Hobson’s Choice

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Straight Answers to Real Questions

Question: I’m an experienced financial executive, with over twenty years’ of industry experience since getting my CA designation. My last position was CFO of a $100mm logistics company which was sold a year ago to a strategic buyer in the U.S. I stayed on for a while to help with the transition but my position was eliminated and I’ve been on the job market for the past six months.

I recently interviewed for a position as VP Finance of a logistics / transportation firm and I think I’ve got a pretty good shot at this one. My issue is with the scope of the position. The firm has revenues of about $20mm and seems pretty happy with their market position. The company has no real plans to grow and the position on offer seems kind of routine – not nearly as challenging as the position I most recently held.

The remuneration of the position is somewhat less than what I was making before but that doesn’t really concern me that much. My question is: should I opt for the somewhat boring bird in the hand or hold out for the more interesting and remunerative bird that’s still in the bush?

Answer: You pose a very tough and very common question – one that CFOs who’ve been on the market any length of time wrestle with all the time. And I’m not in a position to offer you a definitive answer. I can, however, point to some of the factors you should consider as you work your way through the decision making process.

  • Stage of career: If you were in the final stage of your career (which I suspect you’re not), taking a less challenging position is not necessarily a bad thing. You may not be using all of your bandwidth at work but that also means that you can probably clear your desk by 5:00pm every night and even play hooky on occasion to work on your golf game. However, if you’re mid-career with lots of miles still on the tires, you’re probably going to be bored within nine months and really bored within two years. This will probably put you in the market again sooner than you’d like. And by virtue of the fact that you’d be in a lesser position at lesser pay, you’ll be fortunate if your next job after this is as challenging/remunerative as the position you held with your $100mm logistics employer.
  • Financial situation: If you’re in your mid-late forties, you’ve probably got significant financial obligations that you readily serviced when you were a fully employed CFO. It’s common for CFOs to be on the market for twelve months or more so you could very conceivably still be unemployed five months (or more) from now. Most CFOs in your position have a decent severance package and can ride out a year of being on the market. Others are not so lucky and lack of cash flow does eventually come into play.
  • Market conditions: You don’t mention what part of the country you hail from but I’m going to assume that you’re somewhere in the GTA. This is good thing if you’re looking for a job. The GTA (and golden horseshoe region) is a very large, diversified market. Even if the general economy is slow, there are always economic hot spots in the GTA and CFO jobs to be found. If however, you’re in a smaller or less heterogeneous market, if times happen to be tough where you are, CFO jobs will be very hard to find.
  • Contract prospects: You may want to consider the contract market as a placeholder until you find the job you really want. Being on contract pays the bills and gives you the time to continue your job hunting efforts without compromising yourself. In terms of prospective employers, having a contract gig on your resume is a better option than a full-time job that makes it look like you’re going backward in your career.

As I said, this is a tough and very personal decision – there’s definitely no one correct answer. If you are in your late fifties with five kids in university and out of work in Calgary when the price of a barrel of crude is hovering around $30 a barrel, taking the lesser job is probably the right call. If however, you’re in your forties, in good financial shape and live in the GTA, the better bet may be to try to get some contract work and hold out for the job you really want.

If you think you may be in the market for top financial talent in the next few months, call me direct or email me, for a no obligation consultation.

(416) 567-7782 [email protected]

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