Monday, December 21, 2009

Three Thanks and a Wish

It’s pretty traditional around the holidays to do an assessment — a year in review kind of thing. Given that we are just getting started here at Burtch Works, I decided to forego that tradition for a simpler one. This year, I’d like to offer three thanks and a wish.

First, I’d like to thank my family for their support during this period of transition. Change is good. Change is inevitable. Change is hard, especially on husbands and children, or so mine keep telling me. Doug describes his role as the person who does everything I don’t want to do. And I have my son Jay hooking up and troubleshooting the computers at $5 per hour (we are a start up!). Becky and Jackson made some beautiful signs out of our logo that are all around my office. So thank you to my family for taking this exciting new ride with me.

Second, thanks to those who have worked with me to get Burtch Works up and running. This last month or so has been a whirlwind of activity, and your talent, enthusiasm and dedication are stamped on every inch of this new endeavor. Lauren Eck, Katie Ferguson and Sandy Marmitt have jumped in with energy and excitement, creating a vibrant and fun new office. I’m looking forward to writing a very positive year-in-review post next December.

Finally, thanks to all of you for your warm thoughts and good wishes, which have helped launch Burtch Works on such a positive note. I am thrilled, excited and busy … really, really busy … so I know that 2010 is going to be a good year.

And now for my wish. I could wish that I could figure out all the bells and whistles on our high tech phone system, but with Lauren’s help, I am sure I will get there. I could wish for better economic times, but every sign I see is that things are turning around. So instead, I will simply wish you a joyous holiday season and the very best for you and yours in the New Year. May it be a year of peace and prosperity, and, if you desire, a year of positive change.

Happy Holidays!

Linda Burtch

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Kicking SAS?

Not if James Goodnight, statistician and CEO of the SAS Institute, has any say in the matter. Recently, the New York Times reported that the venerable software giant that created the statistical tool of choice for countless business statisticians for over three decades is under seige. New competition is threatening SAS's longstanding, comfortable position as the undisputed leader in business intelligence software.

This summer, IBM took a serious step into the business intelligence realm with their purchase of SPSS and Cognos. In a direct threat to the SAS reign, it has been widely reported that IBM intends to build a 4,000-person-strong business analytics and optimization group to provide global business support.

As the industry leader, SAS has not, upto this point, had to be concerned. In fact, SAS resisted integrating with the open programming environments and information transparency that has now turned their legacy world upside down. Free, open source coding, such as R, has been quickly adopted by academic institutions and labs, and SAS was slow to recognize the importance of this shift. Within a few short years, many graduating statisticians will be using R in the workplace, potentially usurping SAS's domination.

But SAS founder Goodnight is on the move. According to senior VP and chief technology officer Keith Collins, SAS has seen the error of it's closed-minded ways and is committed to engaging with the open source community. SAS has other strong assets that could help it maintain its dominant position in the market, including a loyal workforce with a turnover rate of just four percent. The company has worked hard to earn its reputation as a low-stress, family friendly workplace. Even despite recently reducing software development time from 24 to 36 months to 12 to 18 months, you would still be hard pressed to find an employee who has worked a 60-hour week more than two weeks in a row.

It will be interesting to see how the new strategies at SAS and the aggressive actions of its competitors will affect the rapidly expanding world of business analytics. Like Thanksgiving feasts on tables across the country last week, data and information have become the bounty of the business world. Businesses need flexible, agile tools to help them digest it in all ways that will keep them healthy and growing. To complicate matters further, static information of old - such as sales and operations data - needs to be combined with new, dynamic sources of information, such as social networking buzz, Web behavior and now easily accessible public records. Nervous yet, Mr. Goodnight?

Monday, November 16, 2009

What's Up?

The job market, I am excited to report. Any of you who are social networkers on sites like LinkedIn or who follow the job boards have probably noticed a definite uptick in activity in the last month or so. Quantitative jobs in particular have experienced a healthy surge (remember, statistics is the sexy job of the decade). So while other sectors of the job market may still be struggling, with the few exceptions noted below, your opportunities are on the increase and your marketability is strong.

