line

Simply put, your challenge is to answer one question and one question only ... how can I help that company make or save money?

No matter the organization, if you can demonstrate how your skills, knowledge or prior accomplishments can produce a sizeable multiple of what you're willing to work for, they'll usually invest in you.

Making your network work

With your new MO intact, your network can now become a valuable resource ... three easy steps:

1. Select, from your list of contacts, those who would be most likely to have information about, connections and/or access to your 25 target companies

2. With laser-like focus, question your contacts specifically about these companies, everything from what they know about their operations to the names of people you could contact for more information

3. Keep at it until you've identified, contacted and arranged interviews with the decision makers

The key: Utilize networking as a vehicle for information and contacts, not a tool for job leads.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Career Growth In A Jobless Recovery

In the face of a jobless recovery, those who have intelligently managed their careers will fare considerably better than those who haven't.

The next couple of years will be challenging and life changing for many people. Out-of-work executives are facing a prolonged period of unemployment while those still employed are concerned not only about future layoffs, but also fear being trapped in current jobs with limited, if any, growth potential.

A common thread among many of these executives is the sense that their careers may have plateaued ... that the future doesn't hold as many opportunities as the past. Many describe their situations as fragile and tenuous. Optimism and confidence in career growth is at a low point.

That state of mind is a classic recipe for failure, unhappiness and in its extreme, health problems.

Misconceptions about career growth

Career growth is an ongoing process that needs to be well managed in order to achieve success.

Twists, turns, delays and disruptions will occur. Problems will arise. Unforeseen events always happen. Troubleshooting is necessary. Smart decisions are mandatory.

Unfortunately, many misconstrue the meaning of career growth.

Once you're in the workforce, the perception of career growth inevitably morphs ... it's no longer a process, but a series of events. It's viewed almost exclusively as rewards bestowed upon you by an employer. So if you get a promotion or raise, that's career growth.

That's partially true.

Taking control of your career

It's best to let go of the notion that career growth is solely measured by a promotion, new title or salary uptick. It's a limited ... and limiting perspective.

Look at it a different way ....

"Doing anything to help your career can lead to growth and satisfaction ... doing nothing will result in stagnation and frustration".

That's always true.

According to the experts who make their living studying and analyzing economic conditions, the worst is behind us, but what's ahead is slow going. If you haven't already done so, now is an opportune ... and critical time to exercise control over your career. Even in the ensuing jobless recovery, growth can happen if you have realistic expectations, understand all your options and actively expand your career horizon.

For starters, critically explore these factors:

1. Your definition of personal career growth
2. Your level and scope of self-awareness
3. Your attitude towards workplace events and situations
4. Your tolerance for and willingness to change
5. Your value through the eyes of any employer

Warning

Activity in your career growth process may result in some common side effects ... clearer focus, less stress, more opportunities, higher productivity and increased self-reliance.

Those who make a wholehearted commitment run the risk of feeling greater satisfaction in the workplace.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The C-Span of Executive Presence

It's time to take the mystery out of executive presence.

In the age of Twitter, where simpler is often seen as better, finding a straightforward way to understand and display this behavior is key to not only surviving, but succeeding in this difficult job market.

For some mystical reasons, executive presence can best be described by a host of adjectives that start with the third letter of the alphabet.

It's probably a coincidence.

The "C" words

The basic "C-span" of executive presence is made up of the following nine characteristics:

1. Calm

2. Candid

3. Charismatic

4. Committed

5. Compassionate

6. Confident

7. Connected

8. Contemplative

9. Courageous

Lack of any of these qualities can significantly diminish the degree and/or the existence of executive presence. Working with executives has taught me that executive presence can be learned, improved on and mastered, we're not born with it.

If you're curious as to whether you have executive presence, ask others to rate your "C-span" using a 0-5 scale. Strive for perfection ... second best usually won't get or keep that coveted job.

C-span equals employability

In the current job market, where just being able to hang onto your position is an everyday effort, displaying executive presence is vital.

I’ve written about this topic before and, even prior to the market shedding millions of jobs, displaying executive presence was an important ingredient in both landing a job and moving up the corporate ladder.

