But when the insurance company downsized, Pinola found he needed help, too.
"For the first time, I sat down and had to figure out what to do with the rest of my life," he says.
He was 45 years old and searching for a career to replace one he had been in for 23 years.
"I knew that I liked helping people, and the insurance business is an industry that helps a lot of people," he says.
Now CEO of Right Management Consultants, a career transition and organizational consulting firm, Pinola started as a client. He turned to the company's outplacement program, which prompted him to route his insurance experience onto a financial consulting path -- a natural turn for Pinola to use his people skills and number-crunching acumen.
He became a director of Right in 1990, and was named CEO in 1992 and chairman in 1994. In January 2004, the company became a wholly-owned subsidiary of Manpower Inc., and Pinola retained his CEO title.
"I love the people, I love the service, I knew the people and I felt I had the skills that could be transferred from the insurance business into the human resources consulting industry," he says of his move from Right's board of directors to the CEO seat.
Twelve years later, Pinola considers the circumstances that landed him the position. Like most downsized employees, he was lost, then found. He analyzed the past but focused on the future. And he wound up working in an industry not unlike insurance, where people are a priority and uncommon service is essential.
"One of my friends said to me, 'Did you ever think of going into an industry where people actually wanted the product? No one wants insurance, and no one wants to be outplaced. Why didn't you go into chocolate?'" Pinola says, laughing. "That's a true story."
Pinola knows exactly why he's in the human resources industry. He feeds off of clients' energy when they discover their true career callings; he listens when they express the shock and depression they shoulder when downsizing doles them a raw deal.
He asks questions, analyzes clients' strengths, uncovers their sore spots, builds up their immunity with skills and sends them back into the work force with tools to land the "right" job, Pinola says.
"No pun intended," he says. "Right gets paid to help people in a very important part of their lives."
Right place, right time
These days, Pinola is racking up the sky miles. In an eight-day period, he visited 25 clients in 10 offices, starting in London. He popped over to Pairs, toured down to Toulouse in the south of France, meandered west to Grenoble and jetted back to Britain.
He answers his cell phone on a country byway outside of South Hampton; he is ready to return to Philadelphia, where he can enjoy his garden and park at home base, where a 125-person team bridges unemployment gaps for clients.
"In a business of people, you must be physically present," he says. "People are more worried about not being included in the whole than being overmanaged."
And when business includes people in 39 countries at 300 locations, the "whole" is a global reference, and covering it requires extensive travel. This doesn't bother Pinola, who thrives on interaction and helping others discover their career passions.
Since assuming his role as CEO, Pinola has pushed the borders of a business that was, at the time 99 percent U.S.-based.
"The strategy was to mirror the client," he says. "Where the client was, we wanted to have the capabilities to deliver the same quality, consistently, everywhere in the world. The question I asked myself at the time was, 'Why aren't we doing this everywhere in the world?' People everywhere need this help.
"That became the genesis for our strategy overnight," he adds, noting that Right Management has acquired 59 businesses from the time he took the helm in 1992.
At the same time, he boosted revenue from $40 million to $460 million. Last year, 67 percent of the company's business was outside the United States. Career coaches and counselors in each country allow Right to reach out to its global markets.
"We adopt a local culture and custom," he says.
And he focuses on the future, looking ahead to the potential of his company.
"Every minute you spend thinking about the past rather than analyzing your strengths and weaknesses is a minute you are not focusing on your future.
"Whether mergers, acquisitions or redundancies, you have to get people focused on the future -- and that is the most serious part of the job," he says.
Lost and found
Founded in 1980, Right Management Consultants grew up offering outplacement services.
"We have helped people who have really lost and found themselves," Pinola says.
Right lands jobs for jilted workers and places people in positions where they can grow in a job market that is eager for management skills. Most return to the industries they left.
"There is a great deal of money in the market today but a real lack of management and leadership skills," Pinola says.