I suspect we are seeing the last gasp of the recession’s grip, and I have noticed more than a handful of recent layoffs hitting some groups in marketing science and research. As we all know, the year had a gloomy start with many wide-scale layoffs hitting even the quant groups. Then, most of the summer was quiet – no job openings, but no significant layoffs either. Now, however, some companies seem to be making headcount cuts in a last ditch effort to hit margin goals. In my opinion, this is short sighted, but I expect it will be offset by a solid return to hiring in the first quarter of 2010.

So, what’s up with Burtch Works? That seems to be the question of the day. Why would I leave an established firm and start a new one now, during a recession? One reader even asked, “Are things that bad in the quant profession?” As I stated at the top of this post, quite the contrary — the job market in our industry is looking up, and my decision to start Burtch Works was based in part on having already weathered two recessions and recognizing the potential opportunities and challenges into the future.

While it may seem a bit counter intuitive, some of my best recruiting years have come directly after a recession, just before the market begins to take off. As you may have heard, “small is the new big”. Efficiency and flexibility are more important than ever, and both are easier to achieve in a dynamic, nimble environment than as part of a huge corporation. Lots of information — often too much information — is available to both job seekers and companies looking to meet their staffing needs. But it takes experience to separate the wheat from the chaff. My value to clients and candidates alike comes from a proven ability to sift through those mountains of information to get the right people into the right jobs — in a timely, efficient manner.

Burtch Works is my vision for meeting the unique executive recruiting needs of the quantitative and marketing professions, and we are open for business. I have been surprised and overwhelmed by your words of encouragement and good wishes as I begin this new venture. It’s a thrilling, hectic time, and your support means the world to me. Thank you! Together, I’m sure we will build something great.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

My Own Personal Vision

I'm lucky. My passion and my career are one in the same. After 26 years of executive recruiting, I am more excited, more motivated and more devoted than when I began.

Perhaps the driving force behind this dedication is an unswerving belief that the quantitative disciplines represent the most dynamic possibilities in an ever-changing job market. Call me a quantitative evangelist, if you will, but the statistics bear out my beliefs. According to the most recent Occupational Outlook Handbook, "job opportunities should be best for those with a master's or PhD degree in marketing or a related field and with strong quantitative skills."

This is my playground, my sphere of influence, and my area of expertise. And it is time to channel the passion and experience I have for this industry into my own personal vision. Executive recruiting is a high-touch business, one in which flexibility and independence are key assets.

In launching Burtch Works, Executive Recruiting, my goal is to make a long-term commitment to each client and candidate, and to mentor them with honesty and integrity throughout their careers. A key component of our approach will be to employ the most current technologies nimbly and effectively to expand the reach of all my candidates and clients.

The joy in this business is that I get to be a part of some of the most important decisions anyone can make in a lifetime. It is immensely satisfying to connect great people with other great people, to get to know them on both a personal and professional level, and to follow them through many life stages. I see myself as a conduit for industry information, a sort of touchstone for both clients and candidates as they evaluate their long- and short-term needs and goals.

As I said at the beginning of this post, I'm lucky. I've been lucky to have a place to exercise my passion for the past 26 years, where I have worked with wonderful people who have nurtured and guided me along the way. I'm grateful for every experience and look forward to working with many of you as we move forward in this exciting new venture.

Please note my new e-mail address: You can also find me and the new Burtch Works page on Facebook, as well as on LinkedIn. I'll keep you posted about our new Website, which will be up and running soon.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Let's Talk Money

Now that I have your attention, as the ongoing global recession continues to dominate the headlines, I thought we would take a moment to assess its impact our industry and, ultimately, our wallets. Almost across the board, corporate bottom lines have been hit hard by the downward pressure on the markets and economy. I have a pretty good idea of what this means salary-wise in the quantitative sector, but I would love to better quantify it. Please take a minute and tell me what you are experiencing:

While I do see signs of recovery around the corner, the salary picture is not very pretty at the moment. As growth has stagnated, companies have looked to cut costs and, in the process, few have been able to leave their compensation packages unscathed. In addition to the stingier perks and scarce relocation dollars that we’ve discussed before, quantitative professionals have seen their gross compensation negatively affected in a variety of ways:

• Salary Freezes — Corporate and government employers world wide have instituted indefinite salary freezes as a first-line defense in the troubled economy. One candidate recently told me that it had been two years “and counting” since her last increase. Surprisingly, however, some segments are still rewarding employees with increases, including much of the pharmaceutical industry, consumer packaged goods firms, and some smaller consulting operations. We have even heard reports of increases at some countercyclical retailers.

