And Now for the Good News…

Here are ten bright spots to savor amid the economic gloom.

Finance Talent Just Got Easier to Find

With unemployment rates hitting record highs and Wall Street disgorging employees the way it once disgorged bonuses, top undergraduates and MBAs with finance training are developing a new appreciation for corporate life after years of heading straight from campus to investment banks. Finance executives, who have struggled to attract and retain qualified workers ever since Sarbanes-Oxley ramped up demand, anticipate an easier recruiting season. They also expect improved retention as most employees will be unlikely to leave their company for other opportunities, either because they are hesitant to make a move in this volatile environment or because there just aren’t very many other opportunities out there.

Go East, Young Man

“The Middle East and India markets are still growing rapidly,” says Jeffrey Egerstrom, CFO of Hult International Business School, which offers a one-year MBA at its campus in Dubai. “There are many local employment opportunities for these graduates.” The downturns in the United States and Europe have triggered a steady current of new MBA résumés flowing eastward as top graduates from Western schools seek opportunities overseas. Hult, which also has campuses in Boston, London, and Shanghai, has seen its own graduates turn down job offers in New York to take positions in Dubai, where they see a better chance for future growth. “This would have been unimaginable only a year ago,” says Egerstrom. China continues to boast strong employment opportunities, he says, particularly at companies focused on the domestic market. As the recession spreads globally, however, China’s many export-driven businesses face strong headwinds.

Deals Can Still Get Done

It’s not as easy as it used to be, but two recent examples show that companies big and small can still wring financing out of a market that at first glance looks to be bone-dry. Last November, HomeAway, an Internet company that charges a fee to list vacation rental properties, raised $250 million, the largest single round of venture capital for a technology company since 2000. While vacations may not seem to be a hot growth area at the moment, the company’s investors are betting that owners of vacation homes will be looking to post more rental listings and vacationers will be seeking cheaper alternatives to hotels and resorts.

On the other end of the spectrum, Wells Fargo managed to raise $12.6 billion in November, despite its position near the nexus of the market meltdown. Through a public offering of 468.5 million shares of common stock, the company tapped the market to help fund its acquisition of Wachovia.

CFOs Have Never Been More Important

Chief executives turned to their finance departments during the early days of the financial crisis both to learn more about exactly what was happening on Wall Street and to better understand their companies’ liquidity position. Now, they’re looking to them to find out what to do next. CFOs and their finance teams are modeling both best-case and doomsday scenarios for their bosses and boards and, in many cases, they are the ones making the call on layoffs, office closures, or other major changes.

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