Career transition counseling was Right's initial concentration, but Pinola recognized a need for internal corporate coaching, training and leadership development as well. Right's strategy to mirror the client meant working its way inside companies, not just waiting outside to assist displaced employees.
"One of the candidates we worked with said to me, 'This was a great development opportunity -- I'm only sorry I had to get fired to get it,'" Pinola says.
Right altered its target audience and reinvented its tagline.
"Today, we are the largest HR consulting firm that focuses on managing the human side of organizational consulting," Pinola says. "The idea is to provide a total solution to the client company."
The solution includes services that touch people -- hiring, development, leadership management and competency assessment, among others.
"The basis of our strategy is to offer the total employee lifecycle," he says. "Today, everyone has leadership issues because people are asked to do more with less manpower, so you don't have the corporate ladder, which was the normal process for growing leaders. Organizations are flatter, with less people; they are leaner. Developing leaders is an enormous challenge for employers."
Retaining talent also introduces complications into the workplace, Pinola says.
"Your best people are on everyone else's hit list to hire," he says.
Offering leadership development programs and encouraging performance through skills training -- two services Right offers -- give employers the glue to help employees stick.
"You have to continue to provide an environment where people can grow, where they can develop skills and they are being challenged," he says. "We help organizations identify, assess and coach leaders, because it is more efficient to fix rather than replace."
Right also helps employees who have been replaced -- a critical part of the business, Pinola says. Through a system called Z.I.P. -- Zeroing In Process -- Right coaches offer clients a spread of career courses. College curriculum, technology training, e-learning options and Right-from-Home, a distance-learning program, provide opportunities for clients to build skills.
Then, there is the human touch. The Right way, if you ask Pinola. The only way.
"I personally coach some higher executives," Pinola says. "If you work as hard at getting your next job as you did in your old job, you will be successful. People work 60 hours a week. They lose their jobs and think they can sit in front of a computer for a half-hour and check out the job board. That will not work.
"You have to learn how to present yourself, do the market res earch and learn how to present your story."
Any lifecycle requires equilibrium, and Right has mastered the balance of business. Its outplacement and organizational consulting services work in tandem. When the economy is booming, companies seek development. When the market heads south and employers are handing out pink slips, Right is ready with career resources.
"Our HR consulting business is growing, and as corporations come to the realization that people are their most important product and there are less of them, our organizational consulting practice is growing very well around the world," Pinola says. "The outplacement market is down. There is not as much downsizing today as there was two to three years ago when there was a global recession."
Pinola sees a "slight uptick" in today's employment climate. Small businesses are carving out job opportunities. High-tech and biomedical industries are demanding skilled professionals. And in a global economy, leadership positions require more travel.
"People have to be more flexible," he says. "There are different jobs, and the skill sets are more demanding."
In January 2004, Right added another synergistic dimension to its career building business when it was acquired by Manpower Inc., a staffing company that focuses on temporary-to-permanent job placement.
"We fit right in," Pinola says. "Now we have talent management and leadership focus inside a company, career transition services outside, and we fill out the career transition with Manpower's [staffing services]."
Right operates as a standalone entity, but the relationship presents an opportunity for both companies to utilize their respective strengths to build a full-service employment network, one that still puts people first, Pinola stresses. Right still does not handle compensation and benefits, or employee outsourcing.
"We can't be everything to everybody," he says. "We focus on the people side. And we have to be there, so there are a lot of global expansion opportunities for us, and we will continue to pursue them as years go on."
China, India and Eastern Europe are a few spots on Right's target lis, and Pinola likely will continue to build his frequent flier miles next year. For him, it's simply part of moving forward -- of focusing on tomorrow and finding purpose and passion in connecting people with possibilities.
"Life is what you make of it," he says. "Things happen and you make choices. You choose whether you want to be a victim or you want to move forward and figure out what to do with the rest of your life. I believe that personally and in business -- that is what our business is."
How to reach: Right Management, (215) 988-1588 or www.right.com