EditorialsBy Matt Bud, Chairman, The FENG

As they say, old habits die hard. Because we believe they work, we do the same things over and over again that we have learned over the course of our careers. Not to say we can’t be retrained, but it is hard.

Us financial types find it particularly hard. Part of the reason is that we generally have come to our decisions and ways of thinking the hard way — through detailed analysis. Why use one spreadsheet when several will do?

The most difficult belief I encounter requiring change is the nature of the next job that most folks are seeking. If ONLY there were really a job out there to take you through to retirement. No matter how much due diligence you do on any company, there will be things you will never find out until well after the time you are there. Not to say you shouldn’t do some research on the company and the executives, but if you are looking for nirvana, you may as well be waiting for Godot.

In 1982 I jumped from a stable yet boring career at CBS to be CFO of an advertising agency. Within 9 months of my joining they lost one of their larger and more profitable accounts and one of the 4 partners left the company. Did I mention we were at breakeven before that account left? It took several months to sort things out and rebuild and it was a scary time, but this “assignment” ended up lasting for a total of 9 years. Who knew? And, it could have gone seriously wrong. It just didn’t.

I have mentioned before that most of our members tend to move from larger companies to smaller ones. Still, the feedback I get is that those of you who are applying to larger firms are encountering age discrimination. Duh. Larger companies don’t tend to hire senior executives because they try to grow their own. When they parachute in folks at the top, out of the next layer of perhaps 12 executives the best 3 often leave the company. Is not hiring senior executives age discrimination, or is it just smart business?

Smaller firms are generally always in crisis. Their very size connotes a certain amount of instability and lack of scale. They hire senior executives because they DON’T have time for on the job training. They need folks who have “been there and done that.” The only problem is that they may not know they need you or that you can solve all their problems until you show up on a networking basis. They often are “in the market” for a new Chief Financial Officer only after you explain how you have solved problem XYZ before, which is the proverbial “monkey on their back.” Who knew there was actually someone who could solve it?

Let me also address the issue of how to get started. A hiring decision for someone of the stature of a member of our august body is a “big ticket decision” and often a huge mental hurdle for the management of a small company. Is it possible you can start on a consulting basis? Don’t make it into an all or nothing decision if you think there is opportunity staring you in the face.

The “nose in the tent” approach can get you in the door and allow you and the company to “try each other out” for a while. In the environment of small companies, this is often a good idea.

The nature of work and of finding “work opportunities” is always in a state of flux. Be inventive and open your mind to all the possibilities.

Regards, Matt

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