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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 Slade Executive, The world @work

How to turn your work-ability into your biggest asset

My husband Ray and I are your typical Aussie mum and dad property investors; our three children are also young investors (in their 30s).

Back in the 1980s, getting a deposit together to purchase a house was arguably as difficult as it is today. My husband and I started saving on our engagement. Our parents were of humble means – certainly not in a position to help out. There were no maternity/paternity leave entitlements, no child care facilities and we relied on one income for many years after we settled into our home.

The Government at the time attempted to solve the problem of housing affordability by providing a first home buyers grant (a means tested cash bonus to assist with the purchase). Although our individual salaries were not particularly high, when combined, Ray and I were not entitled to the grant.

So we worked five jobs between us. When our peers were out dancing at bachelors and spinsters balls, we were the ones working in hospitality, serving them food and drinks. They were driving around in new cars. We drove second hand cars and once we bought a new one, we owned it for 10 years before buying a new one. Our peers were travelling around the world and going to rock concerts. I regret to say I never attended a rock concert. I remember the only musical I went to see was Jesus Christ Superstar.

Economists are always predicting a drop in the property market and investing means accepting some risk. When we decided to buy an investment property, our parents, friends and family, actually tried to talk us out of it! Don’t do it, it’s too risky, you can’t afford the loan repayments… What if you lose your job, what if you fall pregnant or what if there is another GFC, or a war?

Harry Triguboff, Australian billionaire real estate property developer was interviewed on 60 Minutes recently. He said, “Ordinary mum and dad investors are battlers and not millionaires.” In my experience this rings true. Aussie mum and dad investors contribute to rental availability in the market. It stands to reason that the more investors there are, the more rentals there will be available, which assists with rental affordability.

On the same program Tim Gurner, a young property investor turned successful developer, was also interviewed. Interestingly he recommended exactly what we have practiced. Go without the luxuries, work hard and have a goal. While it has been muted that he received a leg up with a deposit from his family, parents can assist in other ways, such a guaranteeing a loan or providing a deposit bond.

When we criticise the lifestyle choices of millennials, are we simply being critical of young people? My children started in the property market as teenagers. We did not provide them with any funding whatsoever. We set the example; they took the risk, budgeted hard and were devoted to their jobs.

The conversation should be about choices, not criticism. Taking a year off and travelling the world on a working holiday… well good on you, you’re only a year behind in savings, and possibly a few steps behind (or ahead) in your career. The occasional smashed avocado and a latte over breakfast won’t destroy your life savings either. Going to university will put your savings back several years and adds a HECS to your financial commitments in most cases, but you’re positioning yourself to catch up as your career advances.

A request under FOI revealed that over the past eight months (August 2016 to February 2017) in NSW alone foreign investors paid a staggering $76.6M in stamp duty to the state government, compared with Australian and dual nationals who paid almost $3.8M. While it’s obviously a great tax revenue stream, the disparity in the figures are symptomatic of local investors losing in their bids to secure property.

Doing something about housing affordability is problematic. Should we make it easier for young Australians by offering investment grants, allowing first home buyers to use their superannuation for a deposit, or further limit foreign ownership of Australian real estate? All of these ideas are debatable, with potential for unintended consequences. Certainly providing better information on budgeting, saving and investing would help educate the next generation of buyers. At present the real winners in the property market are the banks, property developers, fund managers, real estate agents and the state governments who all benefit from high prices.

My generation, the baby boomers, are often held up as a scapegoat for the affordability crisis. In my family we envisage there will be no government pension by the time we retire, so we are providing for ourselves through our property investments. Despite the media focus on negative gearing, its tax advantage doesn’t benefit us significantly. Here are some final considerations that are often overlooked when making a property investment:

  1. Work hard, taking on an extra job when required can make a difference
  2. New APRA rules mean a 20% deposit is required for an investment loan
  3. Banking institutions charge higher rates for property investors (and even higher interest rates for self-managed super funds)
  4. Factor in the significant cost of stamp duty (paid to the state government on purchasing)
  5. Understand the ongoing body corporate fees (if investing in an apartment, unit or development with shared common property)
  6. Budget for maintenance costs
  7. Negative gearing only applies to tax paid on expenses involved in holding your property
  8. Factor in capital gains tax when selling

At some level we are all working for a secure future. What have you done in your world @work to set yourself up for the future?

