more-arw search

No Job Is Safe Anymore!

A good friend of mine was at one of the leading companies in the U.S. for the better part of two decades. He worked his way up the ladder to become a VP of Finance (one of about 20). He is a great leader, an intense worker and thinker, and a great person on top of it all. And he was just let go.

Where does one start with that? I mean, after “holy smokes” and “I’m really sorry”, what does one say to the person or about the event? Let’s start with the event itself. Here is a person who earned his way to the top of a very steep and tall pyramid now being unceremoniously let go. Sure, the company will say this was simply about consolidation and efficiency, but this guy was good at what he did. I witnessed it myself both close up and at a distance over years. He busted his tail and gave his all for the company. And, importantly, he drove great results.

The lesson is: no job is safe today. Absolutely none. No matter how large the company, how well you have performed, or what industry you’re in. None of it matters. What matters is: do you control your own destiny? If so, to what extent, and how much influence can you have. I see good folks tossed overboard pretty regularly these days. Maybe their division is being cut and no one in the remaining organization wants to do the hard work of figuring out who’s worth keeping. Yup, 5% - 10% of the company, the good along with the bad, just tossed out. This is like cutting off your entire hand when only your pinky needed to go. That is some lazy, short-sighted thinking. But it has become more and more common. CEOs come and go. CFOs come and go. If they can be at risk, so can you.

If you thought being at a big company was any sort of job/career insurance these days, I say think again. The bigger the company, the less control you exert on your own destiny and the greater the risk. This is just the opposite of what we’ve been taught, and it has been a long time coming, but it’s reality now. Small companies have all sorts of execution and market risk, but so do the big ones. It used to be that the big ones could survive with woeful performance at some of the units. The whole protected the parts. But Wall Street is too smart for that now and big companies feel forced to measure every corner of the enterprise and react accordingly. The difference is that at a small company, like at Cheers (the bar), everybody knows your name – and how well you do. If you perform well at a small/mid-sized company, chances are that you will be noticed and protected when the company takes corrective action. Risk is absolutely still there, but you have more control, based on your results.

Does that mean we’re all going to leave for startups or small/mid-sized companies? Well, no. However, I do think more people are going to think hard about what their ideal company situation is, which will change their behavior and career. I think a lot of entrepreneurs will come out of this last downturn. Even finance and accounting professionals, which should serve to surprise many (sorry, but we’re not thought of as generally entrepreneurial). Even if they are not the CEOs, they will at least strive to be closer to the main decision locus at smaller companies, rather than a small cog in a huge machine.

As for the person let go, the timing is never good and there will be a rush to market oneself and get that next offer. Any offer when you are mid-career and cast adrift by your employer will look sorely tempting. One’s ego takes a serious blow when this happens, no matter how good you are.

My hope, and I am an optimist, is that this will prove liberating after it’s through being heartbreaking and gray-hair-inducing. Perhaps he’ll land with another big company, or maybe he’ll follow his passions and land at a place that both appreciates his talents and knows how to put them to good use. But one thing is sure, no job is safe anymore – you can count on that. The smart finance leader will increasingly look for places that have more to offer than just heft.

Comments

Topic Expert
Wayne Spivak
Title: President & CFO
Company: SBAConsulting.com
LinkedIn Profile
(President & CFO, SBAConsulting.com) |

As I said in my answer to the question: What business lesson did you learn the hard way?

"Always keep looking for the next opportunity; don't feel safe and indispensable or that the company is a going concern (either for you or for itself)"

I feel and understand the pain...

Charley Kyd
Title: Founder
Company: ExcelUser
(Founder, ExcelUser) |

In the early 1980s, I was the young CFO of a small company badly in need of a turnaround. Because I knew that this was a short-term gig--one way or the other--I did what I could to lay the groundwork for my next gig.

So I started to write monthly columns for both Inc and Lotus magazines. And I began to write a book about financial modeling with 1-2-3.

Because the turnaround worked, the restructured company had no need for a CFO. So I resigned, quickly finished my book, and submitted it for publication. Soon after that, because of my new "national reputation" as a business writer, one of the Big Eight firms moved me and my family 1000 miles to work for them as a consultant.

I know others who've had similar experiences. So my advice would be this...

Whether you have a job or not, continually work to publicize your personal brand and professional expertise. Blog. Answer online questions clearly. Write articles for both print and online publications. Ask perceptive questions online. Submit a book proposal.

(A side benefit of writing for print publications is that they use copy editors, whose corrections can help you learn how to communicate more clearly.)

Where allowed, illustrate your ideas with small Excel charts or tables. This helps to explain your ideas more clearly. It makes your work stand out from the crowd. And it demonstrates your ability to do the same for a future employer.

Break new ground in your online work. Discuss new techniques, changing attitudes, old ideas that still work today, ideas in related fields that could apply to your field, and so on. This helps to establish you as a thought leader, and it's fun!

If you have a job, these activities can help to benefit your employer and your status in the company. If you lose your job, you'll already have an expanding network of contacts among publishers and readers, contacts that can lead to new and better opportunities more quickly.

And if you're looking for a job today, these activities offer a much greater chance of leading to your next gig than does sitting in front of the TV in the evenings, waiting for the phone to ring.

Topic Expert
Cindy Kraft
Title: CFO Coach
Company: Executive Essentials
(CFO Coach, Executive Essentials) |

That is a heart-breaking, and all-too-common, story, John. I talk to those folks on a regular basis and without fail they say ... I never saw it coming.

I've been evangelizing for more years than I know that any "job security" one might think they have is merely an illusion. The ONLY security one has is - while gainfully and happily employed - to be proactively managing their careers from the driver's seat. If you aren't executing good career management habits on a regular basis - while you are gainfully and happily - employed, then you aren't driving your career and you will find yourself way behind the car, running at full-speed, just trying to catch up.

This will surely trigger a new blog post ....

Karl Almond
Title: VP Finance
Company: Workstream, Inc.
(VP Finance, Workstream, Inc.) |

Everyone, this issue is near and dear to me as I was one of "consolidated" last September. Having been on the "other side of the table" many times before I started to see the signs, but not soon enough. I had generated real returns for the company and had only months before been offered an International relo, that at the time I didn't take. The winds changed as did corporate management, that no longer looked positively at my contributions and future value.
Charley, Cindy, your comments are right on point. You need to be working on managing your career everyday. Expanding your network, staying current and getting yourself out there.
I would like to say that I have been able to practice what I'm preaching, but after finding a new job at a significant reduction in salary with much more hands on and less management, it has been difficult to allocate the time.
Thankfully all of the posts in this thread have forced me to refocus and to begin to address these needs. Thanks to everyone for your insightful comments and the kickstart to stay ahead of the "car" this time.

Topic Expert
Cindy Kraft
Title: CFO Coach
Company: Executive Essentials
(CFO Coach, Executive Essentials) |

Try making a 15-30 minute calendar appointment once or twice a week, Karl, that you commit to keeping just as you would any other appointment. Managing your career while you are employed doesn't have to be a huge investment of time as much as it needs to be consistent and constant.

Products and Companies: