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A lot to think about beyond 2020

February already and we’re fully back into the swing of work, with the Australia Day long weekend gone and kids back to school.

Companies and employees everywhere are returning to significant challenges to the Australian economy and their industries within it, especially retail, agriculture, and tourism amongst others. My industry focus, superannuation and wealth management, has been experiencing the pain of change for some time now, and there is a high level of executive movement as the ‘war for talent’ heats up further.

This is great if you’re an executive or specialist in demand, but there’s some awful, somewhat hidden or understated, numbers for many Australians.

According to a recent article by Jack Derwin in Business Insider, there are now three unemployed Australians for every job vacancy. Based on this fact we know that the 250,000 or so job ads listed every month just don’t match up with the 725,000 Australians without jobs who want them, and the 1.15 million under-employed Australians who are working less hours than they’d like.

Reading this, I wondered whether the majority of us currently in professional employment are even aware of these numbers… three unemployed people for every single listed vacancy!

Yes, many vacancies aren’t listed, but typically they will be filled by ‘people who know people’ as they are already employed and referred through trusted conduits.

The other big associated issue is underemployment, and when combined with the unemployed, means nearly 2 million Australians cannot find as much work as they want or need.

Let’s keep this in mind before we start labelling people as ‘lifters or leaners’ or with other simplistic clichés.

Further, in an ABC Business Report published recently, Oxfam concludes, “Australia’s concentration of wealth in the hands of the super-rich is occurring, while the share of wealth of the bottom half of our community has decreased over the last decade and workers’ wages continue to stagnate.”

“The top 1 per cent of Australians have more than doubled the wealth of the entire bottom 50 per cent – or 12.5 million people.”

Read that again. It warrants an expletive or two when you think that 240,000 of our ‘mates’ hold 100x the individual wealth held by half of all Australians.

How have we, as a society, let it come to this (and seemingly, it’s getting worse)? 

Economic liberalisation has raised millions of people around the world out of abject poverty, and certainly Australia benefitted from deregulation and the encouragement of the private sector, from what was a troubled economy in the 1970s and 80s. But have we gone too far, and is the idea of a ‘fair go’ in Australia and looking after your ‘mates’ just a slogan?

This country has shown with the recent bushfires and current drought that we still believe in pitching in to help others. It seems however, with death by a thousand cuts over 30 years, that we have become numb to the unemployed, immune to the increasing homeless on the street, and resigned to the gargantuan wealth and therefore political influence of ‘the few’.

Ok, easy for me to criticise, but what do we do? 

I don’t have the answers but I don’t believe Australia (and the world) can continue down this path of the few haves and many have-nots, with a large middle ground too busy to care because they’re just getting by. The workforce is changing and unless we come up with new ideas and products, the wealth disparity will continue to grow. Add in climate change, whether exacerbated by humans or not, the year, decade and century ahead will deliver some tremendous challenges for many Australians.

There’s a lot to think about in 2020 and beyond.

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Posted in Accounting & Finance, Superannuation, The world @work

5 steps closer to a winning team in 2020

After a fantastic year with a double up from the Tigers and Springboks, I got to thinking about how the business sector builds ‘winning teams’. How do they go about finding and securing their talent, and critically, how do they decide whether new employees will be a positive addition to the overall team dynamic?

We all know how quickly one bad apple can ruin the entire barrel…

For most businesses, their people (or human capital) represent a significant investment. Therefore, considering both the cost and non-financial impact of a poor hire, it always intrigues me that a lot of business leaders still don’t perceive value in a solid and robust search process.

If you look ahead at what you envisage your team will look like as you adapt to changing conditions, will you pay credence to talent pooling? Or is your hiring mostly reactionary? The best teams I’ve worked with are constantly looking ahead and assessing their strengths and weaknesses with an eye to plugging the gaps.

Do you try to do your own hiring to save the cost of a recruitment fee? Even if you have an outstanding internal recruitment team, there will be instances where the pure breadth of their focus may mean a lack of exposure to a particular talent stream.

There is no doubt that the war for truly exceptional talent is increasing, and I believe that more than ever, hiring managers are starting to realise the value of a search partner with proven results in their sector. I am consistently finding that more organisations and internal recruitment teams are aligning themselves with a trusted and proven search partner – not for every role, but certainly where they want to ensure the best results in a highly competitive and skill short sector.

