Out-Of-Work Financial Execs Still Feeling Bite Of Economic Crisis

By Gail Marksjarvis
Chicago Tribune

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) A very interesting and candid article focusing on financial executives who lost their jobs during and after the 2008 banking crisis. Many of these execs have been unemployed for years. Others have taken on much lower paying, far less stable positions.


About 30 years ago, Lise Rosengard was persuaded by family and friends to set aside her passion for art and go for a secure job with good earning potential.

She went to work in banking and worked her way up to vice president at one of the world’s most prominent financial institutions, Societe Generale. Then came the financial crisis of 2008, and she found herself out of work along with hundreds of thousands of other people.

The depth of the job destruction hit her one day in 2009 as she rode the train downtown in Manhattan to Wall Street, where she hoped to get a lead for a new job. “It was 7:30 in the morning and normally the train would have been packed. But it was empty,” she recalled.

At the end of the train ride, there was no job. And there has been no full-time job with benefits since.

About eight years after the financial crisis, the turmoil that began on Wall Street and then drifted into companies of all types has left the ranks of the unemployed and underemployed heavy with people who once enjoyed senior financial positions in a variety of industries. They face a sharply reduced market for the types of jobs they used to take for granted.

Rosengard stated adamantly: “Banking is not a stable position.” Since the crash, she’s had well-paying short-term consulting positions and poor-paying temp work, but nothing like the security she used to have.

Now, as she continues her search, “It’s like a twilight zone. You are either offered a position that has good pay, but a position way below your capabilities, or you are offered a top position with no pay.”

Rosengard isn’t alone. She’s beginning to attend meetings of the Financial Executives Networking Group, or FENG, that are filled with people who’ve gone to premier MBA programs, guided companies through multimillion-dollar decisions, had titles like chief financial officer, treasurer and vice president of finance, and generally excelled at what they’ve done.

At a recent downtown Chicago event, Rosengard and 31 others exchanged job leads with one another and listened to a motivational speaker.

“You aren’t getting recognized for your skills,” said the speaker, Conor Cunneen. “I know it’s a pain in the butt when you know you can do the job with your eyes closed, and they are going to give it to someone new at it, taking half the salary.”

Nationally, many of the 718,000 financial jobs that disappeared have returned, but commercial banking is still short more than 58,000 jobs. Positions in leasing and rental equipment are down 93,200.

“Whatever the government says, the recession continues,” said Matt Bud, national chairman of FENG, which holds sessions like the Chicago meetup in cities throughout the country. About 50,000 out-of-work or underemployed executives are members nationwide.

“Jobs are pretty scarce for senior people,” said Bud.

Rosengard, 58, suspects ageism is holding her and others back as they struggle to get jobs. Many people at the session were over 50.

As Cunneen gave the group tips for their job searches, he said they should put their Twitter handle on their resumes so they “look contemporary” with social media. In addition, he suggested scouring Twitter postings from companies they would like to join, and then in interviews state that they found specific information or discussions on Twitter.

“You are financial people, not salespeople,” he said. “You have to be salespeople.”

Before the interview, Cunneen advised, think about three or four attributes you want the interviewer to relate about you to others in the organization, then practice anecdotes that demonstrate images such as leadership, because stories stick with people.

As for the difficult questions that could come up in interviews: Rosengard asked what to do when questioned about pay expectations. “The moment money comes up or they say, ‘I see you’ve had a senior title,’ you are done,” she said.

Another FENG participant Raphael Lavin, managing partner of equipment leasing firm Standard Professional Services, offered a solution: “Throw it back at them, saying: ‘Do you see positions in your firm in this range?'”

While style in interviews matters, an issue facing all seeking jobs in senior financial positions now is that in-demand skills have changed dramatically since the financial crisis, said Jim Kaitz, president and chief executive officer of the Association for Financial Professionals.

After corporate near-death experiences during the financial crisis, Kaitz said, companies now are fixated on having a lot of cash at all times and are slow to hire in general. In addition, “there is a talent gap in finance.”

Financial planning for companies now is focused on analyzing big data to drive growth and profits, he said. Among people in financial positions in a wide range of sectors, “there’s a big shift from number crunchers to number interpreters.”

Some MBA programs, such as Wharton’s, are turning out graduates with the new training, while existing financial managers are having to retool their skills to retain positions, especially in large companies, he said.

Besides the shift in priorities, Daniel Ryan, managing partner of Heidrick & Struggles, noted there are fewer financial companies, and existing banking firms are adding people needed to comply with massive new government regulations set in motion by the Dodd-Frank financial reform law.

Outside of banking firms, there is also significant financial management job shrinkage and consequently intense competition for every job opening, said Brian McInerney, 54, who left a chief financial officer position at Multi-Pack Solutions in June and wants another CFO position.

Private equity firms, he said, have been busy buying and selling companies. As that happens, he noted, there may be one company that needs just one CFO when there previously were four companies, each with a CFO. “Three CFOs are displaced and looking for positions,” he said.

This was not the case in the early 2000s, when he decided to leave his job rather than move from Chicago to Dallas after helping his employer sell the company to a Dallas-based firm. Then, as he looked for a new position, the competition was not as great.

On the other hand, he said, consolidation and job loss is so great now “at least the stigma (of being out of work) isn’t there anymore.”

Still, job seeking is more complicated today than when he was looking about 15 years ago, he noted. Then, use of the internet was fairly new, and it was possible to apply to a job posting online and get an interview. Now, he said, networking is essential because anyone who posts a job online is inundated with resumes.

He spends every day trying to generate contacts who can tell him where jobs might be and also usher his resume to decision-makers in firms with less than $250 million in sales.

Bud has been discouraging FENG members from targeting the largest companies. While many members worked at Fortune 500 companies when young, greater opportunity for seasoned financial executives is in smaller companies with 100 to 500 employees.

This is disappointing to many, he said. “It is not as big a job as they want, and so they feel underemployed.” It also takes people aback to find out that after earning $150,000 or $180,000 previously, a lot of CFOs earn $100,000 now.

Meanwhile, taking two-month or six-month contract positions, or even full employment in smaller firms, lacks the security many used to have because those companies are often sold or go out of business. As a result, financial executives grow weary as they find themselves going through job-looking, or what they call transitions, many times.

Lynn Chandler, 48, a former McDonald’s manager of IT procurement, is among them. “I want to plant my roots. I want to be old-school again,” she told McInerney. Chandler has had to cope with job cuts after positions and entire divisions were wiped out during major consolidations in companies. At McDonald’s, consolidation and cost-cutting led to a global integration of procurement. Before that she had been affected by consolidation at another employer, she first joined FENG in 2013 when her position was eliminated at Premier Farnell, a British firm that removed redundancies in the U.S. and U.K.

Chandler said she would be willing to take lower pay if “I could be a contributor and be happy.” Most important, she would like to keep her 11-year-old daughter from having to move. Yet, as her severance package runs down, she knows that may not be possible.

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