With part-time jobs, executives salvage salaries

Larry Buchsbaum works one day a week as the chief marketing officer for Morris & Morris PC, a small accounting firm in Needham Heights. Larry Buchsbaum works one day a week as the chief marketing officer for Morris & Morris PC, a small accounting firm in Needham Heights. (Kayana Szymczak for The Boston Globe)
By Katie Johnston Chase
Globe Staff / February 21, 2011

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Rebecca Dabora juggles being a company vice president with several other jobs. Leo Casey is a part-time chief financial officer for seven firms. And Larry Buchsbaum is stringing together a few executive-level jobs of his own after being laid off as a marketing director.

“I could spend my whole life looking for a full-time gig and not find it,’’ said Buchsbaum, who works one day a week as the chief marketing officer for a small accounting firm in Needham and another at a CPA agency in Newton — and is in talks to do the same at two other companies. “So this makes sense in a lot of ways.’’

As the economy sputters back to life, businesses are beefing up their management teams to help stimulate growth. Many small firms that can’t afford to hire executives full time are bringing them in to work a few days a month instead.

The number of monthly job postings for part-time executives on the career site nearly tripled from about 900 in 2008 to more than 2,300 last year. And with the job market flooded with high-level executives looking for work — 824,000 are unemployed nationwide — those executives are more willing to piece together several jobs to make a full-time salary.

“People are just doing what they have to do to pay the bills, even if they’re not necessarily at the level that they were,’’ said Joanie Connell, president of the San Diego consulting firm Flexible Work Solutions.

Part-time executives generally work on retainer, don’t get health insurance or stock options, and run the risk of being the first to be shown the door if the economy takes a turn for the worse. But having more than one employer provides an added layer of job security that a full-time gig does not have, career consultants say.

“If you have four clients and you lose one, you only lose a quarter of your income,’’ said Stephen Ford, managing partner at the career consulting firm OI Partners Inc. in Concord.

Some part-time executives also are finding they like the flexibility and variety of working for several companies at once.

Casey was the president of a software company in Westborough when it was sold in the fall of 2008; now, he makes about $200 an hour as an “on-demand CFO’’ for seven companies in the software, construction, and medical equipment fields, a range he finds “intellectually challenging.’’

“Every situation I go into is a little bit different,’’ said Casey, who is represented by B2B CFO Partners LLC, a Phoenix part-time chief financial officer firm that has more than doubled its number of CFOs — to nearly 200 — since 2008.

For companies, the benefits are clear.

“The client gets a seasoned expert who they normally couldn’t afford on a full-time basis,’’ said Jim Bourdon, founder of Accounting Management Solutions Inc. a Waltham firm that outsources part-time and interim CFOs.

When Ribcraft USA LLC’s revenue plunged during the recession, president Brian Gray slashed expenses at the Marblehead inflatable boat manufacturer and downsized his 25-member staff by five through layoffs and attrition. But he also hired Welles Hatch as the company’s first part-time CFO to help him chart a path through the economic storm.

If not for the recession, Gray said, he probably would have continued using the accounting group that previously handled his finances.

“It was the downturn that probably led me to say, wait a minute, we need someone with Welles’s expertise and experience to help here,’’ he said.

Hatch, who has a one-year contract with Ribcraft and works on a monthly retainer, put a growth strategy in place and started representing the company in meetings with banks and investors. Since then, revenue has picked up more than Gray expected.

“It’s an investment that was one of the smartest things I’ve ever done,’’ said Gray, who hopes to one day have a full-time CFO.

Hatch sees such a demand for part-time executives that a year ago he founded his own CFO firm, Adrian Loring Advisors LLC in Concord. So far, the firm has two chief financial officers serving four clients, all of which are using CFOs for the first time.

“I’ve seen smaller companies coming out of the blocks, as it were, and now seeking to reach for growth objectives, where they might have been hunkered down in ’09,’’ Hatch said.

Wireless technology is also making it easier for companies to depend on part-time executives.

“In some ways this is the new workforce, because you can get people who are very experienced, they can work on mobile phones and Internet connections and laptops, and they can work for three or four companies at the same time,’’ said James Geshwiler, managing director at the Boston venture capital group CommonAngels, who often advises start-ups to hire high-level executives part time.

Edimer Pharmaceuticals, a Cambridge biotech start-up, has brought in about a dozen part-timers to get its pediatric drug off the ground, including Dabora, vice president of manufacturing. Dabora worked full time at Biogen Idec for a decade before going into business for herself 12 years ago to have more time with her family.

Now, Dabora does consulting work for two biopharmaceutical companies on top of the 10 to 25 hours a week she puts in for Edimer, choosing vendors, evaluating data, and managing relationships with laboratories.

She’s paid by Edimer by the hour. The main benefits are “good coffee and snacks,’’ she said, along with some equity in the company. But Dabora likes the variety of projects she gets to work on, as well as the steady uptick in inquiries for her services.

“I think there are probably more virtual companies out there that are comfortable with this outsourcing model, keeping a very limited staff on hand as full time and accessing the expertise they need on a part-time but continual basis,’’ Dabora said.

For Buchsbaum, the marketing chief, being onboard part time at a small firm is more rewarding than a full-time gig.

“They took a leap of faith,’’ he said of Morris & Morris PC, which had never had a CMO before. “It’s a stronger feeling.’’

Katie Johnston Chase can be reached at