The difficulties of senior managers in finding jobs

The Greek economy’s continued high rate of growth in 2003 did not produce a commensurate rise in demand for jobs – particularly as regards managerial positions – and a resultant fall in unemployment, contributors told a recent Athens conference titled «The General Manager Plans his/her Future.» They pointed out that this seems, indeed, to be a global trend. Nikitas Konstantellos, general manager of consultancy firm KPMG in Greece, noted that the Greek market for managerial jobs has gone through two phases during the last few years. He characterized the first phase as the «golden period,» from 1998 to 2000, its main features being the rapid ascent of the Athens Stock Exchange, the great degree of optimism, the establishment of a large number of new companies and the need for smart managers. Such an environment created intense competition for the attraction of well-qualified managers as well as the sense that managers could have «the last word.» The second phase, lasting from 2001 to 2003, was characterized by a fall in demand as the global economy slowed down, while the Athens Stock Exchange entered a protracted decline, leading to a slowdown in new investment as well as the need to control operating costs. Currently, Konstantellos argued, the market is developing on two levels: During the first half of the year, the Greek market for managers was characterized by relative improvement. Yet the end of the Olympic Games has created new imbalances in the job market, once flooded by hundreds of high-level managers who worked on the preparation and the staging of the Games, whose services are now becoming obsolete. As a matter of fact, Athens 2004, the organizers, employed no less than 800 top- and medium-level managers. He said facts and figures show the difficult situation in the senior managerial job market, as demand for such personnel has been falling the last four years and since large human resources companies are characterized by stagnant rates of growth in the market. On the contrary, Konstantellos observed, demand for mid-level managers remains satisfactory. The situation for managers was also not helped by the fact that – after the recent change of government and despite expectations – many of the top managers appointed to publicly controlled companies are either academics or politicians, limiting the number of top managerial positions available to those with experience in the private sector. At the same time, large numbers of newly qualified managers are entering the market, creating an even more difficult situation. It is worth noting that from 9.5 percent in 2003, unemployment rose to 11.2 percent in the first quarter of 2004, while 24 percent of the members of the Association of Senior Managers are either unemployed or underemployed. Konstantellos added that the situation described in the United States as a «jobless recovery» is also characteristic of most of Europe, with businesses focusing on cost-cutting and productivity increases, benefiting their profitability without creating new jobs as should be expected. Another speaker, Georgia Kartsani, general manager of Stanton Chase International, noted that over the last three years most new senior managerial positions have appeared in the healthcare services market, followed by the financial sector and technology companies. Kartsani also said that employers are seeking top managers who can lead, meaning that they are able to motivate and encourage employers, cultivate personal relations on a business level and make decisions quickly and correctly. She said there are optimistic messages and still many opportunities for senior managers in Greece as well as abroad. Christianos Amiralis, chief executive officer and vice president of the Hay Group, noted that basic salaries are becoming increasingly smaller in relation to total remuneration as the importance of the managerial position increases. He added that salaries of senior managers in Greece are adequate in comparison with the rest of the European Union, with such salaries in Britain being 12 percent higher than the EU average and much higher than in Italy and Spain. Referring to trends, Amiralis said that on a pan-European level, the highest salaries for senior managers could be found in the banking, financial, pharmaceutical and retail sectors, with top managers facing less competition for jobs in the petroleum, chemicals, natural gas and heavy industries. He noted that salaries in the US are on average 10 percent lower than in Europe. At the same time, the highest bonuses are found in Germany, followed by Spain and Switzerland, with the Scandinavian countries next, but at a great distance from the first three. Sotiris Tagopoulos, general director of insurance firm ALICO AIG Life, noted that the longer average life expectancy and the «discovery» of life after retirement has created new financial requirements. He said that pensioners of IKA, the Greek Social Security Foundation, usually receive about 35 percent of their last salary, in the low-paid jobs, and only about 10 percent of higher-paid job salaries. Overall, speakers at the conference expected a recovery in the global senior managerial job market, but a number of them warned that many companies may be about to ask their top managers to accept wage adjustments.