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Preparing for the job hunt.

A jungle out there? Maybe not. This financial executive moved from one top company to another in just one month--with a simple strategy.

When Cadbury Schweppes reorganized last year, Vice President and Treasurer Bill Raver faced the choice of moving his family to England permanently or taking a severance package and moving into the job market. Raver chose the latter.

Unlike many out-of-work financial executives, however, Raver quickly landed a new job: "The position at Young & Rubicam opened up just as I started looking," he explains. "I interviewed with the company over a period of six weeks and was very fortunate to be hired."

Raver joined Y&R as senior vice president and treasurer on March 30, 1992. His new position has broader resposibilities and a wider geographical reach than his old job had. And he didn't have to move his family. Here's how Raver approached his successful search.


When I discovered I needed a new job, I was very fortunate. I had time to prepare for the search. I did some reading and I took notes. I was looking for topics I could use in job interviews and a theme for my resume. I wanted to understand how I should market myself and what skills were in particular demand. After all, I was measuring myself against some very good competitors and I hadn't made an employer change for almost ten years. The whole process gave me great insight into the role of finance in today's corporate world.

One of my favorite business books is Educating Financial Executives, published by Financial Executives Research Foundation (FERF) in 1990. The authors, from The Gallup Organization, say a financial executive needs three skills for success: interpersonal skills, or the ability to get along with people; communication skills, or the ability to express oneself; and productivity skills, or the ability to organize a group of people to get a task done. I cited this study frequently when I was interviewing. While companies' needs change--and you end up talking to many different players in different industries when you're interviewing--all companies are looking for strong general-management skills and a proven track record with people.

Another useful book is The Quest for Value, by Bennett Stewart, a partner at the New York consulting firm of Stern Stewart & Co. It's very relevant to companies today after a decade of high leverage. The book is written in layman's terms and is probably the best primer for any financial executive who wants to bone up on current issues in corporate finance--whether the executive is looking for a new job or not. The focus is on economic value, not bookkeeping. A winning theme.

Finally, my involvement with Financial Executives Institute has relped a great deal. [Raver has been an officer and director of the Institute at both the local and national levels and currently serves on FEI's Committee for the Investment of Employee Benefit Assets, or CIEBA.] By following the projects adopted by FEI's technical committees and FERF, I had available a wealth of information I could use throughout my job search. Reading their newsletters keeps me current on key issues. And I attend as many FEI seminars and conferences as I can, almost always taking away case histories of how companies solved problems. The skills and diversification I gain as a result are equivalent to working for a dozen companies.

Some people suggest I found my new job quickly because I know a lot of people. But it's not the number of people you know. It's the quality of the contacts you make throughout your career and what you learn from those contacts about practical business management. For instance, FEI has enabled me to meet peers throughout the country and in a variety of industries--people who have helped me solve problems for my employer and people I believe I've been able to help in return.


I gathered some unique perspectives during my job search. What can I offer as advice? Keep in mind the following five rules. They just may convince an interviewer you're a more valuable candidate than the next person.

* Generalists are far more valuable than specialists. You never know what problems you're going to face in a company, so you have to be prepared for anything. During my interviews, I noted that we managed the treasury function at Cadbury Schweppes "for no surprises." I said that one of the best contributions a treasurer can make to a company is heading off problems before they occur. Then I cited a variety of examples. (Fortunately, we had good ones.) Keeping superiors informed and heading off surprises are very reassuring traits in a job candidate.

Some applicants do themselves a disservice by stressing depth in one or two technical areas. Look at the Japanese and European firms, where the specialized functions of finance don't stand out. They're woven into the fabric of the company. Boundaries between tax and control, treasury and audit are diffuse. The financial executive there is a generalist by necessity. Yet these companies are, by and large, highly successful.

* International is key. In my job search, I met candidates who didn't want to work for a foreign-owned company. They didn't want to travel overseas, and they didn't want to deal with foreign currency, international taxes, or accounting problems. Of course, they limited their appeal to potential employers, because today you just can't avoid being involved to some degree in international business. Even if you stay in the U.S., you'll be exposed to it. We already have a free trade agreement with Canada, and a North American Free Trade Agreement involving Mexico may be coming, too. You may not need to know all facets of your company's international operations, but you do need to know how your company can compete. Working knowledge of foreign countries and offshore competition rounds you out as a business executive and makes you a more valuable resource for everyone from bank lenders to security analysts.

