CFOs pine for help, but who isnt these days

November 8, 2010
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In a perfect world, more than one-third — 38 percent, to be precise — of chief financial officers at 795 U.S. companies would have someone else do the “basic clerical/administrative” work they are tasked with on the job.

Smaller percentages of CFOs named some other chores as the one they’d most like to avoid during the workday, according to a telephone survey developed by Robert Half Management Resources. It was conducted recently by an independent research firm that received responses from almost 800 CFOs in a random sampling of U.S. companies with 20 or more employees.

A Robert Half executive interprets the CFO’s lament about basic clerical/admin work to mean that the recession has caused staff reductions at all levels of business organizations, and he finds a teachable moment for the afflicted CFOs.

“Today’s need to ‘do more with less’ extends to all levels of the organization,” said Paul McDonald, senior executive director of Robert Half Management Resources. “At small and midsize companies, in particular, this often means financial executives have had to take on tasks once handled by others. The demands of the current economic environment make it even more essential for senior-level managers to use their time wisely.”

Or, maybe not.

According to the survey results, the other types of work the CFOs would like to hand-off, in descending order, are: accounting-related —19 percent; human resources-related — 14 percent; managing — 7 percent; operations-related — 3 percent; and interaction with vendors — 1 percent.

To their credit, 8 percent of the CFOs indicated there was nothing in their workload they felt someone else should be doing for them. Ten percent indicated “other” — an unspecified task they most wanted to avoid.

In Grand Rapids, the Robert Half branch manager is Rebecca Westmaas, who told Business Journal reporter Pete Daly “we all know” that many companies have been running “bare bones for the last couple of years.” People who haven’t lost their jobs in the recession, from executives on down, “have taken on a lot more responsibilities than they’ve had in the past,” she said, “and sometimes things that they don’t necessarily want to do but know they’ve got to do, because there just aren’t enough hands to do everything these days.

“Believe it or not, executives have been writing their own e-mails, sending their own faxes, typing their own letters,” she said. Up until the onset of the recession a couple of years ago, she suggested, these were things that might not have been considered “effective use of their time.”

“Executives are making good money,” said Westmaas, so when an executive has to do something that previously would have been done by a clerk or admin assistant, she questions whether it is “appropriate” use of the executive’s time and the company budget.

While the Business Journal had Westmaas on the phone, it seemed a good time to ask if the economy was showing enough improvement to afford some help for over-taxed executives.

Except for manufacturing companies, which call back factory workers when things start improving, she said, companies tend to add administrative help to the payroll when they are able. The next level of employees added are in the accounting, finance and then HR areas, she said.

Westmaas, who has been with Robert Half for 15 years, said that locally, hiring for the last year or more has been mostly temporary employees — in other words, “project people.”

“Now, we’re starting to see our companies come to us” seeking “more of what we deem temp-to-hire, or permanent hiring.”

There is another indicator of an improving economy, according to Westmaas. Sometimes, when the firm now contacts someone it had placed in the past for a temp position, that individual will announce that he or she has landed a permanent job.

OfficeTeam, a division of Robert Half that specializes in placement of “highly skilled” administrative professionals, just released its Salary Guide 2011, which lists national average starting salaries. It indicates that executive assistants can expect starting salaries to rise an average of 3.4 percent above 2010, with the expected range in 2011 to be from $35,750 to $49,000.

Base compensation for administrative assistants will increase 2.5 percent to a range of $26,500 to $35,000 annually. Starting salaries for receptionists, however, will decrease by about one-half percent, to a range of $21,000 to $28,500 per year in 2011. Office clerk jobs also will see a decrease in pay: a range of $20,250 to $26,500, down 1.1 percent.

While starting compensation in the admin field is expected to remain close to 2010 levels, salaries in some fields, such as health care and customer service, “are seeing modest gains as companies look to bring in support staff with specific industry experience,” said Robert Hosking, executive director of OfficeTeam.

Health-care reform, an aging population and the move toward electronic medical records are creating growing demand for administrative professionals in the health-care field, in general. Manufacturing and financial services will continue to expand and require additional support staff in 2011, according to OfficeTeam.

Robert Half research indicates salaries for accounting and finance professionals will be slightly higher, because key roles are proving “challenging” to fill.

Merger field optimistic

Officials with Dykema, a law firm with offices in West Michigan, have announced the results of its 2010 Mergers & Acquisitions Outlook Survey. The sixth annual survey of industry leaders examined how federal legislation, the U.S. economy, financing challenges and other domestic and global matters will impact the M&A industry in the coming year.

For the second year in a row, confidence in the U.S. M&A market is slowly increasing after sliding for several years. Thirty-eight percent of industry leaders say they think the market will be strong during the next 12 months, and 52 percent are neutral on the outlook for the coming year.

Looking at the overall U.S. economy, more than half of respondents are neutral on the prospects for 2011, and the remainder are split between positive and negative outlooks.

Respondents believe strategic buyers are still the strongest drivers of M&A activity but private equity buyers are making a comeback. Economic conditions are not driving the market as much as they were in 2009, and far more respondents than last year think there will be no significant change or some decrease in the number of distressed transactions.

"The last few years have been some of the most challenging for businesses to navigate in the past centuries. Confidence in both the M&A market and the broader U.S. economy finally started to improve last year and executives surveyed in 2010 are cautiously optimistic for the coming year," said Dave Cellitti, leader of Dykema's M&A practice. "This shift in perceptions is a consistent trend throughout Dykema's 2010 survey and represents a marked improvement over the prior two years. It is a positive sign indicative of anticipated economic stabilization."

Wasting no time

It’s not often that someone gets to burn a 20-year-old mortgage and then party. But that is exactly what the Kent County Department of Public Works will be doing this week. DPW has a mortgage burning ceremony set for 10 a.m. Wednesday for its Waste-to-Energy facility at 950 Market Ave. SW.

Since the plant made its debut in February 1991, it has processed 3.76 million tons of waste, recycled more than 100,000 tons of ferrous metals, kept another big landfill from opening, and produced almost 2 billion KWh of electricity — about enough juice to power Walker and Grandville.

It’s rumored that County Commissioner Art Tanis, who is retiring from the board at the end of this year and who has been a tireless worker for environmental sustainability on the DPW board, is bringing the matches. Our guess is he’ll also be serving the refreshments, but only after he torches the mortgage at roughly 10:20.

Exit, stage left — er, right?

The Coffee Dunkers of America will take the stage at 7:27 a.m. sharp Dec. 13 as they “purge themselves of our comic genius” at the annual event, held at Grand Valley State University’s Eberhard Center. After all, the group has missed only two curtain calls in its 50 years of performances.

We trust there is enough material in this political season alone to keep the troupe in stitches for many hours, but we know it won’t take nearly that long to hit their marks.

Many more frolicking details to follow (maybe even a dastardly Dunkers’ website in the works?).

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