It’s a case of the messenger now getting the message. For three years Mary Anne Kennedy was director of human resources for the Global Supply Chain unit of Bristol-Myers Squibb, sitting down with employees, explaining that the company and the unit were restructuring, and that their positions were being eliminated.
Then last year she found herself being downsized, due to restructuring. “I took this job three years ago and back then my position was absolutely required,” Kennedy says, in a phone interview. “But as the business evolved, some of those positions literally went away. Now the number of employees in my client group was much less, half of what we used to have. We didn’t need a human resources manager to manage who was left — my position was decreasing. So we consolidated and my job was combined with someone else’s.”
“But it’s not personal,” she continues. “it’s about the company moving forward and doing an assessment of what they need.”
Sounds like a memorable line from one of the Godfather movies — “It’s business, it’s not personal.” This, it turns out, is one of the most important things for those who have been downsized to remember. A veteran human resources professional, Kennedy stresses this element to those who have been laid off: It always hurts, and for the one being downsized there’s a feeling that “you don’t need me anymore.” That’s not the message, she says. “But that’s how people feel.”
She explains that months of preparation and difficult decisions go into a restructuring, with human resources professionals working closely with management, looking at what the business needs — but not, she stresses, looking at the people.
“It’s not about the people.” Management is not saying ‘We don’t like you, so you don’t have a job anymore’.”
Kennedy is now reflecting on that same advice as she searches for a position in her field. She has been philosophical and upbeat about her situation, thanks in great part to her faith and in part to the fact that she has undergone downsizing before, from Herman Miller, a Fortune 500 office furniture manufacturer in Dayton, in 1997.
At Herman Miller she had been people services manager for nine years when the news came. Kennedy, who is one of 13 children, has the kind of personality and survival skills that didn’t take the layoff lying down. She immediately launched into action. The outplacement service Lee Hecht Harrison introduced her to the 5 o’clock Club in Manhattan, a noted career transition support group.
“I went into New York and, for the first part of the session, learned a certain component for the job search,” Kennedy says. “Then, for the next hour, you would be assigned to a small group with a certified counselor. There might be 10 or 12 of us, and everyone would support the others in their journey. We got to network, and then they taught you how to network better.”
Between her time with Herman Miller and when she came to work for BM-S eight years ago, Kennedy was a senior human resources consultant focusing on staffing, coaching, and organizational development. She has come to be well known in the area for her frequent speaking engagements, instructing, and motivating others in their networking and job search journey. Randi Quiroga (see story next page) heard Kennedy speak to the St. Gregory the Great networking group and was energized by her presentation. (For contact information on jobseeking groups and other resources see page 41.)
As part of a very large family growing up in Edison, networking and getting along well with others came naturally to Kennedy. Her father was a longtime credit manager for Purolator in Rahway. Her mother was a supermom, a homework coach; chef; food, clothing and shoe shopper for the clan. Kennedy says her father was also very civic-minded, volunteering in the family’s parish. “Volunteering must be in my DNA,” she says.
Kennedy’s husband, Robert, is an account manager for Cardinal Health. Married for 36 years, they have three daughters. Eldest Christine Kennedy graduated from Catholic University and is now a medical paralegal for Weitz and Luxenberg, a law firm in New York City. Middle daughter Laurie Kennedy Rotondo has dual master’s degrees from Rider, and is a guidance counselor at Robbinsville High School. The youngest, Jamie Kennedy, is a marketing coordinator for Lee Hecht Harrison in Haddonfield.
With generous assistance from Herman Miller (the company paid 75 percent of her tuition) Kennedy steadfastly put herself through college, graduating from Thomas Edison State College in 1997 with a bachelor’s degree in social science. “It took me 10 years, while I was working full time and raising my family,” she says.
Kennedy says her family has experienced unemployment before. “It’s not unfamiliar to us as individuals, as a couple and as a family,” Kennedy says. “That’s why we try to make sure we are always networking.”
When she first came to B-M S, she led a team of 22 staffing specialists. Then she was appointed to lead a team of 14 staffing specialists supporting the hiring for five manufacturing sites in the U.S. and four sites in Puerto Rico. Kennedy was promoted to her most recent position about three years ago.
Global Supply Chain is one of the integral components of any business, and they talk to all the different functions,” she says. “Talent management is one of the biggest things we do — recruiting, hiring, and training — but also (overseeing) development and performance. We make sure we hire the right people and then make sure we develop them properly. Most of my days were spent with leadership teams discussing proper coaching, getting feedback — essentially combining the human side of things with business.”
While Kennedy has signed confidentiality agreements with employers that limit what details she can discuss about restructurings, Kennedy does have this sage advice for those in human resources who have to lay people off: “Respect the individual receiving the message, be sensitive and continue to have a heart,” Kennedy says. “Provide a sense of hope and stress that this is business and not personal. Human resources people are trained to do this — still, it isn’t easy. But they do a great job.”
