December 2001

Volume VII   Number 4     

This Year, More than Ever... 


Like many of you, I was working in my office the morning of September 11.  I was doing a career history with a new client and was focused on understanding her story to the extent that I was only dimly aware of more sirens than usual.  At 10:15, Andy Sherwood opened my office door to tell my client, Joan, and me that terrorists had hit the World Trade Center; we walked to the confer-ence room to see on television the tower crumble.  Joan said, “Suddenly, losing my job after twenty plus years doesn’t seem like such a big deal.”

As time has gone on, we have all had to put our lives into a new perspective.  As I write this issue, I would like to share some thoughts  about how we go forward.


The first change that impacts my clients is the ramification in the past weeks of what I observed in my September note -- the US economy is in a recession.  In New York City alone, our corporate client, The New York Times, reported 79,000 jobs have been lost as a consequence of 9/11.  My individual clients are experiencing a definite slowdown in re-employment time.  They must make from 30 to 50 percent more calls to generate the five to eight face-to-face meetings that will ultimately result in offers. 


Clients still in jobs for which we are retained to improve performance report intense pressure from senior managers to produce better results with fewer staff.  So, just as in wartime, not only for ourselves and for our employers but to sustain the American economy, we will have to make personal sacrifices.  I hope that my under-forty clients and their peers, who have not experienced an economic and political downturn concurrently, will be able to make what Ed Schein calls lifestyle changes. We need to find an image similar to Rosie the Riveter to remind us of our national need to keep our economy secure.  (“Wall Street Wanda” ? “Tommy the Trader”?)


The second change is related to the need for hard work.  We need to be more flexible.  Many of my clients have accepted positions that were not ideal, because they perceived accurately, as it has evolved, that the immediate result of the 9/11 events would be employment decision paralysis.


Only in the last three weeks have clients reported greater openness to employment discussions.  Pam, a public relations vice president with a not-for-profit, accepted a similar position with a foundation when an opening with a major consulting firm was “put on hold.”   She considers herself fortunate, even though her ultimate career target is to be part of a marketing effort in the for-profit sector. 


Similarly, Tina, released from a bulge-bracket firm as a trader, started with a regional firm after five months of active search because she was convinced that, even though the trading volume is less (less commission income), she was better off to be working.  In a similar view, we are seeing a number of clients whose jobs went away returning to more main-line positions, some involved with restoring the infrastructure.


Finally, the third change I see is something of an antidote to the need to work harder and sacrifice.  I believe we have the potential to have a kinder and  more caring country and work environment. In the first few days following 9/11, I did a number of critical-incident stress debriefings with employee groups. The most memorable was with “shareholders” of the Starbucks directly opposite the World Trade Center.  Only two of the ten present were American-born and they spoke with great passion of their concern for each other.  About half way through the meeting, the last  participant tentatively opened the door.  He was of Pakistani origin and had not left his house since the event.  The group, as a whole, rushed to hug and reassure him.


I am sure that most of you have experienced similar stories of caring and sharing.  We must continue to show toleration and compassion as well as determination in our workplace.  It’s good for us, but it also reinforces the message that all Americans share values that our enemies lack.  In this holiday season, this year, more than ever, I wish you and yours the best!   


An Update on Optimism


Andy Sherwood, our CEO, penned a Thanksgiving memo encouraging the firm to think about positive events--things to be thankful for this year. This is typical of Andy; he is truly the most optimistic person I know. In honor of that, here are my ten:


● Attending my grandmother-in-law’s 100th birthday party -- after she had been in intensive care a few weeks earlier.  Hilda rallied for the event and closed down the party.

● Shopping the Union Square Greenmarket after work and bringing home all kinds of wonderful produce that Caren always turns into something interesting.  Ramps and trumpet mushrooms are a yes.  Salsify and rutabagas a no.

● Seeing my son, Jeff, talk his way into a job as a math teacher in Portland, Maine, instead of going to Bangladesh -- as good a decision on timing as his going to Silicon Valley in January proved poor. He has now “uncolored”  his hair, responds to “Mr. Borland,” and apparently actually did listen to my career counseling!

● Getting calls from several long-lost people who had seen my name on a survivors’ list of people at the WTC, including the first person I ever hired.  It reminded me of how we encourage networking for clients even among those long gone.  (Now I wonder who the other J. Borland is…..)

● Reading my daughter’s successful doctoral proposal and actually understanding it!  She leaves for six months in Argentina after the holidays to study Social Movements.  As difficult as career focus has been for Jeff, Elizabeth has become even more devoted to being an academic sociologist.

● Working with some of the nicest and most caring people in my 30+ years in the world of work.  Art Brent, who heads up our business development, and Andy have taken every effort to ensure mutuality and at the same time allow us all to grow.

● Surviving a 360-degree skid off a slick road in Nova Scotia. I floored the engine and my trusty Taurus had us out of a ten-foot ditch in seconds.  Never did that before… hope I never have to again.

● Coaching a senior research analyst at a bulge-bracket firm who didn’t want to work in NYC any longer, but to receive his payout of $14MM would have had to not work for one year.  His problem -- he had no other interests.  Using our directorship program, he has gotten involved with four boards, 2 for profit and 2 non-profit and at age 56 he took up golf.  The only downside… he wants me to play!

● Visiting vineyards in California in January when no one is there and in the North Fork of Long Island in August when everyone is there.  If you enjoy wine and know a little bit, the growers are fascinating; it reminds me of visiting family farms upstate where I grew up -- and how enthusiasm sells.

● Learning about my clients’ successes in their lives, both professionally and personally.  New babies, businesses that are succeeding, even the folks who move to new places, industries, or functions, like the high-powered Harvard MBA who decided to take a break and be a full-time Mom. 


So, in writing this list, I realized it is an excellent career counseling assessment exercise – try it and see how it reflects you – kind of like Dickens’ Scrooge, perhaps……  



Books I’d Recommend

How to Be a Star at Work,  by Robert El. Kelley, New York, Three Rivers Press, 1999, paper $12.


A professor at Carnegie Mellon University consulted with and researched major corporations for ten years, exploring what made outstanding performers.  He debunks the “stars are born not made” theory very carefully in this easy-to-read book.  Examples are well-chosen and realistic.  (So many “how to” books contain what, to me, are just plain impossible methodologies leading to unbelievable solutions.)


A quote:  “This book is about offering brain- powered workers like you…a source of hope -- a way to find peace of mind in a business culture that is wallowing in insecurity and could use a much-needed growth boost….   Being labeled as a person who contributes value directly to the bottom line provides you leverage and options.”