JB HOMER Retained Executive Search, specializing in executive search for technology and operations talent in a global market

As seen in the August, 2007 issue of ...


Job Outlook:Sunny

Roles are evolving as IT executives are in demand in the US and Europe.

The executive IT job market is sizzling right now, headhunters agree, even as some roles are changing, prompting firms to shift their requirements and expectations. IT professionals in financial services must align themselves with the business and understand it more than ever before, recruiters say, noting they have seen a marked migration of IT talent from the sell side to the buy side.

Judy Homer Seven major banks have brought in new CIOs and CTOs over the last year, three in the last quarter alone, says Judy Homer, president of New York-based JB Homer Associates, which specializes in placing CIOs, CTOs and the leadership teams around them. And the executive job market is as hot in Europe as it is in the US, says Homer.

As well as the usual job titles, some new positions have opened up. Information security officers are increasingly giving way to IT risk officers, a broader role that covers all things related to network security, firewalls, and security audits, says Homer. Roles in data management have also expanded beyond a focus on storing data to include data protection, storage and controlling access to data, she says. The professional area of sourcing and procurement is another growing field, encompassing everything to do with outsourcing and vendors. Managing all of these external relationships under one umbrella is a recent development, says Homer.

Roles that were once clearly defined are now becoming less so. "There is a blurring of the line between traders and technologists," says Harjinder Mann, principal consultant for Ingeniously Executive Search, a London-based headhunting firm. Traders have increasing influence over the systems they are using, and a new crop of technologists, with master's degrees in financial mathematics, is coming up.

In some firms, the difference between the roles of CIO and CTO is shrinking, says Homer. A CIO traditionally concentrates on information strategy and building staff, whereas a CTO has a deep technology focus. Some firms are now hiring one person for both, says Homer.

Switching Sides

Firms are increasingly open to considering candidates with experience in different product lines, says Craig Stephenson, senior client partner and global managing director for New York-based headhunting firm Korn/Ferry International. With a limited pool of executive candidates, firms start out looking for someone with a specific career history but then expand their search to include people with relevant experience in other asset classes. Firms hiring in equity derivatives are most open to considering candidates with experience in other asset classes, due to the very niche nature of the product, says Stephenson. Firms will often consider hiring from related areas, such as credit derivatives.

"There is a lot of movement from the sell side to the buy side," says Stephenson. "The buy side seems to be awakening, and there seems to be a concerted effort to bring over resources from some areas in the sell side that can create market differentiation, like technology," he says. However, the sell side is not lacking, says Stephenson. "With continued consolidation and convergence, there is still a lot of great talent within the sell side. But as portfolios are broadening and asset classes are diversifying on the buy side, they have to reach out to certain areas of expertise like technology within the sell side," he says.

One senior IT executive with a well-known Wall Street firm, who prefers to remain anonymous, says he would absolutely consider crossing over to the buy side, provided it was at least a midsize group. He is approached twice a year by headhunters, but so far has not been lured away in his 20 years with the firm. He says he could be tempted by a significantly expanded role and challenges, as well as more money. But, he says, a move to a vendor holds no interest, as it would be too limiting.

This is not the case for Mike Stolz, vice president of architecture at GemStone Systems, who recently ended a long career at Merrill Lynch to join the vendor. Stolz says he worked closely with GemStone during his tenure at Merrill Lynch and felt that he could make good use of his knowledge base and his industry contacts working for the software provider. "I used to build trading systems for Merrill Lynch, and now I am building trading systems for Merrill Lynch and all the other Wall Street firms," he says.

Occasionally, people move from vendors to user firms, but they are typically hired into infrastructure or architectural roles, says Stephenson.

Hints from Headhunters

The headhunters say it is important for technologists to be aligned with the business. "Technology-savvy people who don't understand the business are holding themselves back and will hit a glass ceiling," says Mann. Business and technology used to be separate but now are much more integrated, says Mann. Furthermore, an IT executive should always think of technology as a business, says Homer. "They should always think of the financials, as technology for technology's sake is not necessary," she says.

When looking for the next career move, Mann advises IT execs to include current buzzwords—like high-performance computing, straight-through processing, low latency, MiFID and grid computing—in their résumés so they won't be overlooked. "Don't just be one-faceted," says Homer. A candidate who has worked in both infrastructure and applications, or in both a large bank and a small hedge fund can be very desirable, she says. It is also impressive to see someone who has been with a bank through a merger or acquisition and stuck it out, she adds.

When preparing for an interview it is vital to research the company. Too many senior people assume they know the market but fail to do enough research, says Mann.

Candidates should carry out due diligence on the company, says Homer. Does it have a solid business plan? Will it survive? Company culture is also very important. "You can put very qualified people in very qualified seats, but it's the culture that kills them if they can't act and react within it," she says. And candidates should make sure they get along with the person they will be working for, she says.

The last thing a candidate should consider is money. "If the other things aren't there, it doesn't matter how much money you are making. It will be for a short period of time because you won't last," she says.

Once in the role, new hires should carry out a 60- to 90-day assessment, says Stephenson. This affords the opportunity to travel, meet people and create exposure, he says. But it's important to avoid becoming paralyzed in assessing the situation and start developing action plans that can be executed right away, he says. "Make an impact," he says. Homer says she agrees. "Always work on your level of communication and visibility within the firm," she says.

Finally, changing jobs every 18 months should be avoided, says Homer. She says people should stay in each job a minimum of four to five years so they have time to accomplish their goals and put succession plans in place.

A Leap of Faith

It is not always possible, however, to stay in a job as long as expected.

"Lifetime employment is dead—except maybe in Germany," says Natalie Schoon, head of product development at a start-up Islamic bank in London. Ongoing industry consolidation means no job is as secure as it seems. Schoon points to the proposed acquisition of Dutch bank ABN Amro. "Employees there thought they had job security but they probably don't," she says, and they won't find out if their jobs are secure for a while. In the meantime, it would be difficult to leave, as they can't move to any of the bidding firms or the firms involved in the financing of the merger, according to reports. That rules out Barclays, Deutsche Bank, Fortis, JPMorgan, Merrill Lynch, Royal Bank of Scotland, and Santander.

Schoon says she has twice found herself out of a job when the firms she was working for were sold. But her advice is that there is always something else around the corner. She has worked in software houses and banks both large and small. She also worked as a contractor. "Contracting is great because you don't get involved with any of the politics, but there is not much career progression," she says.

Schoon says her experience as a contractor left her open to change. Earlier this year, while on a long-term contract with Barclays Capital in London, a headhunter called to ask if she would be interested in joining a start-up Islamic bank. Schoon saw an opportunity to pursue her passion, having developed an interest in Islamic finance when she worked in Bahrain, and completed a PhD in the subject not long before. A lot of people were surprised by her decision to move, she says.

Schoon says she advises people who are considering a career move to think about what they want to achieve in the near term, and take the plunge. Those considering joining a start-up should check out the reputations of the people they would be working for and with, she says. That gives an idea of how successful they will be in the business. "Do your homework and make sure the company is not about to go into liquidation," she says. "If you think it's worth it and you think the people are nice to work with, then go for it."

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