In fact Kennedy praises B-M S for its handling of the latest restructuring and especially how they have treated and helped her. “They are not letting people go without trying to help them financially. They have provided a very generous severance package. And they’ve also helped with health care.”
“They go beyond being a wonderful corporate citizen,” Kennedy adds. “Their sense of philanthropy is very strong. B-M S is one of the best companies I worked for. I loved my job and my colleagues were awesome. But the company is going through a transformation.”
One of Kennedy’s most rewarding experiences in her life and career has been her involvement with the St. Paul’s Networking Group in Princeton (SPNG), which she co-founded with Stephen McCarthy, president of McCarthystrategies.com, shortly after the attacks of September 11, 2001, when many people in the St. Paul’s parish were reeling from the aftermath of the incidents.
“They had either lost their jobs because their companies had fallen apart, some had lost a significant other, and some just said ‘I don’t ever want to take the train into New York again,’” Kennedy says. “Monsignor Walter Nolan didn’t know what to do and he came to Steve and sought his advice. I had lost my job in 1997 and Steve’s position with Time Warner had been eliminated in 1999, so we had the experience of searching for a job. Between that and what we were doing professionally it made sense for us to come up with this networking group.”
Beginning with just eight people, SPNG met Saturday mornings at 8 a.m.; Kennedy drove into Princeton from Millstone two Saturdays a month for six years to offer her expertise. Tim Joyce of Princeton rounded out the volunteer leadership. “We would teach resume writing, how to do a two-minute pitch, those kind of things. People from the public library teach how to research companies to know who is hiring.
“We made sure the conversations were always positive,” Kennedy says, “that they were about moving forward and not looking back. We provided an arena for people who were lost. Sure, you can get bogged down and depressed. Mostly, we helped people hone their job search skills because a lot of people have never been taught any of this.”
When SPNG had its last in-person meeting in May, 2008, there were 125 people in attendance. Kennedy says that over the course of the years, more than 1,700 participants from the tri-state area attended the programs.
“We’re going through a transition too and right now, we’re on hiatus as we re-think SPNG,” Kennedy says. She adds that the group has an online presence, and suggests individuals visit St. Paul’s website www.stpaulsprinceton.org, which will lead them to SPNG. “There are still people reaching out, just not in person,” she says.
Drawing on all these years of experience as a human resources professional and consultant, Kennedy has recently launched MAKHR Consulting, LLC. Its website, www.makhr.com, is under construction.
As a human resources expert, what would she say to the many central New Jerseyans who have been downsized? “You’ll go through the peaks and valleys of this journey, and you’ll have a lot of opportunities that look like they’re going to work,” Kennedy says. “You’ve done nothing wrong if they fall off. But don’t be discouraged. Get out of your house, pick up the phone, find someone to help you through this moment — and it will hurt, but it will go away. Stay positive and you’ll land where you are supposed to land.
“Every job rejection gets you closer to the job you’re supposed to have,” she continues. “It just means that job wasn’t meant for you. But have faith. We’re all on earth for a reason and isn’t this is a great time to figure out what it is?”
Networking is a cornerstone to Kennedy’s philosophy. People are used to being plugged in electronically and often rely on technology to look for a position, posting resumes and doing the majority of their communication online. Kennedy advises instead to spend only one hour online a day, and then get on the phone or out of the house. Old-fashioned face-to-face networking is the key to finding what’s out there for you and who might point you in that direction.
“I tell people, ‘don’t ask for a job, ask who else I should be talking to?’ and ‘Who are the connections?’” she says. “I also say that if you are uncomfortable networking, try volunteering. This way, you get to meet other people on a comfortable basis and you’re giving back to the community.”
She also recommends that job seekers “be kind to everybody. You never know who the person is who will help you. Then, when you eventually land (in a position), say ‘thank you.’ Go back to the people who helped you and offer your help.”
Kennedy’s advises jobseekers to go to job fairs but, she says, not to spend too much time at such events because everyone else is there looking for a job as well. Your chamber of commerce can be a resource for networking opportunities as well. She also suggests scanning newspapers and business publications for meetings and forums open to the public.
It is also highly important to stay abreast of technology. “Don’t allow that you’re out of date with technology,” Kennedy says, suggesting that you even refrain from joking about being technologically inept, for example, not knowing how your cell phone works.
Courses at high schools and community colleges are great ways to sharpen computer skills and keep up with changes in technology. So are libraries. “There are lots of free resources that people can take advantage of,” Kennedy says. “And when you sign up for a course, you’ll meet new people. It’s even more comfortable than networking because this is your common denominator.
“Most importantly, you have to stay positive in this environment,” she continues. “Take in the gift that you’ve been given, really reflect on what you are and what you bring to the world. It’s not the end of the world if you lose your job, only if you think it is.”
Kennedy can be reached at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.