Excel at the Job Jul 05 2011

How to Insulate Yourself From Executive Shakeups

By julie steinberg

Personnel changes are common in any workplace, but what happens when the executive who mentored and sponsored your career suddenly leaves?

Executive changes and reshuffles have been announced at JPMorgan, UBS, Hewlett-Packard, Apple and J.C. Penney in the last couple months, which means those people's acolytes are surely evaluating their place in the company and figuring out how to latch on to new champions.

Here's how to ensure your career doesn't get derailed when the power structure shifts.



Don't find yourself between a rock and a hard place
.

It may seem obvious, but you should find multiple advocates within the firm, so you're not dependent on one champion.

"In today's environment, it's really important to have more than one sponsor," says Kathy Kram, professor of management at Boston University. "I would advise anyone to build a network of support rather than rely on one person."

That means making it a priority to ask people to coffee and for informational interviews.

Most people don't network enough, says Ford R. Myers, author of Get the Job You Want Even When No One's Hiring, and an executive career coach.

"It's a sophisticated strategy that not many people do," he says. "But the reality is you need to cultivate several relationships."

One analyst at an investment bank found this out the hard way: She had built a strong relationship with her boss but with no one else. Once her boss decided to leave, the analyst found herself with no one at the top to extol her virtues and funnel her plush assignments.

Chances are, however, that your sponsor may confide in you and let you know they're leaving. That will give you some time to determine your next move.



Trade on Your Sponsor's Relationships

You're not doomed once your sponsor leaves. Use your sponsor's capital to build a new relationship, says Carla Harris, a managing director with Morgan Stanley Investment Management and author of Expect to Win: Proven Strategies for Success from a Wall Street Vet.

"Just because that person left doesn't mean they don't still have influential relationships within your organization," Harris says. "Use your sponsor's name to get introduced to another sponsor within your firm."

Harris recommends choosing another sponsor who has had exposure to your work, someone who can represent you behind closed doors and someone whose voice is respected internally.

Ask your former boss for help in making the introduction. Jodi Glickman, a former investment banker at Goldman Sachs and author of Great on the Job, recommends saying: "I'm very sorry to be losing you, I respect and admire you, here's what would be really helpful to me going forward. Can you introduce me to so-and-so, or can you help me get staffed on this specific project?"

Your sponsor is still invested in your success, even if they leave the firm.



Decide if you want to follow your sponsor

The best outcome, of course, is getting the chance to follow your sponsor to the next gig. It's especially common in finance for entire groups to join their managing directors at another firm – and boost their titles and income at the same time.

Jamie Dimon, now the CEO of JPMorgan, followed his mentor Sandy Weill from American Express in 1985 to help transform Commercial Credit into present-day Citigroup. Though Weill eventually fired him, that loyalty flowed through the Dimon lineage: Dimon's own protégé, former retail head Charles Scharf, followed him from Citigroup to Bank One and then to Chase in 2004.

"When people leave with their sponsors, the sponsors feel overwhelmingly compelled to take care of them," Glickman says. "They're compensated well and are taken care of in terms of promotion. It's all about that loyalty that transcends the firm."

At the beginning of March, Stuart Hendel jumped from UBS to Bank of America Merrill Lynch to serve as head of global prime brokerage. Two of his colleagues, Charlotte Burkeman and Jonathan Yalmokas, resigned with him in solidarity and joined him at BofA Merrill Lynch.

Sponsorship from company to company is also common in the media industry. Fairchild Chief Executive Mary Berner recruited Dan Lagani to join her at the fashion trade division of magazine publisher Condé Nast in 2005. When Berner became CEO of Readers Digest Association in 2007, she kept her eye on Lagani and eventually brought him to RDA, the company that publishes Readers Digest magazine, as president of the magazine in 2010. Lagani was just one of several media executives Berner recruited from her career to come work at RDA.

Earlier this year, Berner left RDA , and so did some of her troops. Among them was Suzanne Grimes, president of one of the RDA divisions. Lagani took over Grime's duties and became RDA president for North America.

"As important as it is to have mentors and sponsors all throughout your career and at different levels, you have to plan for the fact that change is inevitable," Lagani says. "Ideally, you're not in your spot only because you have a sponsor."

Whether you decide to stay put or jump ship, one thing is clear: being as self-promotional as possible is a necessity in today's corporate environment.

Write to Julie Steinberg

-- Jeremy Greenfield contributed to the reporting of this article. Write to him here.




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