ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
One of America's oldest and biggest management training companies is offering guidance to executives wrestling with the sour economy. But the American Management Association, based in New York City, is itself facing tough times. Fewer companies have the budgets to pay for AMA's training courses, and declining enrollments have triggered layoffs. North Country Public Radio's Brian Mann reports.
BRIAN MANN: The sleek corporate lobby of the American Management Association Headquarters in Midtown Manhattan is busy with men and women armed with BlackBerrys and day planners. The morning's training seminars are just getting under way.
(Soundbite of video)
Unidentified Man: The skills and the knowledge you gain here will help you prosper in the complex, competitive world we live in today.
MANN: This seminar is called Managing Chaos, and after that cheerful introductory video, trainer Mary Camuto tells her students point blank that the corporate rules have changed.
(Soundbite of seminar)
Ms. MARY CAMUTO (Trainer, American Management Association): There are things that you may be doing that no longer hold value, that should be eliminated, especially if you're like some of my customers that have to do more with less.
MANN: The 30 managers in this class, many from name-brand companies and government agencies, break up into discussion groups. They say they still struggle with all the old stresses, deadlines and quality management, conflicting personalities. But Anar LeBlanc(ph), a business manager with the Associated Press, says there's a new level of anxiety.
Mr. ANAR LEBLANC (Business Manager, Associated Press): I think everybody thinks about their future and, you know, if a company were to cut 20 percent, would they be a part of the 20 percent or the 80 percent that was left? So, I mean, I think everybody thinks about that.
MANN: American Management Association is one of the oldest executive trainers in the U.S. It held seminars much like this one during the Great Depression. In times like these, AMA vice president Manny Avramidis says managers need advice and support more than ever.
Mr. MANNY AVRAMIDIS (Vice President, American Management Association): I think that the recession is a bit different than the past because it seems as if the confidence level across the board is non-existent.
MANN: AMA revamped many of its two-day seminars, which cost roughly $1,400, to factor in the pressures of an economy that's more bust than boom, but the company itself is being squeezed by shrinking enrollments.
Ms. MELINDA LITTLE (Former Regional Manager, American Management Association): I went to work as usual Thursday morning.
MANN: Melinda Little worked for one of AMA's sales teams.
Ms. LITTLE: And around lunch time I got a call from the human resources office, and at that point I thought, I'm going to go down there and be laid off, which in fact is what happened.
MANN: AMA won't say exactly how many workers were let go. But current and former employees tell NPR that about 70 people were laid off, about a fifth of the company's work force. Avramidis says AMA tried to handle the downsizing using the same strategies taught in the company's seminars.
Mr. AVRAMIDIS: You want to be fair, want to be equitable, you want to be fast.
MANN: Avramidis says it's also important for companies to make all the cuts it wants before the situation deteriorates too far.
Mr. AVRAMIDIS: And you want to make sure that your performance during the separation meetings and thereafter, is a performance that you wouldn't mind being viewed by the rest of the organization because it goes beyond the closed door, if you will. And everyone seems to find out how those meetings were handled.
MANN: Melinda Little says losing her job was painful. But she gives the AMA executives high marks for practicing what they preach.
Ms. LITTLE: This whole process, it's a blow to a person's ego. I mean, there's just no getting around it. But the H.R. staff at AMA is very professional and very caring. So that made it easier. I mean, they were - really took their role very seriously and took the distress of the message that they were giving very, very seriously.
MANN: The American Management Association offered laid-off workers severance packages that included access to training and skills development. But Manny Avramidis is realistic about the limitations of the advice these seminars offer.
Mr. AVRAMIDIS: Now, if you are in a situation where business is performing so poorly that there's bankruptcy or mass layoffs that include half of the staff, and you happen to be one of them, at the very least, you'll be better prepared to find a job elsewhere.
MANN: As unemployment lines lengthen, laid off workers and managers will be looking for any advantage they can get. For NPR News, I'm Brian Mann.
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