With all of this in mind, the real issue becomes how to select the right executive recruitment firm for your needs? Here are 5 points to consider when evaluating the right partner:

  1. Legacy – a firm with good history and reputation
  2. Results – a firm that can demonstrate success through past work and client references
  3. Partnership – a team of consultants who not only excel at what they do, but also genuinely have your and your organisation’s best interests in mind
  4. Research capability – there are varying degrees of quality when it comes to research; true research capability involves much more than LinkedIn
  5. Value – a lower fee doesn’t necessarily signify the best value; a thorough process, good consulting, and the best possible hire (and post hire care) will deliver greater returns

It sounds daunting (and it can be), which is why you need to engage the right partner. Nothing beats the feeling and the results of securing an outstanding addition to your business. I look forward to helping you build a high-performance team who will be kicking their goals into the new year and beyond.

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Posted in Accounting & Finance, The world @work

Dipping my toes in the ocean: A celebration of my first 10 years in Australia

In November I celebrated my 10 year anniversary as a proud Melbourne resident. My arrival here from South Africa coincided with the GFC, which has given me pause for thought around the 10 year economic cycle, and what I’ve seen in the local recruitment market during this time.

In my first year here, my beloved Tigers (yes, I have an AFL team) came second last to the Demons (substantial improvement since then). In my other passion, the Springboks had just won the World Cup (not so much improvement). I was also working from a small office in Mount Waverley recruiting Accountants in the South East (nothing wrong with that, but most would agree Collins Street is a substantial improvement).

The recruitment landscape has changed drastically in the last ten years, with some substantial players downsizing and others disappearing, while a number of newcomers quickly established themselves and continue to go from strength to strength. The market for talent continues to become ever more competitive, with the top-drawer operators demonstrating the value in building strong relationships, providing exceptional service and reducing hiring risk with a robust methodology.

Recruitment trends

Other trends have been the evolution of internal recruitment capability within medium to large organisations and conversely, the rise of the RPO (recruitment process outsourcing) model, with an increasing number of organisations ramping up this function. Whereas talent acquisition was previously limited to larger corporate organisations, increasingly SMEs and smaller businesses have added recruitment to their HR functions. This has delivered mixed levels of success. With no clear winner between the internal team and an outsourced or RPO model, a number of businesses have sought to return the function in-house. In the mix, professional recruiters like me have enjoyed the opportunity to partner with internal recruitment teams, especially on senior assignments and hard to source specialist roles where exploring the passive talent market is essential.

Sector trends

The industry landscape has seen some other big shifts, with sectors like Manufacturing and Print taking a massive hit. Technological change, including AI, robotics, automation and digitalisation is one of the factors at play, but the impact of globalisation and government policy on a whole range of issues, from tariffs and trade to employment regulations, has suited some more than others: Ecommerce, Education, Advanced Manufacturing, Engineering, and Food & Agribusiness are all growing well.

In the recruitment sector, a trend towards higher volume/lower level recruitment activity was obvious over the last decade. What is becoming increasingly clear, however, is that there will always be tremendous value for organisations in developing meaningful relationships with talent and the consultants who have access to diverse professionals across broad as well as niche industry networks.

I have been extremely fortunate to have met some outstanding people in the last ten years – clients, candidates and colleagues – and have thoroughly enjoyed watching their careers develop. In many instances they have become valued connections who continue to inspire me and others with their achievements. It has been an exciting ride!  Now working with Geoff Slade and the team at Slade Group (Geoff recently celebrated 50 years in business), I realise that the last ten years is just a drop in the ocean. Here’s looking forward to the next ten years in the world @work. Thanks to all of you for your valued support and friendship over the last decade.

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Posted in Accounting & Finance, The world @work

Compare the pair indeed!

Q. What’s in the news every day and the first topic of discussion whenever I sit down with clients or candidates?

A. The Hayne Royal Commission and, to a much lesser extent, the recent Productivity Commission report into Superannuation.

Where the draft Productivity Commission report identified areas for improvement within superannuation, namely multiple accounts and insurance premiums eroding those accounts, the Hayne Royal Commission has given us a sorry list of poor systems, poor compliance and behaviors that could be described anywhere from lazy, greedy or criminal.

I don’t need to be more specific, we all read the news and know what and who I’m referring to.