• Salary Reductions — A handful of hard-hit industries have been forced to reduce salaries. Smaller firms with small client bases often institute salary reductions as a means of survival, though we have found that most have tried to limit reductions to senior level employees.

• Furloughs — Furloughs, or unpaid days off, have also been used to reduce expenses, and they are particularly common in government arenas. Some non-government industries are also using furloughs as a means to avoid broader layoffs.

• Elimination of 401K Match — 401K matching programs have been popular incentives for corporate employees for decades, but this year, countless companies have reduced or eliminated this perk entirely in an effort to buttress the bottom line.

• Bonus Cuts — Unless you are lucky enough to be working in one of the few flush industries I mentioned earlier, I expect most bonuses to be slashed or eliminated until the economy rights itself.

No one knows yet what the longer-term implications of these cost cutting moves will be. The good news is that, with a few exceptions, I am not hearing about layoffs the way I did in the first and second quarter of the year, and pay cuts are no longer happening. In our industry, we are seeing a higher level of job-market activity, and many candidates who have been laid off for several months are finding positions or closing in on options.

Recently the New York Times reported that people who have lost jobs are “struggling terribly” to find new situations and that “Many experts envision a jobless recovery, in which the economy grows but job losses persist.” While I do not want to minimize the pain of layoff victims, this is not the experience of my circle of candidates, who are finding options, actively interviewing and accepting jobs. While I anticipate a significant upturn in the job market in the next six months, employment rates and salary are both lagging indicators, so it may take some time before our compensation packages begin to reflect any improvement in the economy.

As always, I encourage you to continue to network, through good times and bad, so when the upturn comes, you are in the best possible position to take advantage of it.

Linda Burtch
Burtch Works
Don’t Forget to Connect to me on LinkedIn and become a Facebook fan!

Monday, August 17, 2009

You've got a Sexy Job!

I just got back from vacationing in Morocco with my family. Morocco is a beautiful country with fabulous people and wonderful food – but I have to say, it wasn’t cool. A heat wave hit Marrakesh just as we did, and temperatures ranged from 110 –120°F every day — definitely not cool. And though my kids thoroughly enjoyed the experience, they let us know that traveling for 24 days with only limited access to their various electronic devices was somewhat less than cool.

Fortunately, I was also traveling with their father, a statistician who I knew was cool 16 years ago when I married him. And that was long before the New York Times announced that the image of statisticians is changing from “dronish number nerds” to professionals who are “finding themselves increasingly in demand — and even cool.” It’s good to be ahead of the curve.

If you were on vacation, too, you may have missed it when the NYT article pronounced that the statistics profession is the place to be — a fact that we’ve known all along. It was no surprise to us when Hal Varian, chief economist at Google, stated flat out that “the sexy job in the next 10 years will be statisticians. And I’m not kidding.”

Data-driven decision making is the engine that runs businesses today, from multi-national corporations to regional restaurant chains to nonprofits and educational institutions. Data is the new capital of the business world, and it is proliferating at a rate faster than we can interpret it, with estimates of five-fold increases by 2012.

But, as the Times article makes clear, gathering data is the easy part. According to Erik Brynjolfsson, director of MIT’s Center for Digital Business, “the big problem is going to be the ability of humans to use, analyze and make sense of the data.” Highly educated quantitative professionals are the answer to that problem, and even in these challenging economic times, statisticians are still in demand in many sectors.

Qualified applicants who have hands-on experience with data and, more importantly, who can translate this raw information into actionable insights for company decision makers are still scarce. While there certainly have been layoffs in a number of areas (namely finance, retail and advertising), statisticians have experienced relatively more job security than their less quantitative colleagues. Candidates who can be a bit flexible on location are usually able to regain their career footing quickly. For now and into the foreseeable future, the field of statistics is still where you want to be.

I hope you’ve had some cool experiences this summer. Looking forward to catching up with you. As always, I welcome your updates and thoughts. Thanks for staying in touch.