These days however, when massive layoffs have resulted in an unprecedented number of available executives and created the biggest buyer’s market employers have enjoyed in decades, executive presence is often the dealbreaker ... or dealmaker.

Competition is fiercer, challenges are greater and opportunities for C-suite positions are fewer.

Learn by doing

Developing executive presence has become an industry of its own. There are countless books, workshops and articles designed to give leaders what's been described as a hard-to-define quality. Consultants, coaches and even "image" specialists have emerged eager to help individuals exude the aura of executive presence.

It need not be complicated. "C-span" is simple and measurable ... people who solidly project all nine "C's" have executive presence. The higher the "C-span" rating, the greater the executive presence.

And there's no confusion in "C-span."

The usual first step ... identify an individual that exemplifies executive presence, use them as a model and emulate their behavior. Look at your local landscape and find those who best demonstrate it in their day-to-day activities.

Should you need to extend your search, it’s hard to argue that our current President, no matter what your politics, seems to have all the components of executive presence down pat. Barack Obama has even gone beyond the normal definition of "C-span" ... he's added another "C" to the mix and appears to be universally regarded as "cool."

Ever consider how much of a part executive presence played in his landing the job?

Monday, May 11, 2009

Don't Downsize Your Career

The avalanche of ongoing job losses is beginning to produce a depressing theme.

On TV and in articles posted in newspapers, magazines and across the Internet, so-called pundits are claiming that this is a good time to downsize your lifestyle since, for the foreseeable future, you won't be able to find a job that pays as well as the one you have or had.

Give in and accept this new career reality, they say. Reorder your priorities, take stock, and reshuffle the deck. Spend more time with yourself, family and friends. Branch out into new recreational activities, undertake non-work related challenges, downsize your lifestyle and reduce your goals.

A defeatist attitude is your worst enemy

Certain financial rearrangements may very well be necessary, but the idea that the current slowdown requires scaling back on your career aspirations is just plain wrong.

That approach is not only a recipe for stifling personal ambition ... it's also the best way to ensure that American business takes a permanent back seat to emerging economies across the globe.

Of course, in this climate, one needs to add creative options to a job search. Not-for-profit positions, consulting, government jobs, entrepreneurial ventures and a host of out-of-the-box possibilities should absolutely be a part of anybody’s job search, but to abandon the idea of finding a job as good or better than the one you had is a mistake.

I work with plenty of executives who are uncovering opportunities. Yes, it’s more difficult to ferret them out and yes, it’s taking longer, but the reality is that good jobs still exist because company needs still exist. And given the current state of the economy, those needs are greater than ever.

Bring something worthwhile to the table

The secret to finding a good job is straightforward ... help an organization make or save money.

Executives are getting hired based on their ability to solve problems, add value and improve the bottom line.

Finding receptive companies takes effort, research and persistence. But it’s hard to be turned away when your work will produce or save more money than it'll cost to hire you.

It’s up to you to show them how.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Executive Careers in Limbo

It's time for a reality check on executive careers.

Red-hot growth in any sector of the economy is starting to sound like a thing of the past. The Obama administration, in their own words, is committed to a slow steady climb to stability - not a go-go return to prosperity.

The belief is that rapid growth leads to bubbles in the economy ... not to sustainable expansion. They advocate and appear ready to regulate into existence, a tortoise-like "slow and steady wins the race" philosophy. An approach that may prove to be painfully slow for many in the work force who aspire to move upward.

Career growth mirrors economic growth. If the administration has its way, it will take longer to advance up the corporate ladder. Opportunities will be fewer. Executive salaries won't rise and, in some cases, may actually decline. Gaining admission to the C-suite will be pushed further and further into the future.

The cost of the free market

According to Austan Goolsbee, a key Obama economic advisor, government intervention is the solution to sustainable growth. His assertion is that vigilant regulatory oversight will prevent the likelihood of a too rapidly expanding economy ... which he and apparently others in power, see as the cause of the bubble and bust cycles.

I, too, am a proponent of oversight when its goal is to detect, prevent and correct system abuses, but not when its objective is to deliberately retard growth.

And while I totally agree that the lack of regulation and oversight contributed mightily to the current economic crisis, it seems that it was the government officials responsible for overseeing and regulating financial institutions and practices who were asleep at the wheel.