Sadly, in these client and candidate discussions, no-one is surprised. The constant stories from candidates from within these organisations clearly tells me that sales, profits and bonuses are  priorities number 1, 2 & 3, and anything else is a long way behind. As a result, the culture of these organisations are often toxic, and that’s why I’m seeing more candidates from those organisations than from anywhere else.

For political reasons the Industry Superannuation sector was added to the Royal Commission. I wonder if the Minister regrets that now. Not only did the Productivity Commission highlight the superior overall performance generally of the Industry Superannuation Funds as compared to the Retail Superannuation Funds, but so far the Royal Commission has further highlighted the difference in culture from the top down. The $67 million in fees begrudgingly refunded and fees to dead people versus a few million dollars on an advertising campaign (A fox in the henhouse? – I doubt they even knew just how right they were) or $240,000 in client entertainment expenses for a $35 billion fund.

Compare the pair indeed!

Why mention all this as a recruiter? Right now, employee sentiment is strongly in favour of ethical and moral corporate behaviour. Candidates want to work for organisations that genuinely make a difference, and demonstrate their strong cultures in their corporate behaviours. Good candidates want to work for strong organisations that are profitable and dynamic, but who also care about their staff and their customers, not just their profit or share price or bonuses.

Without doubt, one part of the financial services sector is winning ‘the war for talent’ based on values, ethics and behaviour.

What have you seen in your world @work that has shaken your values?

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Posted in Accounting & Finance, The world @work

EOFY – trivia, observations and reflections

I’ve just finished an interview with an accountant… (insert your joke or comment of choice)… for a Financial Controller role. Actually it’s a great opportunity with a small private investment company.

I generally start an interview with an easy general question like, “How’s work?” In this case the response was, “Flat-out! I’m super busy because of EOFY (End of Financial Year).” Makes sense and I’m sure there are thousands of accountants around Australia who are saying the same thing.

According to that font of all modern wisdom, Wikipedia, Australia is one of only a small list of countries that use 1 July to 30 June as the financial year. Others include New Zealand, Japan and Egypt. In comparison the US use 1 January to 31 December and the UK is more unusual, being 1 April to 31 March for government. UK businesses can choose any 12 month period.

Given that much of Australian law and business practices have British origins, you might expect that we would have a similar EOFY. Some sources suggest that our reverse seasons compared to the Northern Hemisphere mean more Australians are on holiday in January and at work in the winter months. I’m not a Mythbuster, so I’ll just say that is plausible.

In my patch of the recruitment world, financial services, three out of four major Australian banks have changed to 30 September as their EOFY. Most other financial services organisations that I work with ie. industry superannuation funds, fund managers, smaller banks, investment consultants and private wealth managers, use 30 June as EOFY.

What I’ve seen in the last few months is lots of strategic planning for next financial year and establishment of budgets. Generally I’d say recruitment intentions are quite positive.

For many of us EOFY is a busy time, trying to complete work. Now is a chance for a quick spot of reflection and strategy refinement: What worked, what didn’t and how can we improve?

OK reflection done, there’s calls to be made!

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Posted in Accounting & Finance, The world @work

Does a work legacy matter?

Let me paint the scene. It’s Saturday night, I’m at a friend’s house with a group of mates as our children run inside and outside the house vaguely supervised. Our respective partners are all out, so we’re taking the opportunity for a beer, pizza and football night.

The discussion turns to work, with some general “How’s it going?” and “What are you up to’s?” One of my friends, let’s call him Patrick*, someone I have known since the beginning of primary school, is now a very successful international tax specialist.

With a lot of media coverage around global corporations’ profit shifting and tax minimisation strategies, I ask what he thinks of all this?

His response, “I helped set all that up, but it was a long time ago and it’s not my problem anymore.”

We can joke lightheartedly about a visit to jail as he has done absolutely nothing illegal. However, it seems that the ethical or moral questions from the impact of his work are of no concern to him.

It got me thinking – what is the legacy of our careers, and does it matter to us? (Perhaps the tax avoided could have been used for public health services, old age pensions or infrastructure.)

As a recruiter for more than 20 years, I have been involved in a broad range of appointments, from high profile CEOs to entry level graduates and many things in between. I’m pleased to say that most of those appointments would be described as successful, from senior appointments that have really impacted a business, an industry, even the economy, to long-serving employees who have been regularly promoted, as well as those who do a good body of work and then change employer for career progression.

I acknowledge that it’s my candidates who deliver the work once employed, but I take satisfaction from identifying their capability and potential, and introducing them to the right employer and role. Each successful appointment is a small legacy of my working life.