Linda Burtch
Burtch Works
Don’t Forget to Connect to me on LinkedIn and become a Facebook fan!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Sit Tight

Sit Tight and Network, Network, Network

Despite the long, painful slide that has hit most of the American job market, many of us in the quantitative community were fortunate that our employment options remained relatively intact until early this year. I wish I had a pithy quote, wry comment or even a good joke to take the sting out of the current news, but I've got nothing. The sustained economic downturn has, unfortunately, caught up with quantitative business professionals and layoffs are now affecting our industry with force.

Beginning in January, waves of layoffs hit major corporations across almost every sector. The financial services and automotive industries, and those suppliers and consulting firms that support them have been hardest hit. Other industries under siege include technology, communications, traditional advertising agencies, and insurance companies. While I personally believe that the bulk of the layoffs are behind us in analytics, I am still hearing rumblings from many sources of additional trimming.

If you have a job, my advice to candidates is to sit tight, unless your situation is completely intolerable. The current market is steeply tipped in favor of hiring companies, so salary bumps, sign-on bonuses, or rich relocation packages are rare at best. Make yourself invaluable. While that may sound overstated, the fact is that many quantitative professionals are uniquely positioned to provide the skills, data and analysis that top management needs to make the best possible decisions in these difficult times.

If you are already in the job market, the key is to be adaptable and network aggressively. Be flexible about location, salary (but not overly so), relocation allowance, title and industry. Know going in that HR groups will be tough negotiators. Make sure you connect with other quantitative professionals – through association memberships (like ASA, AMA or Informs), alumni groups, technical conferences and, of course, LinkedIn. Update your profiles, participate actively and professionally in relevant forums, and be generous in sharing opportunities with others.

On the flip side of the job market coin, the few hiring managers who are looking for talent are frustrated. Top prospects are often hesitant to make any kind of move, as no one wants to be the new kid when layoffs are looming. Many candidates are unable to even consider changing jobs due to the relocation costs associated with sluggish home sales.

The employment outlook still looks pretty stormy from my window, with a very inactive summer job market on the horizon. By third quarter, I expect that corporate performance should show signs of improvement (compared to ’08). Because labor recovery is a lagging indicator of economic health, we probably won’t see a return to confidence or tentative steps toward hiring and rehiring until the end of this year.

Through all the gloomy news, quantitative business professionals should take heart in the fact that their near-term and long-term career prospects remain positive. The ability to glean actionable insights from the mountains of data emerging from our limitless knowledge pool will continue to be a critical skill. The current economic situation is a bump (or maybe a pothole) in the road, but in general, the quantitative expert will benefit from extremely high job security.

Thanks for staying in touch with me during this daunting time. Keep me posted when and if your situation changes. I would also love your take on the job marketplace from the trenches. Please feel free to share your comments!

Linda Burtch
Burtch Works
Don’t Forget to Connect to me on LinkedIn and become a Facebook fan!

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Back to the Future?

Those of you that have been following my occasional blogging may remember that I proudly have a “math geek” 13 year old son. I enthusiastically reported to him that this year’s list of top jobs ranked math number one. Of course, being an executive recruiter specializing in the quantitative business sciences, I was equally excited to report this to my readers.

Just when I thought things were headed in the right direction for my son and all of you, more bad news came out of Washington. In a shortsighted attempt to protect US workers from competing for jobs with recent immigrants, financial institutions and other firms that have received taxpayer bailout money are barred from hiring employees on H1-B visas. These visas are required for highly educated, specialized workers in order for them to be legally employed here in the United States.

How would this have a negative impact on my son’s career future, you might ask? Wouldn’t this improve his chances for a choice job after college and maybe even bid up his salary? Absolutely not. In order for our country to continue on its path as a world leader in innovation and education (although I question this), we need to keep the best and the brightest minds in science and mathematics here, including foreign workers. We should welcome them with easy access to working visas and keep them challenged and motivated by limitless opportunity. Otherwise, we will see our standing as the leaders in innovation in this technology age quickly evaporate as opportunities permanently move with this talent to their home countries. And that could happen by the time Jay completes his college education.

