Reacting to Economic Pressures

October 21, 2008

Jeff Kindler, CEO of Pfizer, addressed the HSM World Business Forum in New York a couple of weeks ago. He stated that Pfizer had sufficient cash flow to weather the storm, but what does this mean for you and me?

Although Mr. Kindler acknowledged that hardships were ahead for all world markets, he stated that “With Pfizer, we are very fortunate. We have lots of cash flow and a strong balance sheet, and project we’ll generate $18B cash flow this year.”

At the time of the address the US Congress was still in discussions about whether to approve the $700B rescue of Wall Street. They have since acted, sending Ben Bernanke’s team into overdrive, but the recovery is slow and a global recession is looming.

Pfizer, along with almost every publicly traded company in the world has taken an economic beating. At the time of this writing, Pfizer’s stock performance roughly matched that of the Dow Jones Industrial Average. In recent days, Pfizer’s stock prices have shown modest gains from a low of $14.31 on October 10, 2008.

The effects of the market have also spread to privately-held companies, academic institutions and even the government. At times like these it is best to avoid any sudden moves. If you have a job, keep it. If you are looking for a job, consider accepting an offer of employment that meets your minimum salary and work requirements with an eye toward “upgrading” to a better job after the economy recovers.

Now more than ever it is important to check on the people in your network. Say hello and find out what they are doing. In some cases, they may ask you for help, but it is important that you keep up with these connections, because you may need them later.

This is the time to be indispensable, versatile and resilient. Take a moment to update your resume. Keep your knowledge base current through reading or training. And be willing to try new projects that push you beyond your comfort zone. The worst thing that you can do right now is to bury your head in the sand and wait until this all blows over.

In the coming months, we can expect the current wave of mergers and acquisitions to continue as well-established and more stable companies shop for bargains among highly leveraged start-ups. We can also expect reorganization, restructuring and realignment in corporations as they reinvent themselves and eliminate or spin off any underperforming units. In many cases, this will be bad news for our members; however, some companies are still hiring. Vertex has added two dozen job listings to the ACS Careers Jobs Database in just the past few weeks. All the same, most companies will take a wait and see stance as the markets regains its focus and center.

It is important to remember that an economic recovery will happen. People still need basic goods and services including medications, and they will also want the high-end electronics and accessories that our industries provide. The world is currently holding its breath. We must wait for it to exhale.

This article was written by David E. Harwell, Ph.D.,Assistant Director for Career Management and Development at the American Chemical Society.