Careful With That Axe: Fewer CFO Firings in 2001

New survey shows that headhunter searches for finance chief posts dropped dramatically last year. Subtext: fewer CFOs were fired.

Here’s a bit of good news for bedraggled finance chiefs. According to a new survey released by the Association of Executive Search Consultants (AESC), job searches for executives conducted by headhunters fell 7 percent in the fourth quarter. CFO searches climbed slightly — up 7 percent — from Q3 to Q4.

On a year-to-year basis, both overall executive searches and those specifically involving CFO positions were off sharply. Executive searches in general fell 28 percent, while finance chief searches plunged 42 percent.

So why is this good news exactly? Admittedly, fewer headhunter searches could mean that more companies are filling executive positions through other methods, such as virtual job boards and in-house postings. But fewer searches probably means fewer positions needed to be filled. Translation: most likely, not as many CFOs got axed in 2001. The survey did not provide finance chief search statistics by industry. But overall, the computer and electronics industries were down 35 percent for the quarter, and 46 percent year-to-year.

The AESC noted that the bulk of the growth in new job searches for the fourth quarter was for experienced top-level appointments: board of directors, CEOs and COOs. “This reflects a high degree of turnover due to economic uncertainty and perceived failure of leaders to perform to company or shareholder expectations,” said AESCA president Peter Felix.

The only compensation level for which searches increased in the fourth quarter was the $1-million-plus bracket. Getting the big bucks does have its down side, apparently.

(For a look at DirectEmployers.com, a not-for-profit, job placement Web site designed to lower corporate hiring costs, read on.)

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