As an executive recruiter who has specialized in placing quantitative professionals (including mathematicians, statisticians and econometricians) for over 25 years, I am very aware of the acute shortage of professionals with a solid quantitative background. We are simply not able to fill all the open positions in this fast growing discipline with home grown candidates. This has resulted in the escalation of foreign quantitative graduates with H1-B visas filling the void. Additionally, off shoring of these jobs is a direct result of our inability to answer the demand. And, by the way, I have seen no evidence that this has had any negative impact to salaries of US citizens in this discipline.

Math education is vitally important to the long term ability of our country to compete in a global economy. I am counting on President Obama to address this issue, perhaps with some prodding from Bill Gates. But I also think that our society needs to evolve in the way we view mathematics as a field of study. Scientists are portrayed as “mad” in movies and TV. Lawyers, businessmen and politicians are glorified by society and rewarded with huge compensation packages. No wonder kids can’t find any benefit from continuing their math education beyond the minimum requirements.

Parents also must reexamine their thinking about their children’s education. Many so called helicopter parents steer their kids away from the higher level math classes because they increase the risk of a lower GPA and reduces their chance at acceptance into the best colleges. And, math is unforgiving in the sense that your answer is either correct or it is not. No partial credit or negotiating for a higher grade. Hard work is required to master math.

With all that is going wrong in the economy right now and the need for immediate action to limit the short term impact, my hope is that we do not lose sight of the long term goals for our country. As always, I welcome your comments.

Linda Burtch
Burtch Works


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Monday, February 9, 2009

2009 Trends

It’s Here

Those who have been following my blog regularly have read my observations about how the quantitative market has remained relatively unscathed by this current recession. I am unhappy to report that this is no longer the case. As the recession has deepened, our profession is beginning to feel its impact.

It’s not news that the impact has been broad based, with few industries or regions spared. Overall unemployment now stands at 7.6%, up significantly from 5% last summer. It appears that the college-educated are also feeling the pinch – with a current unemployment rate of 3.8% and projections from labor economists that say it will well exceed 4% before we see a recovery.

Any good news, you ask? Absolutely! In the last four weeks, I have had several candidates who have had multiple opportunities tendered, and their prospective employers even bid up their offers! This supports my belief that quantitative candidates will always have options, even in a depressed employment market like the current one.

These particular candidates had very strong quantitative skills, were proficient SAS users, projected solid business acumen and had a positive attitude. In most cases, the candidates were fortunate in that they either didn’t own homes or didn’t require home purchase assistance. They were also very flexible geographically. While some of the qualifications that made them attractive candidates were a matter of circumstance, many are attainable through hard work, dedication, continuing education and perseverance.

Here are a few general observations, as well as how the recession is specifically affecting the quantitative job market:

· Hiring freezes and layoffs are widespread. The good news for the hard-to-replace quantitative professional is that open positions are usually eliminated first, before any layoffs are implemented. Unfortunately, I am now seeing more staffers getting pink slips in second or third round layoffs. In terms of hiring, with the current level of economic uncertainty, very few organizations have the courage or ability to increase their headcount, even if they have a need.

· Raises and bonuses are infrequent. In the last several weeks, many companies have announced salary freezes and are drastically reducing or eliminating bonuses. Though bonuses may still abound on Wall Street, the rest of us will be holding tight for a while. I have heard that, in some cases, employees have even been asked to take pay cuts, usually from 5-10%, and I know of one situation that involved a 20% salary reduction.

· Relocation requiring home sales has become difficult. The bursting of the real estate bubble and the tightening mortgage market has significantly increased the lead-time required to sell homes in many areas of the country. Companies today are rarely willing to provide a house purchase parachute because they are already shouldering a heavy burden of unsold homes stemming from 2008 relocations. Individuals who must relocate for new jobs are often faced with the prospect of substantial losses, especially if they purchased their homes in the inflated years just prior to the real estate bust.

· The ability to negotiate with a prospective employer has been greatly reduced. Now is not the time to casually explore your options. Recognize that the recession is affecting everyone, individuals and corporations alike, and negotiate with respect for the current economic situation.

