Dot-Coms' Loss Is Systems Integrators' Gain

Large IT Firms Welcome Back Former Employees With Open Arms

Gail Bergantino

Steve Krauss

By midday Feb. 21, recruiter Tammy Heller had interviewed eight people via phone for jobs at KPMG Consulting Inc. of McLean, Va., and noticed that half of them were coming from dot-coms.

"It's certainly a very common phenomenon. It's either people who were laid off or people who are concerned that they are next," Heller said.

Indeed, many workers attracted to dot-coms by workplace perks and promises of great wealth have found their dreams dashed in the recent economic downturn. According to the Industry Standard, more than 57,000 employees at Internet-based businesses have been laid off since December 1999. Many have stock options that are nearly worthless.

Many now seek jobs at large systems integrators and consulting firms ?the same firms that struggled to find and keep talented people during the dot-com boom.

"The stable companies are going to have open arms, because they have been struggling more to hire people. They couldn't compete with the energy of the start-ups," said Barbara Mitchell, a human resources consultant at Vienna, Va., Millennium Group International LLC.

Many displaced Internet workers say they now appreciate the opportunities for training and career advancement in these more stable companies. Recruiters and managers say they appreciate the technical skills and entrepreneurial attitudes former dot-com workers bring to their jobs.

"You learn that sometimes the grass is not greener on the other side," said Nickie Weisel, a staffing manager who joined TRW Inc. of Cleveland in December 2000 after a stint at a start-up IT company in Northern Virginia.

Weisel had left Andersen Consulting, now Accenture, to create and manage the recruiting department at the start-up. She wanted to apply methods she learned at Andersen, but she didn't have the money to do so. Within a year, she was looking for another job.

"I met a lot of people, made a lot of friends," Weisel said. "But you can't make as much of a difference as you would think. ... At TRW, if you are challenged to do the job, you've got the tools to do it."

Some firms, such as KPMG Consulting, actively recruit displaced Internet workers, and many firms are welcoming back employees that left for dot-coms.

"In many cases, it's incredible talent," Heller said. "They're flexible, willing to take risks, usually go-getters."

Heller recently recruited Matt Schoenfeld after he was laid off from the Motley Fool, a financial Web site in Alexandria, Va.

Schoenfeld, a systems analyst, said he doesn't regret the pay cut he took when he left Lockheed Martin Corp. of Bethesda, Md., to work at the Fool or the year he spent there.

"I figured it was a worthwhile risk," he said. "The stock market was doing well and I thought it could be a good chance to make a lot of money."

Now, Schoenfeld said, "The dot-coms seem to be risky ... but you're always going to need consultants."

Some displaced workers, such as Gail Bergantino, aren't giving up on dot-coms, however, because they offer opportunities to dabble in many areas, from accounting to customer service to technical.

Bergantino landed at EZCertify.com in Crofton, Md., shortly after year-old FedBid.com shut down in December 2000 when a second round of financing didn't come through. She was a founder and vice president of marketing at the Germantown, Md., online marketplace offering federal procurement solutions.

"Any start-up is a risk, but you risk everything or gain nothing," said Bergantino, EZCertify's director of sales and marketing. The start-up firm's software helps business owners apply for certification in the federal Small Business Administration's 8(a) Business Development and Small, Disadvantaged Business programs.

Business development executive Steve Krauss took his jack-of-all-trades experience to Chantilly, Va., bricks-and-mortar GTSI Corp. after his start-up, LearningAction, was sold last year.

Krauss created the Boston Web-based training company with some high school friends after eight years with Palo Alto, Calif., computer manufacturer Hewlett-Packard Co. After the sale, Krauss found he had lots of job opportunities because of his experience on both sides of the fence. He chose computer reseller GTSI because of its stability and entrepreneurial nature.

"GTSI ... has given me an opportunity to find and build and grow new businesses from scratch, and to do that in a stable and successful environment," Krauss said.

Many workers who leave dot-coms are going back to their former employers.

"They thought they were going to a company that was going to be the next Microsoft. A lot of them are downsizing," said Phyllis Epstein, a director of information sciences in TRW's Systems and Information Technology Group.

Epstein couldn't compete with the dot-com perks that lured her workers away, such as cars and down payments on homes. Now, some former employees know the perks aren't what they really need. Epstein will be rehiring some of them.

"They're saying the reason [the dot-coms] give us lunch and dinner is because [we] never go home," Epstein said. "We have aggressive schedules, but not that excessive."

Accenture has been flooded with alumni who want to come back, said Angel Harmon, a recruiter for the Chicago firm's U.S. government practice. So far this year the government practice alone has rehired 25 alumni.

"They want to come back because the quality of our people, the quality of our work, the breadth of opportunities ... all the things they perhaps didn't appreciate the first time around," Harmon said.

Electronic Data Systems Corp. of Plano, Texas, a systems integrator with more than 121,000 employees, is also witnessing the return of many alumni. In fact, the company has welcomed back more than 1,000 former employees in the last year, said spokeswoman Kristin Dobrowolski.

Information analyst Jeff Cotten is one of them.

After his research project at EDS was discontinued, Cotten left in March 2000 for a technical job with a Boston-based Web systems integrator. The experience wasn't quite what he expected. He traveled six weeks of his two months on the job, and found the office atmosphere too freewheeling.

"The break room looked like a bar. People would walk around barefoot ? it was quite a change," the 23-year-old said. "I like a casual work environment, but not that casual."

When the stock market crashed, promises of going public went down with it. Cotten returned to EDS.

"For me, one of the biggest reasons to come back was the opportunity," he said. "It's relatively easy to change every year or so ? to go into technology, finance, sales. I felt like my opportunity at the smaller firm was more limited because I could only be a Web developer."

Are you so busy at work that you find it hard to take vacation? Do you have trouble getting employees to take time off? E-mail Gail Repsher Emery at gemery@postnewsweektech.com.

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