When the end came, Pam was not surprised, she was prepared.
As the Vice President of Finance of a manufacturing company, she had been recording its slide for the past five years, ever since the organization’s long-term CEO retired and was replaced by an executive with an impressive academic pedigree and a stint with one of the big-name consulting firms. He knew the industry but lacked a track record as an effective operator. When she interviewed him during the search process, Pam had a sinking feeling. If the board hired this guy, she thought to herself, we will end up in the ditch. How prescient.
The day the sale was announced there were audible gasps in the room, mainly from the hourly workers who were not going to be affected by ownership change. The executive team, well that was another matter. Their positions were being eliminated. They would get severance packages but Pam could tell most were unprepared for what lay ahead: find another job and relocate, or begin retirement earlier than planned. There were not very many nice-paying sales, marketing and production positions in this town of 35,000.
The new CEO who presided over the downfall hinted in his announcement speech that it was unfair foreign competition that caused the company’s demise. That statement prompted a round of boos and hisses from the nearly 800 people who had assembled in the warehouse where the announcement was made. Pam knew better. This organization where she had spent the last 15 years of her life was the victim of the company-killing trifecta: poor governance, incompetent leadership and bad strategic choices.
The man really responsible, the CEO, had a lucrative change of ownership payment scheme in his contract but the 25 other members of the team, including Pam, they were being paid a year or less, depending on their tenure. The new owners, a long-time competitor, were buying the technology, the facilities, and the expertise of the hourly workers. They did not need nor want the people who made this bargain basement acquisition possible — the CEO and his team.
Pam had planned well on two fronts: financially and with a career transition plan. She had put some extra cash aside to help tide her over financially while she searched for a new job. With her severance, benefit plan settlement and the extra savings, she could make it for up to 18 months without having to dig into her retirement savings or changing her lifestyle too drastically.
She knew some of her colleagues would not be so lucky. They had been in denial that a fire sale was a probability up until the last months.
It was a sad day but Pam was quietly confident. For the last four years, she had been developing her career transition plan, aggressively working to build her professional network. Months earlier she had told some of her contacts that she was contemplating a job change and asked them to keep her in mind if they heard of anything. One of her industry contacts, the CEO of one of their suppliers, had confidentially forwarded her resume to several recruiters he knew with the promise to make a strong recommendation.
She became more aggressive, attending as many state and national industry meetings as possible each year. She submitted several speaking topics to various trade organizations and was selected to speak at a national convention. She volunteered to sit on state and national trade association committees. She was not always selected but she was constantly offering to help.
She hired a career coach who provided invaluable advice; who knew there was so much to learn to effectively manage your career? During her coaching sessions two concepts really stood out — the importance of developing a value proposition, and the necessity of strategic networking, building contacts who could help her find a new position when the time came.
The coach also told Pam to update her LinkedIn profile to ensure it was consistent with the industry profile that was on her national trade association site and, most importantly, her new values-based resume. In each space Pam emphasized her value by using quantifiable achievements to bolster her brand as a can-do, effective financial executive.
Pam began her targeting with geography — areas where she would like to live — and companies that she admired and for whom she would like to work. She also learned how to work a room at industry events. For someone who was not overly outgoing, Pam was surprised at how aggressive she could be, introducing herself and collecting business cards. If the individuals fell into Pam’s targeted areas she would always follow up with a handwritten note, create a contact record in a personal networking database on her home computer. She use the LinkedIn platform to determine who else they knew that might be able to help her. She spent at least an hour each week, some times more, cultivating her network.
She also wrote several articles. A couple were published in the national journals. Others she posted on LinkedIn in hopes of attracting the eye of a recruiter. She had a great photo made and updated her LinkedIn profile. Every time she published an article, her new picture would appear by her post. People began telling her how much they enjoyed her posts.
As she sensed the start of the beginning of the end, she stepped up her interactions with her network of contacts. Her targeted groups included:
- Auditors/principals in audit firms
- Industry vendors/sales representatives
- Industry attorneys
- Executives employed by targeted companies
- Individuals who were connected to those executives
She allocated some time each day to chat with these or other potential contacts, collecting business intelligence that could be useful when she actually entered the market for a new job. If the conversation was particularly helpful, she always responded with a handwritten note or an email.
From almost the first day the new CEO landed in the corner office, Pam had been keeping a journal, recording her significant accomplishments, strategy recommendations made, and examples where she had helped her colleagues make important management adjustments. Her career coach warned her that in a competitive interview, she would need to have top-of-mind awareness of all the key operating indicators, even when they were bad. The coach also said that too many candidates show up to interviews unprepared and frequently cannot recall important financial metrics.
As Pam left her office and the plant for the last time she had good reason to be confident. She had been preparing for this inevitable moment for almost five years.
Her planning was focused, it was purposeful, and it was strategic.