HR Insider May 07 2012

Where They've Landed: MF Global Employees Six Months Later

By Julie Steinberg

When Dan Whiteford worked at MF Global Holdings Ltd., he made sure trades cleared and tackled questions from the company's clients and trading desks.

The firm's collapse last October forced him to look for work wherever he can find it. The 45-year-old Mr. Whiteford interviewed for a cashier job at Target Corp. and $10.50-an-hour spot on a Chrysler Group LLC assembly line.

He hasn't been offered a job yet.

"At this point, you have to do what you have to do," says Mr. Whiteford, who was earning $70,000 a year working at MF Global's office in Chicago when the securities firm filed for bankruptcy protection on October 31.

Of the 1,300 employees at the company's U.S. unit, only 37 will be left after a round of layoffs next week. Most of the employees were let go shortly after the bankruptcy filing, and about 200 who were retained to help wind down customer accounts and help with the probe of MF Global are being let go as their work runs out.

The company's sudden demise because of panic over its European bets pushed MF Global employees into a brutal job market. It isn't clear how many have found new jobs, since the number isn't tracked by the company or a trustee representing its U.S. brokerage unit.

MF Global serves as a study of how employees disperse when a major financial firm goes out of business, a situation not seen since Lehman Brothers failed in September 2008.

Watch FINS reporter Julie Steinberg talk about what MF Global's former employees are doing now on WSJ.com's Mean Street.

Most of the firm's moneymakers and lower-ranking employees have been able to find work. But others, such as senior employees in non-revenue-generating roles like operations and technology, haven't been as lucky.

Hundreds of former MF Global employees landed at rival firms that swooped in to pick up marooned customers. R.J. O'Brien & Associates, a brokerage and clearing firm based in Chicago, grabbed 125 front-office and back-office workers from MF Global. (A few of them were laid off in early March.)

Other ex-employees are sending out 50 job applications a day and hoping for a response. Some are willing to settle for jobs they are overqualified for, but they aren't being offered them because employers worry they will bolt when the job market improves, some former MF Global employees say.

"Many of the positions out there are more junior than I'd want them to be," says Anthony Verriello, 43, a former director of equities technology in New York. "But even if I applied for them, no one would want to hire me because the assumption is I'd leave when the market gets better. But I wouldn't do that. Anyone who offered me a good role, I'd be loyal to."

He declines to say how much he made at MF Global, but people at his level earned $250,000 to $400,000 a year, including bonus, a person familiar with the matter says. He hasn't worked since his temporary stint for the bankruptcy trustee ended in mid-February.

Recruiters and companies that hired former MF Global employees say the failed securities firm's tainted reputation doesn't count against them.

Fewer than 20 people were involved in moving money at MF Global, where an estimated $1.6 billion shortfall in customer funds emerged shortly before the failure. By comparison, Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. had hundreds of employees in its subprime-mortgage operations.

"Most hiring managers realize 99% of MF Global employees were in no way responsible for what happened," says Chad Champion, a senior recruiter at the Mergis Group, a unit of Randstad Holding NV. In addition to MF Global, he has worked with employees displaced from American International Group Inc., Bear Stearns Cos. and Arthur Andersen.

MF Global had about 2,900 employees world-wide. In the U.K., some employees are working for the trustee in charge of the failed firm's U.K. unit. The unit had roughly 900 employees before the bankruptcy filing and has 83 as of April 30.

Not surprisingly, MF Global's biggest moneymakers have generally landed on their feet. Gary Pettit, the former global head of futures and options, moved with his team to ICAP PLC, a London-based brokerage firm.

Many lower-paid employees at MF Global also are in demand because they proved their mettle as relatively cheap labor. Of the firm's 150 analysts and associates—the two bottom rungs on the Wall Street career ladder—between 75% and 80% have gotten offers from firms like J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., Citigroup Inc. and Morgan Stanley, a person familiar with the matter says.

MF Global was never known for eye-popping paychecks. After former New Jersey Gov. Jon S. Corzine arrived as chief executive in 2010, employees got more stock-based compensation as an incentive to help their new boss transform the firm into a global investment bank.

As part of an 18-month revolving door in which 1,400 old employees left and 1,100 were hired, Mr. Corzine persuaded some traders who raked in $5 million to $8 million a year in their previous jobs to join MF Global for $1.5 million a year, including guaranteed stock.

The shares now are worthless, another painful reminder to loyal MF Global employees of everything they lost. Nick Kalivas, a vice president in financial research, thought his M.B.A. in finance, statistics and economics from the University of Chicago would help him get another job quickly. But he still is looking.

He says he will have to raid the college fund of his four children to pay property taxes, which are due in three weeks.

"I have to retool myself," says Mr. Kalivas, 46. He is putting out his own research and doing some consulting. He is considering going back to school for a master's degree so he can get a job as a financial engineer, but that would put even more strain on his family's finances.

For some employees, MF Global's collapse was enough to kick start dreams of striking out on their own. Rich Ilczyszyn, a trader at MF Global, started his own trading firm in Chicago.

"I've had it with companies," says Mr. Ilczyszyn, 43. "I can do better myself. I'm going to do everything I've done for the last 15 years. At least if I fail, it's because of me."

Write to Julie Steinberg at julie.steinberg@dowjones.com




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