Bankers invited to ‘pink slip party’ at local Roppongi watering hole

by Takahiko Hyuga

Bloomberg

Soichiro “Swimmy” Minami, a former Morgan Stanley banker, is organizing what he says is Japan’s first “pink slip party” for finance professionals, in a Tokyo bar where Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. employees once mingled.

About 100 unemployed people, in the market for jobs paying at least $100,000, have been invited to the April 14 gathering at Roppongi’s Heartland bar, said Minami, chief executive officer of BizReach Inc., a career consulting company.

The party at Heartland — a banker hangout located in the same building as Goldman Sachs Group Inc.’s Tokyo headquarters and what used to be Lehman’s Japan head office — follows similar events in New York and other U.S. cities. The credit-market meltdown that sank Lehman and claimed 291,000 financial-industry positions worldwide has forced job seekers to rethink how they go about finding prospective employers, said Minami.

“The need among applicants for a more efficient job-hunting process is increasing as foreign banks eliminate senior positions,” Minami, 32, said in an interview. “Recruiting and career changes are very tough, as good leads are getting scarce.”

Overseas financial companies fired about 4,300 people in Japan in the 15 months through March, or about 16 percent of their local workforce, according to Executive Search Partners Co., a Tokyo-based recruitment consulting firm.

“The problem is there’s little supply” of jobs, Katsunobu Komizo, CEO of Executive Search, said in an interview. “Far more people are looking for jobs than there are positions available.”

The global recession is shaking up Japan’s corporate tradition of offering lifetime employment. The jobless rate rose to a three-year high of 4.4 percent in February, according to the statistics bureau, as record declines in exports forced Toyota Motor Corp., Sony Corp. and other companies to fire thousands of workers.

Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank AG, Morgan Stanley, Citigroup Inc. and Credit Suisse Group AG are among the overseas banks and brokerages that have cut jobs in Japan. Tokyo-based Nomura Holdings Inc., which bought Lehman’s Asian and European operations, has also eliminated positions.

Komizo said more job cuts are likely as Japan’s deepening recession forces financial firms to merge or form joint ventures, creating redundancies. Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group Inc. is merging its securities arm with the local unit of Morgan Stanley, Nomura is integrating Lehman’s Asian operations, and Citigroup is selling assets, including its Japanese asset management unit.

Hidetoshi Takano, CEO of Tokyo-based recruiting firm Keyplayers Co., said he’s planning to attend the Heartland get-together.

“I have several positions on my plate for CFOs or M&A specialists,” Takano said. “Some overseas companies that have just started business in Japan and venture companies focusing on corporate restructuring, medical care and mass media are looking for people.”

Minami formed BizReach in 2007. The company plans to start an Internet classified site this month, targeting people who aim for salaries of more than ¥10 million and charging them a registration fee, Minami said. He declined to elaborate further on his business plans before a press conference scheduled for Tuesday.

Minami joined Morgan Stanley in 1999 after graduating from Tufts University and worked at the New York-based company’s mergers and acquisitions advisory department in Tokyo. He also worked for Hong Kong-based PCCW Ltd. and Rakuten Inc.

At Heartland, where the evening crowd often spills out onto the street, customer manager Yuki Okada said she’s pleased to host Minami’s event. The watering hole opened in 2003 as a “concept bar” to promote Heartland brand beer, made by Tokyo-based brewer Kirin Holdings Co.

The customer mix at the bar has changed since Lehman collapsed in September, though former employees who now work for Nomura and other firms still frequent the place, she said.

“Lehman and Goldman people used to come and drink here all the time,” said Okada, who has worked at the bar since it opened. “With the dramatic changes we’ve seen in the economy, I’ve witnessed a number of farewell parties for Lehman employees.”

Merrill unit closed Merrill Lynch & Co. has closed its private-equity business in Japan as the economy heads into its worst postwar recession.

Merrill, the brokerage bought by Bank of America Corp., closed the business “recently,” said Tsukasa Noda, a Tokyo-based spokesman, declining comment on how many people worked at the unit and how much it had invested.