2007 – Someone in the office starts talking about a “Credit Crunch” – Naively I conjure images of a discounted chocolate bar or something similar..
March 2008 – Bear Stearns collapses – I understood them to be quite niche, 15,000 or so employees, big in securities. I understood that this was the first major Wall Street institution to collapse for non-fraudulent activity since 1929. It made the front pages of the global broadsheets, but three days later we had stopped talking about it in the UK.
Summer 2008 – job flow started to slow down, hiring freezes started to crop up. My MD at the time was quite insistent we stopped “talking ourselves into a recession”. We had to remain positive to candidates and clients. The message was that others may be struggling but we were fine (which couldn’t have been further from the truth). Naysayers were silenced and we used indicators like the number of HR Vacancies advertised on People Managements website (312 in July), the FTSE 100 index and weekly volumes of candidate registration, to persuade us that there wasn’t a problem.
September 1st 2008 – It’s my first day in my brand new job – I’m entering the world of exec search to start an HR Desk – this credit crunch malarkey can jog on!
September 15th 2008 – Lehman Brothers files for Bankruptcy and their stock price plummets to zero, we sit there in shock watching individuals leaving the Canary Wharf office carrying their belongings in boxes.
January 2009 – First day back after an uncertain Christmas break. The economy has officially entered recession, Interest rates have been cut, the job market has fallen of a cliff. I check People Managements website and see that they are advertising 34 vacancies in HR across the entirety of the UK. I sit and there and wonder how on earth do I tackle this, what should my strategy be? I also sat there thinking that this had been talked about for nearly two years, we should have been better prepared!
I learnt more about recruitment in the following two years of 2009 and 2010 than I had in the seven years prior. I learnt more about the HR profession in that period than in the previous seven years. It forced me to try new approaches, adopt new techniques, and think diversely. It gave me an armour that for many years I probably took for granted.
Fast forward to 2020 and we find ourselves facing probably one of the biggest challenges of our lifetime, with the uncertainty of COVID 19. Very rarely have we had to face a threat to our way of life like this and yes, the reality is that our economy and the US economy will likely tip into recession. The outlook feels similar, I have that feeling in the pit of my stomach. I woke up this morning and headed downstairs for breakfast and it literally felt like Doc Brown had rocked up in his Dolorian, I had got in, and gunned it to 88mph (Back to the Future, for those who are confused). The difference this time though and something I am struggling to deal with, is the sheer rapidity with which our outlook has changed.
In early February our business planning for the next financial year was about growth, both in the UK and New York. We were budgeting for a strong business performance and looking at multiple hires both in the UK and New York. The first week of March I was in New York delivering a shortlist and having 19 meetings across 4 days and getting excited for my April trip. 10 days after returning from the US the world has literally fallen off a cliff. Back in 2009 we had 18 months of talking, predicting, gossiping about what would happen to the economy and mentally gearing up for a fight. After our management meeting on Monday in the space of about 18 minutes we had to come to terms with this new global landscape.
As I sit working from home for the foreseeable future, writing this, I must confess I am struggling to ready myself mentally for the fight. I am typing literally as Laura Ashley enters into administration, Travelex are preparing for insolvency and retailers that need footfall are set to collapse in days. This will decimate the travel & hospitality industry and I don’t know if the government can shore this up quickly enough to prevent beloved brands disappearing forever. However, equally there is a part of me that is taking a deep breath and that is thinking “You have done this before, dust off your shield and spear and prepare to enter the arena!”
I am truly shocked and mildly horrified at what this global pandemic is doing and will do to humanity in the coming months. People have lost and will lose loved ones to this awful disease and I am personally terrified for my parents. As we enter the challenging economic period ahead, I know that this will mean that people will lose jobs, people will lose homes, people will get desperate. I can only hope that this period doesn’t last for the 2 years of struggle that we endured in the aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis.
I am thankful that in some ways I have been through a global economic downturn as not only has it equipped me to deal with the knocks backs and heavy lifting ahead, it also means most importantly I can help my team through it. I can equip them with the skills and armour to stay the course, work hard and deliver for our customers. I can help them counsel concerned candidates and steer clients into making good hiring decisions. Most of all I can help keep them together as a team and ensure we work for each other rather than independently.
It is times like this that define us as people, and times where we inevitably see the best and worst of humanity. There is no point hiding from the difficult economic times ahead, rather than deny it I am determined to deal with it straight on, but this time I am ready to help others through it, rather than stumble blindly trying to find the right path. I am determined to give people the confidence that we will get through this, a confidence not given to me in 2009. I am determined that in the face of chaos and uncertainty I will help make sure my team understand that the sun will continue to rise and fall, life will continue, and business will recover.
To all my network, stay safe in the difficult times ahead, and in regard to the Reward market in the UK and New York, we are here and at your disposal to guide you through it.