* Traditional corporate staff positions are disappearing. Treasurers recognize that bank calling officers who take clients golfing four or five days a month are dinosaurs. They aren't surviving the broad cuts the financial services industry must make to remain profitable. The same holds true for extra layers of staff in non-financial industries. It's unsafe to assume you can ride out the changes of the next decade from a secure staff job. Don't be afraid to take a non-traditional finance job.

Understanding the business, maintaining close ties to the operating units, and having the ability to move into operations is critical. When Larry Bossidy, chairman of Allied-Signal, spoke about the "new-age CFO" at an FEI conference last year, I took many pages of notes. He called finance a shared function that exists in clusters of activity throughout the company. There's no other function that crosses so many lines. The efficiency of having the finance team making decisions out in the field far outweights any loss of central control.

People and skills become mobile, and resources are allocated more efficiently. People learn to be customer-directed. The CFO becomes the concigliari of the business. Bossidy stressed you have to be less of a controller and more of a facilitator.

As I was preparing for my job search, I came across an article that called the CFO the "designated driver" of the company. I used the analogy in several interviews.

Then, when I began talking with Y&R, I sought close exposure to operating unit activity. The company was receptive to the idea and, in fact, I'm fortunate to have a "business affairs" role with our relatively new joint venture in Russia.

* Instability offers opportunities. Don't be afraid to attack vexing problems. I'll give you one example involving the spirling costs of employee benefits. At Cadbury, I started out as most treasurers do, supervising the investments of funded plans. Then I got involved in setting the actuarial assumptions. I asked questions like: Why do we have acturial assumptions that are different from our planning assumptions? If we change them, what's the impact on the P&L? If we follow a particular funding and investment strategy for a couple of years, what will the plan and our balance sheet look like? How will the plan be affected as "people demographics" change over the 1990s?

Nobody had good answers. After a time, the finance department was assigned responsibility for overseeing all of the company's employee benefit programs--setting plan design, administering claims, communicating with employees--not just investing funds. The area of employee benefits offers a gold mine of financial opportunities, if you're willing to play fireman. But many executives don't want to jump in and solve problems like medical inflation and retiree medical design.

Other examples: Remember when interest rates were high? If you knew something about cash management technology back then, you were tremendously valuable to your company. When the FASB's Statement 8 was introduced, if you knew anything about foreign currency exposure management, you became a very valuable resource. Today, if you know how to put together global insurance programs or PC-based financial reporting systems, you're in demand. There's always a new frontier for financial people to conquer. Don't wait until others take the lead, especially if you're likely to be entering the job market.

* Look at every assignment as a multifaceted opportunity. My teenage sons like to rush through their homework, putting down the first answer they think of. This is short-sighted in the business world. Often, you need to come at problems from many different angles.

I'll give an example, again involving employee benefit plans: Some treasurers supervise investment programs for their pension and savings plans as a passive exercise, receiving reports from money managers, trustees, and consultants. I make a point of going out to meet the managers and their analysts, asking them questions about their process, their economic assumptions, how they gather corporate intelligence on stocks they follow, and so forth. This gives me a chance to see what the "buy side" wants and gauge the appetite for securities. It helps me judge the effectiveness of investment relations programs. Cadbury Schweppes issued $250 million of a uniquely designed auction rate preferred stock in the U.S., U.K., and Canada during 1991--made possible at least in part by our research into the "buy side" community.

So, turn your projects and problems around, treat them as a Rubic's cube, and try to imagine them in different forms. Doing this routinely, and having good examples to discuss with a prospective employer, may greatly raise your competitive profile.
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Title Annotation:Careers; includes related article; for financial executives
Author:Raver, William J.
Publication:Financial Executive
Date:Jul 1, 1992
Previous Article:The property puzzle.
Next Article:"Soft stuff matters." (managing soft subjects such as corporate values, corporate culture, corporate philosophy) (Management Strategy)

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