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Back to newsletter 096 contents | All Javva's articles

The extraordinary expanding domain of No. 1

It's an interesting time to be in a finance company - in the sense of the Chinese curse "may you live in interesting times". For many I know, it's a constant case of anxiety. A friend of mine, who I'll call Bilbo given his penchant for ale, is still - just - working at an investment bank. Bilbo is on to his third manager in the last year. Sadly, his new manager is likely to be his last at the investment bank. Not that Bilbo or his manager are particularly slated for "headcount reduction", that delightful term so enamoured by the bean counters. No, it's just that Bilbo's new manager is No. 1. I have no other name for him. You need to know about No. 1 to see why Bilbo believes his time is numbered. No. 1 is a credit crunch empire building manager.

You would think the middle of a credit crunch and the start of a recession while at an investment bank is a bad place to be. And an even worse place to start building an empire. But No. 1 has managed. No. 1 is a manager that manages the seemingly impossible. So why did I say sadly No. 1 is likely to be Bilbo's last manager there? The simple reason is that No. 1 expands his empire on the back of reducing headcount, and sucking in other sections. No. 1 is on his fifth reorganisation in the last year and a half. Each reorganisation has seen people dumped - sorry, "headcount shrinkage" - from No. 1's existing section, while at the same time another similarly reduced section, less one manager, was added to No. 1's empire. With each headcount reduction, No. 1's empire grew, even as he "sadly had to let more of his highly valued people go".

Having your section moved under No. 1 is essentially the kiss of death. And, alas for Bilbo, that is where he now is. Tick tock, tick tock, the inevitability of "headcount shrinkage" continues. Good news for No. 1. Bad news for his "valued people". Perhaps the most interesting thing is why No. 1. gets to build his empire. And that is pure brilliance. You see No. 1 makes it quite clear to the management further up that there is more fat to cut. No matter how much has been cut from his growing empire, No. 1 tells his superiors that there is more that can be cut. While at the same time he tells his "valued people" that their ever growing workload, as they have to take on two, three, four roles, is simply a consequence of the current situation. And so his superiors love No. 1. They get to cut a manager, a section is merged, more cuts, whoopee. No. 1 is the bean counter's dream manager. Even as the business starts to lose money because the knowledge of running those sections is being dribbled away and demoralised to nothing, the bean counters will cheer on No 1.

"Prioritise". "Work smarter". "Only do the essentials". Bilbo's essentials currently involve keeping his head down, working far longer than he should so that he isn't the next headcount to go, and hoping that he'll ride out the recession without ending up in serious debt. Which is what would happen if he lost his job and couldn't find another. Good luck Bilbo, and you other Bilbo's out there.

BCNU - Javva The Hutt.

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