Now they're waking up and you have to wonder why they're not simply enforcing the regulations that were previously ignored. Why is legitimate, robust economic expansion considered a system abuse?

Isn't that what capitalism is all about?

Goolsbee and his colleagues believe that too much expansion poses a threat to the economy. I just can't figure that one out. Expansion equates to job creation. I thought that was exactly how the economy would get out of this downturn.

What message does this send to those who are in ... and those who aspire to executive careers?

Plausible expectations

Fast-track executive careers will take a hit if government manipulation leads to a slowdown in potentially high-growth industries while job creation in fields dependent on lower-income employees will most likely be encouraged as a way to alleviate unemployment.

After all, if you're not eager to achieve rapid growth, how many leaders do you really need?

The silver lining

Should this scenario actually take hold, those who are ambitious and accomplished will not sit idly by and watch the grass grow. Many of the country's best and brightest will embark upon entrepreneurial ventures immune from government intervention while others will seek opportunities abroad.

And a new industry may be born ... business consultants specializing in slow growth. No training required.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Overtaxed Executives

Memo to the governors of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut ... your executive talent pool is looking to bolt.

The barrage of recently announced state taxes has put many of those earning $250,000 or more in an untenable situation. And while some believe that these executives are people who can afford to pay more taxes, the reality is most can't.

The numbers don't lie

A senior executive I've coached for years is a prime example. He holds a highly responsible position at his company, earns a base salary of $175,000 and in some former years, almost doubled that with his bonus. His wife is a substitute teacher in New Jersey and between the two salaries, they've been providing for three children, employing a nanny, making monthly payments on two cars and a home mortgage and spending their fair share to best support the local economy.

However, his company did not award bonuses this year. His retirement portfolio declined by over 45% in 2008 and he pulled money out of his 401K recently to put on a badly needed new roof. His local property taxes have been rising steadily and he'd like to sell his house and downsize, but with the declining home values in the area, he finds he owes more on his house than it is worth.

His wife has been trying to get a full-time teaching position, but the funding has been cut back, so no solution there.

And now his already high-taxed state, one of the highest in the country, is raising the state income tax.

Recipe for disaster

As the tri-state area's governors seek to balance their budgets, they seem to have found no other alternative than to raise existing taxes and impose new ones to make up the shortfall.

This looks like it will backfire.

Many of the six-figure earners I'm coaching are exploring job options in states where they can keep more of their earnings. They argue that paying higher taxes for fewer services, while at the same time digging themselves into a deeper financial hole, defies logic.

Add to that the fact that career opportunities in the New York area are not exactly flourishing and you can understand why so many executives are willing and even eager to search elsewhere.

So at a time when the best and the brightest are needed to stay right here and lead our local market out of the current economic morass, the government is driving them away.

Now how exactly is this economic recovery working?

Friday, April 10, 2009

Stress Tests For Executives

Is Geithner planning a stress test for executives?

Rick Wagoner, the former CEO of General Motors was, in essence, fired by the government. And last week's announcement that more top executives may have to go ... seemingly at the discretion of Tim Geithner ... was enough to make heads in the C-suite turn like a page out of the Exorcist.

I have nothing against Geithner ... but last I looked, his title is Secretary of the Treasury and he's been a government bureaucrat his entire career. Having formerly run one of the country's largest federally-funded career development programs, I know something about government-controlled enterprises.

At best, they're cumbersome and at worst, they're incompetent.

Performance metrics modeled on Sudoku

If the administration follows through on its threat to replace more CEO's, it's not much of a stretch to envision them replacing the rest of a company's executives, officers and board members. And, if my experience is any gauge, this will be accomplished by utilizing numbers that may not even remotely resemble any valid criteria.

I'm sure they mean well, but how can one expect government officials to understand and manage the intricacies of businesses in which they've never participated?

I'd rather have Jamie Dimon than Barney Frank calling the shots at JP Morgan.

Be careful what you wish for

However, the public outcry of "off with their heads" has taken hold and executives are under siege. By refusing to take back TARP funds the government has signaled that it stands ready to dictate to - and who is in - the C-suite.

In a recent survey, only 53% of the country asserted that capitalism is superior to socialism.

