In recent months there have been a few major seismic shifts felt across the c-store and petroleum landscape. While our industry has endured dozens of realignments over the years, including downsizing, upsizing, centralizing, decentralizing, rationalizing and regionalizing, to name just a few, this time things feel different.
The recent long, debilitating and pervasive downstream recession has left us with either divergent or convergent tectonic plates depending upon your point of view. This three-year economic downturn has had a very profound long-term effect on the industry with a return to its former ways nearly impossible.
There is no conventional way to revive an industry that basically hibernated for a long 36 month period—it takes an explosion. Emerging from a lengthy malaise, the plume began to rupture first with a series of divestures, then acquisitions, mergers and now transfers of responsibility. Without question the lasting legacy will be in the employment arena.
Strangely there have been no mass firings, just structural transitions at an impressive rate. These hotspots have had a short-term fallout effect of putting more professionals on the market for varying periods of time.
The best and brightest of these specialists are finding employment, albeit at a lower compensation level than previously enjoyed. Some have retired from the industry through frustration or attrition, while others are hanging on for dear life hoping that experience and longevity will be appreciated by one aspiring group or another looking for seasoned and/or graying wisdom.
Golden parachutes have helped to cushion the fall for a lucky few. Recovery is spotty and regional, with specific disciplines gaining momentum and others still in a comatose state.
It’s a Family Affair
It nearly goes without saying that majors are no longer leading the way in the wholesale or retail sectors. National brands are being replaced by regionals and state or micro-state players at breakneck speed.
These recessionary flows have a huge impact on the job picture in every possible way. The first most obvious area is the re-emergence of the family-owned jobber and reseller. When family-owned jobbers and resellers become the prominent hiring authorities in a marketplace, they adopt radically different HR policies than those of the majors.
When these folks search for a candidate, referrals, networking and relationships play a much larger role in the selection process. Experience, not potential remaining years of service, is favored; relocation allowances are lower or non-existent; benefits are limited and the final decision to hire takes about twice as long.
But the overwhelming component in the hiring decision for family-owned companies is culture. This factor alone discriminates against big oil, which is viewed with a suspicion that candidates from this ilk will never fit with the existing family team. There is no basis for smaller companies taking this stance, but sometimes it does taint the potential candidate pool.
Out-of-the-box thinkers and players also have a harder time finding employment with a family-owned business, which, by its very nature, has succeeded by doing things one particular way. Be it myth or reality, candidates swimming against the family business strategy disturbs a status-quo that has trademarked these companies for a few generations.
Regional realignment is the second divergent or convergent adjustment resulting from the recession. The Southwest and the Southeast and parts of the Mid-Atlantic are recovering at a faster rate than other regions. Western, Midwestern and Northeastern recovery is slower. But it goes deeper.
Now candidates living and working in a particular region are favored over “outsiders.” Again no rhyme or reason can be used as an excuse for not hiring the right candidate regardless of location. Recessions have the power of creating inward looking societies and our industry is not immune from this xenophobic effect.
Who’s the Boss
The third and final impact of the fast-moving recessionary current is what we could term as “favored jobs.” Nudging our industry out of the hiring doldrums has started with significant changes at the top levels of management and trickled-down from there.
Today skilled and accomplished CFOs and CEOs are desired candidates. Lower down on the totem pole are the procurement and supply chain specialists who have a slight edge over logistics, wholesale and fleet professionals. The demand for food service gurus or category managers or environmental and construction candidates is taking a longer time to catch up to the others. Time is an eternal healer and the horizon holds many surprises.
There’s a saying that “predictions and a buck will buy you a cup of coffee.” It is difficult to accurately forecast anything these days. The recession hit us like the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens. The c-store and petroleum industries are still brushing off ash from its devastating effects and the emerging job picture is still cloudy and turbulent.