Mon, Mar 04, 2002 - Page 17 News List

Executives slip down the ladder

US ECONOMY The sad and sometimes humorous impact from a prolonged recession is to press those who once wore blue suits to buy some blue collar shirts

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

It happens in every recession, and this one is no exception: out-of-work professionals, and even some corporate executives, drive taxis or make cold calls to make ends meet.

"I tell people that it's not going to be forever," said a New York career coach, Deborah Brown, who said that the number of professionals who have sought her advice has doubled since Sept. 11. One of her main tasks, she said, is stroking egos and telling executives that it is all right to accept a lower-level position until the job market opens up. "But the truth is, some callers are embarrassed and feel like a failure," Brown said.

Paul Hahn, who lost his job in May as a senior consultant for the Computer Sciences Corp, did painting and electrical work for a while until finally landing a "real" job, driving a limousine for Hunterdon Connection Limousine in his hometown of Flemington, New Jersey.

He made six figures plus bonuses in his old job, analyzing the computer systems of clients like the Bank of Montreal, Phillips-Van Heusen and AT&T and making recommendations. "I was totally in shock when I was laid off," he said. "We stopped our house projects and put off any thought of vacations. We even agonized about having another child."

He had been with the company only three years, so his pension was not vested, and the company returned the money he had contributed to his 401(k).

The final insult was a class he attended at the outplacement firm that his company had selected. The woman running the class was just out of college and excessively perky. "Hey, guys," he says she told Hahn and his colleagues, "what a great opportunity for a career change."

Now he calls his early-morning customers the night before, arrives at their homes 15 minutes early, rings the doorbell and wakes up the whole house, and carries their suitcases to the car. Most people are friendly on the way to the airport, but some can be obnoxious. One man said outright, "I don't want to talk, okay?" he recalled.

He makes, on average, US$35 a trip, including a tip. For this he has to wear a suit and tie.

Before getting his driver's job, Hahn, 36, considered working the aisles of a big retailer like Staples or Home Depot, but was unnerved by the thought of running into former colleagues. But it would not bother him a bit if he picked up an old associate, he said. In fact, whenever an executive rides in his limousine, he talks himself up and hands out his resume. "I wasn't meeting them any other way," he said.

A manager no more

Efrat Mansdorf has also taken a step down in the job market, though the step seems more like an entire stairway, she says. Mansdorf, 26, was a project manager with iClips, a New York Internet company that produced streaming media for the Web sites of clients such as NBCi, the Internet division of NBC and Yahoo.com. Her duties included managing budgets and schedules and supervising a staff of five.

A major perk was having so much responsibility at her age. "I interviewed and hired people, and I made the typical big Internet salary," she said. Then, after six months on the job, her department was shut down last May just before the company went out of business. "I was so frustrated," she said.

She took it easy for a month or so, taking up biking, enrolling in a Spanish class and catching up on errands. Then Mansdorf went job hunting. She landed a couple of project-management interviews, but they did not lead anywhere. Her friends with secure jobs could not understand why someone with her background could not get back on her feet. Finally, in August, she was hired as a "research consultant" at the National Finder's Service in New York, a company that helps recover assets for individuals and companies that are unaware of their ownership, like money left to heirs in a will.

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