No one knows for sure how long the recession will last or what its ultimate fallout will be, but my sense is that we will see the market begin to strengthen at some point before this time next year. I have weathered many a recession in my career (but only because I started so young!), including those of ’82, ’87, ’91 and ’01. The single common thread through every downturn, large or small, is that they all came to an end, and it has been my experience that the faster the decline, the more vibrant the recovery.

We are here to help. Stay tuned for more information on how you can pump up your resume, boost your marketability and become an indispensible entity within the quantitative market. Please feel free to contact me with any questions or comments. Helping you navigate the choppy waters of the marketplace is our job, in good times and bad.

Thanks for keeping in touch,

Linda Burtch
Burtch Works
Don’t Forget to Connect to me on LinkedIn and become a Facebook fan!

Hot New Opportunity -
Director Marketing Analtyics -
Major Midwest CPG firm seeking a seasoned marketing scientist.
Hands on modeling with SAS required.
Five to 10 years experience working in packaged goods research a must.
$120 to 150K base plus bonus.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Thomas Friedman's Opinion

Here’s another piece highlighting the importance of improving our math and science education to keep our country competitive. Thomas Friedman wrote in the New York Times Opinion Page on Sunday expressing his views on the upcoming $1 trillion economic stimulus package. It’s an interesting read and once again emphasizes the critical need for quantitative professionals.

An excerpt:

"You see, even before the current financial crisis, we were already in a deep competitive hole — a long period in which too many people were making money from money, or money from flipping houses or hamburgers, and too few people were making money by making new stuff, with hard-earned science, math, biology and engineering skills.

The financial crisis just made the hole deeper, which is why our stimulus needs to be both big and smart, both financially and educationally stimulating. It needs to be able to produce not only more shovel-ready jobs and shovel-ready workers, but more Google-ready jobs and Windows-ready and knowledge-ready workers."

To read the article in it's entirety, click here.

Linda Burtch
Burtch Works
Don’t Forget to Connect to me on LinkedIn and become a Facebook fan!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Family Dinner Conversation

Just a few nights ago, during our family dinner, the topic of the eighth-grade social order arose. It seems my 13-year-old twins, Jay and Becky, have a pretty clear understanding of where they (and all of their classmates) stand in the pecking order.

Becky said she resides somewhere in the middle —abercrombie jeans and Ugg boots are clear plusses, but being in the advanced math group lowers her overall score. Jay said he’s on “the lower end” and Becky did nothing to dispute this or buttress her twin.

Jay has been known as a “math geek” since second grade. He is a terrible dresser, combs his hair once a month (whether it needs it or not), plays competitive chess and piano for the jazz band, is two grades ahead in math (where he is the top student, definitely a social blunder), and programs his calculator for fun. Apparently all that’s keeping him from plummeting to the very bottom of the social heap are decent soccer skills and some talent in track.

Fortunately, I was armed with information from a timely Wall Street Journal piece called Doing the Math to Find Good Jobs, published the very day of our family discussion. The Journal reported that the best job in the U.S. is … (drum roll, please) … mathematician! In even more good news, two closely related fields came in second and third – actuary and statistician. These standings are based in part on favorable working conditions – an indoor environment free of toxic fumes, with no heavy lifting required. The quantitative sciences also score high in terms of pay, low stress levels (really?) and a good work-life balance.

I was able to reassure my “math geek” son that though it may seem like he’s on the bottom social rung of eighth grade, with hard work and a little luck, his skills and talents will give him a quick elevator ride to the top of the job stratum as an adult. As Bill Gates once said: “Be nice to nerds. Chances are you’ll end up working for one.” He should know.

Let this reassure you as well, my analytical friends, and revel in your career choice!

My best wishes to you and yours for a healthy and prosperous 2009

Linda Burtch
Burtch Works
Don’t Forget to Connect to me on LinkedIn and become a Facebook fan!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

R, the Magic Language!

As I have reported previously, the use of R as the statistical tool of choice has grown dramatically in the past couple of years. The program is free and is in an open-source format allowing users to modify the tool specifically to their situation. In case you missed it, the New York Times had an interesting piece in the business section on Wednesday touting the power of R. Click here for a pleasant diversion from all the gloomy business news.

Linda Burtch
Burtch Works
Don’t Forget to Connect to me on LinkedIn and become a Facebook fan!