I guess our new business leaders will be Nancy Pelosi, Christopher Dodd ... maybe Al Franken.

Unfortunately, they won't be subject to stress tests, but they will be capable of subjecting American business to stress.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Unintended Consequences of Executive Compensation Limits

As the populist movement to punish all executives for the sins of a few gluttonous ones gains momentum, the facts and the fallout are being ignored.

Limiting executives' compensation while simultaneously raising their taxes is the ideal formula for decreasing productivity and "turning off" the leaders of corporate America. That's perfectly okay, if you like rudderless ships.

While executive comp limits may assuage the anger at the multimillion dollar bonuses given to a group of greedy Wall Streeters, the fact is the majority of executives making over $250,000 a year in the New York area are not drinking champagne on their yachts. Most senior-level employees work long hours and struggle with serious work-life balance issues as they try to not only do well at their jobs, but to juggle the demands of both family and business.

I know far too many people in leadership positions at their companies who are banging out emails at 11:00 PM and working weekends in order to ensure their companies survive ... and they earn far less than the salaries and bonuses that make the headlines.

But, in this environment, where just the title of executive can bring scorn, these hard-working people are seen as part of the problem when they are precisely the ones needed to lead American companies out of the current economic crisis.

When did doing well become a bad thing?

After letting this blog lie fallow for several weeks as I tried to catch up with my own practice and those folks seeking career help, I can attest to the disillusionment and discouragement that executives are experiencing. Instead of seeing years of hard work and commitment rewarded, they are being punished.

It's as if success in business is a crime which now carries a hefty fine.

Throughout our lives, we are taught to do the best we can ... status, prosperity and a better life are out there, we're told, if we give 110% effort to all we undertake.

But the current political, populist climate refutes that notion. Executives who have been diligent, resourceful, engaged and accomplished are being undermined by the very society that previously praised their efforts. The demand is still for 110%, however the status, prosperity and prospects for a better life seem to have been put on indefinite hold.

24/7 turns into 8/5

The fallout from limiting executive compensation is easy to see. Without being rewarded for their efforts, why would anyone work as hard? And without the long hours and dedication, how are companies going to grow?

That's the reality no one is talking about. As the outcry by politicans and government officials for executives to earn less grows louder and laws enacted to make it so, corporate growth is somehow lost in the din. It may satisfy the public rage and produce some easy votes but if you're not going to fairly compensate your leaders, where is the incentive to put in the time, innovate or for that matter, even care?

I need to check the definition of capitalism. Looks to me like it's changed over the last couple of months.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Leadership In Turbulent Times

It’s getting harder and harder to motivate the troops.

That’s the one constant I hear from executives at companies across the industrial landscape.

Leading others is never an easy task, but it’s certainly simpler when the economic news is upbeat, budgets are flush and employees are engaged and well rewarded. Unfortunately, that’s not the case today.

With a global recession starting to feel like it’s teetering on depression, businesses of all kinds in deep trouble, so-called experts unable to agree on any kind of fix and 500,000+ monthly layoffs becoming the norm, many executives know they are facing the most difficult leadership challenge they have ever encountered.

What they don’t know is what to do about it.

Leadership being put to the test

Add in the spiraling decline in home values, dwindling personal wealth and a rampant feeling of insecurity among employees at all levels and you have the ingredients for a severely demoralized and increasingly hopeless workforce that need - now more than ever - candor, emotional stability and inspiration from their leaders.

Without any playbook, how does an executive lead effectively during a time of unprecedented economic crisis?

See the sea change

For starters, acknowledge the magnitude of the issue. Stay abreast of events and their effects at the global, national, local, industry and company levels. Neither you nor your team is working in a vacuum and it’s important that you all understand the impact uncontrolled and uncontrollable forces can have.

Next, take a hard look at the tangible results of these events, not only on your organization, its productivity and your staff, but on you personally. Being in a leadership position doesn't provide immunity from the effects of this economic crisis.

Then, become familiar with the indicators people display when circumstances grow ever more chaotic. The lack of predictability, control and trust they experience. The rise of secretive, unresponsive and inconsistent behaviors they demonstrate and the attitudes of denial and anxiety that become prevalent.