In a way, my work legacy is more indirect than my friend. Like most consultants, I complete an assignment, and then it is out of my hands as to whether it turns out to be successful in the long run. I keep in contact with both parties but can only minimally impact what happens from there.

In the modern digital economy where everyone wants a social media presence, I’m a bit more old-fashioned. I prefer to keep a lower profile and not make public everything I do (yes, I see the irony of this post), but I do think we should consider the impact of our work on those around us.

What do you think? Does a work legacy matter?

*Not his real name

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Posted in Accounting & Finance, The world @work

Managing funds with a social conscience

We’ve got the sun. We’ve got the space. With renewables fast becoming big business abroad, it’s obvious that the industry has huge potential here in Australia.

It’s great when you see a local company taking on the challenge. Recently one of my clients, a boutique infrastructure fund manager, was preparing to launch a fund focusing on investment in solar energy. Their initial fund raising target was $25 million, and with the prospect of subsequent equity to be raised at a later date, aimed to raise a total of $75 million. According to the fund manager, when fully invested, we would be talking $100 million. Those are considerable dollars in anyone’s book.

The fund expects to drive the expansion of the solar market by creating employment, supporting Australia’s only panel manufacturer and will produce associated social benefits, such as displacing diesel within remote indigenous communities. In terms of environmental benefits, the project will abate approximately 260,000 tonnes of CO2 annually, equivalent to powering almost 50,000 homes per annum.

The fund was looking for an executive to raise funds from the High Net Worth investor market, but only required support on a part-time basis. They engaged me through Slade Executive to recruit an experienced BDM. The position had the dual appeal of flexibility for a business development professional who was looking for something different from the usual fare in managed funds distribution.

The successful candidate (an outstanding individual, highly experienced in the sector) has a young family and was attracted to the role by the opportunity to make a difference to the environment, not only for the future benefit of their children. They were also comfortable with taking some financial risk (the role is heavily performance based), but most importantly, the candidate believed in the goals of the fund.

While I’m not about taking credit for someone else’s hard work, my candidate has done a fantastic job. In fact they raised $100 million straight-up and the fund has now been closed. Sometimes we recruiters cop a bit of flak for the odd rogue in our midst who has left their social conscience at the door. Ditto the finance industry. So it’s a nice feeling when the stars align and everyone benefits while making a contribution to better the world we live in.

What socially responsible commercial projects have you been involved with?  How has working with an innovative partner in the corporate sector changed your Point of View?

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Posted in Accounting & Finance, The world @work

Would you want to work part-time if you could?

A client recently asked me to find a Senior BDM for their boutique funds management business. Nothing unusual about that; however, my client only required someone on a part-time basis, three days per week (or equivalent). They were more than happy to provide flexible work hours to accommodate responsibility for kids or a carer’s needs, for example.

There are plenty of people who want flexibility too. Yet, working through the long list of BDM contacts that I have, I was surprised to find very few of the candidates who were ideally suited were seeking a part-time role. The most common responses to my approach were: “That sounds interesting, do you think it could lead to a full-time role for the right candidate?” or “I would love to work part-time, but I can’t afford to take a pay cut.”

From an executive point of view, part-time workers aren’t traditionally associated with highly remunerated roles. Yet, as reported in The Huffington Post last year, a growing number of executives are actively seeking the flexibility of a part-time role, while busting the myth that a top level job can only be accomplished successfully on a full-time basis. As Management Today Deputy Editor Andrew Saunders says, “there are very few jobs – no matter how senior or client-facing – which cannot be done on a part-time basis.”

Similarly, working flexibly shouldn’t be associated with a loss in productivity. Simon Allport is a Managing Partner at Ernst & Young who chose a flexible work model to spend time more time with his family. “At EY, we find offering flexibility makes for a happier, more engaged and more productive team,” he says.

Whilst part-time employment is ideal for many, economic or other realities can still make it unviable for some. In my experience contract roles are often extended beyond their initial term, and working part-time often does lead to a permanent position. Candidates who have that extra level of flexibility can use the opportunity to network within an organisation to further their aspirations.

As it turns out the successful candidate was someone within my network who I have known for many years. Her children are now school age and the part-time role was a perfect fit.

Are flexible working arrangements a perfect fit for you?

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Posted in Accounting & Finance, The world @work