I remember June 21, 1985, as if it were yesterday. That was the day I received a call at my hotel outside Frankfurt telling me that the board of Marine Midland Banks had passed a resolution closing down the international division.
While it wasn't stated during that conversation, it didn't take a genius to know that in all probability the four of us on the senior team would be asked to leave. A few days later, I was asked to close down all operations in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.
Six months later, I left the institution.
I was 43, had spent 27 years with several banks in New York and overseas, and for the previous five years had been responsible for Marine's business in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa-South Asia. It never occurred to me that I would laid off.
It was a real shock to the system, but like nearly everyone who has been through this predicament, I survived.
As it turns out, we were one of the first of many large groups of people who were asked to leave the financial services industry over the past eight years. Tens of thousands of bankers have lost their jobs as a result of downsizing or mergers.
Perhaps the best way to discuss career alternatives is to explain my immediate thoughts after being informed I no longer had a job.
I took a look at myself, my background, and where I believed the industry was going over the next decade, and came to the reluctant conclusion that i was a dinosaur.
My claim to fame was as an international-oriented general manager with credit, new business development, and product management skills. In New York, there was limited demand for people with my background at my level of seniority.
While there were positions available heading foreign bank branches in New York, I determined that within five years U.S.-based people would probably be replaced by officers from the banks' home country. Once I reached that conclusion, I was both relieved and scared.
The |Golden Rules'
I decided within a few weeks to form a specialized consulting firm in partnership with one of my former colleagues. We analyzed what it takes to be successful in the consulting business and concluded that five golden rules apply:
* Have specialized skills (in our case, global cash management and international product development).
* Have a reputation.
* Have credibility with senior management people.
* Possess good sales and marketing skills.
* Be financially secure enough to survive at least a year during which cash flow might be limited.
In retrospect, we made the right decision. But isn't easy. Even if someone is confident, timing becomes critical.
Most people have been leaving banks with fairly generous severance packages, which at the beginning gives them a reasonable amount of flexibility. The longer a person takes to review alternatives, the weaker he or she is financially.
Switching career paths isn't for everyone, but people with good contacts, an ability to sell, and the financial strength to survive an extended start-up period may well succeed.
Those who want to remain in the financial services industry are facing a slowly improving environment. But the number of available positions for "dinosaurs" remains limited, particularly in New York and other financial centers.
Look on the |Buy' Side
Bankers with the appropriate skills may wish to consider switching to the "buy" side of the business, to corporate positions involving financial management. While this is not easy to do in today's environment, a meaningful number of corporate treasury people do have commercial or investment banking backgrounds.
I also believe people should look at the possibility of changing career paths completely by considering buying a small business. In each community, there are brokers listed in local newspapers. These people arrange the purchase and sale of cash businesses, and a call to their offices will enable a person to sit down and talk about the types of businesses for sale.
Capital will be required, but the majority of the purchase price is usually financed by the seller over as long as 10 years at a competitive interest rate.
Finally, there are many part-time jobs out there. This temporary work extends one's severance and that, in turn, increases flexibility in the job search.
When I knew I was about to be laid off, I seriously considered driving a limousine in my spare time. In discussing this option with a couple of the drivers, I discovered that I could earn as much as $2,000 a month without hurting my job search.
In summary, while the job market in the financial services industry cannot be described as robust, there are jobs available. A well-structured resume combined with an effective networking program will in time produce results.
Alternatives to old careers always exist, and while they may not be for everyone, they should certainly be explored.
ANTHONY W.G. LORD Managing director A.T. Kearney Inc., New York