Rising levels of stress

Understand that just like one of Newton’s immutable laws of physics, the escalating amount of turbulence in the economy is met by an equally escalating level of stress in the individual.

And it is this extreme stress, at every level of the organization, that has created the toughest corporate leadership test of our generation.

It’s time to (a) squarely face the facts, (b) readjust attitudes and (c) develop innovative and progressive approaches to cope with unprecedented and highly unpleasant events.

Tough job and getting tougher every day.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Insanity Of Executive Compensation Legislation

Will the Obama administration really try to limit executive compensation through legislation? I hope not.

Enacting laws that establish ceilings on pay packages are all the rage at the moment, supported by the public, politicans and shareholders. All seemingly for good cause.

Just try and explain to a single mother struggling to make ends meet or a guy holding down two jobs to keep his family together how someone like Stan O’Neal, the former CEO of Merrill Lynch, could walk away with a $250 million bonus after his firm declared an $8.4 billion write-down.

Or why, after record breaking losses, multibillion dollar taxpayer bailouts and the demise or failure of some of the Street’s most venerable firms, over $18 billion in bonuses, the sixth largest haul on record, were paid out in 2008.

It’s a tough sell

It’s hard for most people to understand how top executives who oversaw debilitating losses that hurt so many people, could be so lavishly rewarded.

Senator Claire McCaskill, an early supporter and close ally of Barack Obama, proposed a law yesterday that would prevent executives from companies who accept TARP money, from making over $400,000. The same number as the salary of the President of the United States.

And while the on-line community, numerous politicians and many in the media seem ready to jump on this populist bandwagon, you’ve got to wonder what the ramifications of such a law would bring.

The business of Wall Street is making money

Those who work in financial service careers are often most motivated by money. They’re not looking to cure cancer, provide socially redeeming services or make the world a better place. They’re in it to get rich ... plain and simple.

It’s not just the traders, brokers and deal-makers who are out to make big bucks. It’s anybody who works for those firms. HR, legal, IT, marketing and every other function you can name, are paid more at financial service firms than in virtually any other industry.

It’s been that way forever and most of that pay comes in the form of bonuses that augment relatively low base salaries.

While one can question and even denigrate their values, the truth is those people represent some of the best and brightest talent in the country. And when things are going well, nobody blinks an eye.

But now, as the housing market implodes, credit tightens and the ranks of the jobless grow daily, we as a people look for scapegoats and it’s not too hard to find them.

Legislating salary caps is not the answer

In spite of all the claims to the contrary, salary cap legislation will only succeed in driving the best performers, especially those in the mid-level executive ranks, into non-TARP taking hedge funds, investment banks, consulting firms and related companies. And it will cause other businesses that could use TARP monies to help their constituents think twice before lining up at the trough.

Plus, it will do nothing to reduce a culture of greed at those firms not dependent on TARP funds.

How then, can we solve the problem of unmerited levels of compensation, obscene bonuses and unrepentant risk taking?

It’s already started. Using the bully pulpit and shining a harsh spotlight on those outrageous and undeserving payouts has begun to drive compensation down at many firms and the trend will only continue. Just ask the executives at UBS.

Having the President declare these excesses “shameful” does not go unnoticed by Boards of Directors and Executive Compensation Committee members concerned about their image and the public’s mood.

Legislating executive compensation at TARP taking companies will only drive top performers from one firm to another whereas continued public outcry, media exposés and Presidential outrage puts pressure on all companies, TARP takers or not.

As far as I know, that's how a democracy works.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Who Cares About The Loss Of Executive Jobs?

Does anyone in government care about the loss of executive jobs? It sure doesn't seem like it.

I’m not talking about people making seven or eight figure packages but those at the VP and Director levels who are in the $100K+ range that upper end job sites like Exec-U-Net and The Ladders court.

Those are the folks that drive their local economies and the ones who are losing their jobs in droves. And when they’re not working or are worried about their income – a lot of other people experience their pain.

Where’s the help

Yet, while there’s plenty of talk about job-creating stimulus packages, you’d have to look long and hard to hear about any sort of coordinated government effort to help senior management find employment.

Of course, it’s tough to muster much sympathy for corporate executives these days.

Americans are outraged over the often obscene bonus and separation packages they saw awarded to failed or short-term executives. Those deals smacked of greed, arrogance and extravagance.

But the unintended consequence of that outrage is that all those that share the title “executive” wind up getting painted with the same brush no matter their level of compensation or quality of their work. And the government, who offers numerous job finding initiatives for entry and lower level positions, has done little or nothing for management job seekers, let alone executives.

There’s no bailout for them. They’re treated as the last holdover of unfettered capitalism and left to their own ingenuity and market forces to survive. They may use new technology to help find jobs but they employ the same techniques they’ve used forever.

20th century approach

Today, instead of reading the papers for ads, executives scour the online job boards; instead of contacting headhunters by regular mail they use email and instead of spending time in libraries researching companies, they are hunched over computers combing through company web sites.

The result is that while the tools may be different the process remains agonizingly slow. And the longer these people remain out of work, or fearful about their jobs, the greater the negative impact on the economy.

What can be done

So much more can be done to help executives find jobs but only government, working at the local, state and federal level has the clout to make it happen. Yet, there has never been a real government effort to facilitate movement between executive level employees and corporations.

One stop information on all companies in a given geographic area; a centralized data base listing jobs and consulting projects, announcements about company initiatives that would attract appropriate talent and entrepreneurial incubators are just a few of the ways government could help.

Today’s executive job seeker follows the same steps that career professionals have been parroting for over 40 years. And in a market like this, that’s simply not enough.

What we need is the commitment, resources and sway that only government can provide, to bring the executive job finding process into the 21st century and offer the assistance these people and our economy, so desperately need.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

2009: Where The Executive Jobs Will Be

Millions of Americans have lost their jobs and more are yet to come but in 2009, enterprising executive job hunters will find opportunities in places others have ignored.

That’s in spite of the fact that the Bureau of Labor says that over 23 million or 14.4% of the labor force is out of work.

That staggering number is arrived at by adding the 10.3 million officially unemployed to what’s called the Hidden Unemployment Market comprised of the 7.3 million who are working part time because they can’t find a full-time job and the 5.4 million people who want to work but have been out so long that they’ve simply stopped looking.

That’s 23 million people and all indicators are that number will rise dramatically in the weeks and months ahead.

Problems bring possibilities

Yet paradoxically that upheaval creates new jobs to deal with the crisis while at the same time fledgling industries are being spawned and old ones are about to be revitalized.

So, if you’re out of work or concerned about the security of your job, here are some possibilities to think about.

Not all firings are driven by economics. Times like these encourage employers to discard “dead wood” along with those they’re truly sorry to see go.

As a result, 2009 will see a war for top talent as companies seek out the best & brightest to guide them out of the current mess. If you’re on the A-list and can really contribute to a firm’s profitability, then aggressively pursue top flight companies even if the words Hiring Freeze are plastered all over their web sites.

Follow the money

All indications are the government is going to be among the employers of choice, either directly or through companies they are about to fund and industries they are about to create. Infrastructure rehabilitation, renewable energy alternatives, smart power grids and other government funded initiatives will not only create more jobs they will create brand new job categories as companies will seek out infrastructure and energy analysts, directors and architects.

Stay abreast of the trends

They say necessity is the mother of invention and one of the most inventive approaches to help contact-seeking job hunters has been the rise of social and business networking sites like Facebook and Linked-In. And you can bet there will be more as the space gets divided into further industry and functional niches that will create new jobs at both the providers of these services and the staffing, marketing, funding and corporate users they attract.

Dig through the rubble

This ever-deepening recession is creating opportunities of its own. While hiring of many traditional financial service positions may never return to pre 2008 levels a whole new batch of positions are expanding as the “Street” tries to reinvent itself and workout specialists, turnaround experts, restructuring officers and the like are being aggressively searched for to deal with the crisis.

Know the safe havens

For quite some time both healthcare and to a lesser degree education have been areas of employment growth. 2009 will continue that trend as will services geared toward our graying population, the anticipated increase in regulatory requirements, an ongoing effort to monetize Internet offerings and within functional areas like technology and finance.

Put on your thinking cap - be innovative, concentrate on areas of growth and need and absolutely look outside of the box to discover where the jobs will be in '09.
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