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Posted in Professional Support, 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 Slade Executive, The world @work

Born in 1967, still growing up: Slade Group celebrates 50 years

In the following article by Maggie Chen, which appeared in the Autumn 2017 edition of the Victorian Chamber of Commerce & Industry Business Excellence magazine, Slade Group Chairman Geoff Slade shares his story and the insights he has developed over decades in business, in an industry he is proud to be a part of.

Geoff Slade began GW Slade & Associates 50 years ago, in a small office in Melbourne’s CBD. Before that, he worked as an assistant HR manager at an oil refinery at Western Point Bay. After almost taking up a job in consulting, at the age of 21, he decided to start his own employment agency in 1967.

His father had doubts, but his mother took a leap of faith and lent him $300 – all the money she had in the bank. It just covered his first month’s rent. “I had to make a placement in the first month; otherwise I couldn’t have paid the second month’s rent,” Slade recalled.

That he did, and for about 21 years, he built the business – by then called Slade Consulting Group –  to be, by 1988, “the biggest executive recruitment company in the country”, spanning seven cities in Australia and New Zealand.

A UK-based multinational approached Geoff and bought the business from him. In 1989, he commenced a two-year stint as HR Director at Pacific Dunlop.

When the multinational exited the Australian market a few years later, Slade re-established Slade Group in 1992. This time, as a 43-year old with four kids, he decided he would only have offices in Melbourne and Sydney so that he could spend more time with his children and less on planes.

Starting from scratch again at Slade Group was “great”, he said. Pacific Dunlop, which at one stage had 45,000 employees, retained him as a preferred supplier for over 20 years.

Secrets to longevity

How did Slade manage to build and maintain such a successful recruitment company that has already outlived most businesses?

Building trust is crucial, according to Slade. “Companies don’t build long-term relationships with you unless they perceive you’re doing the right thing by them and they trust you,” he said. “The same goes with candidates. I’ve had candidates who I didn’t place, who came back to us to give us work when they were hiring, because we built a significant trusting relationship.”

Secondly, he suggests that persistence really does pay off. Recruitment is an industry with plenty of ups and downs. “When the economy’s going well, business can be very good. When it’s not going well, you can really struggle. And a lot of people bail out when things start to get tough.”

Thirdly, for a long-term business in HR, you need to really understand customer needs. “You have to understand what their culture is like to provide them with quality people that will fit into that culture,” said Slade.

Finally, for business sustainability, it’s important to stay in touch – and that means some ‘face time’. One issue Slade sees today is that young people tend to communicate by email or text and don’t actually go out to meet the customer and really get to know them.

The recruitment industry has faced some challenging times. Seek and LinkedIn both changed the game, as did the global financial crisis, said Slade. A lot of work went to internal recruitment teams. In the face of this, he set up a company with Julian Doherty called Yellow Folder Research, which sells information on talent.

Slade’s wife, Anita Ziemer, Executive Director of Slade Group, took over running the Slade business about five years ago, when Slade became Chairman of the group. He says this allowed him to spend more time developing Yellow Folder Research, which now provides research to public companies and multinationals around Australia. It has also freed him up to focus on the Slade Group-affiliated executive search practice TRANSEARCH International Australia, which is part of a global practice. Slade points out that particularly in the case of senior positions, you really need to understand your client and their needs, and the personalised filtering services that recruitment companies can provide can be invaluable.

Slade is keen to mention his wife and family. He “wouldn’t have survived if it wasn’t for them”, he said.

A healthier era

Slade has seen attitudes to health and wellbeing in the workplace change significantly over the decades. “As late as the 1980s, we would regularly walk into offices where there were ashtrays on desks, smoke in the air and meetings held amongst cigarette smoking executives,” he recalls. “Now, of course, you’ll be hung, drawn and quartered if you’re caught smoking on the forecourt.”

At Slade Group, there have been many individuals who have been proud and passionate about their sporting and athletic pursuits. And since early last year, they’ve been taking steps, led by General Manager Chris Cheesman, to create a company-wide healthy culture, Slade said. “We’ve had people in to give us talks and information emphasising a holistic approach: the value of good sleep, e-downtime, and agile work practices. We’ve introduced standing desks, removed the soft drink vending machine, encouraged walking meetings and provide bi-weekly healthy breakfasts.”

Finally, Slade adds, “A healthy workplace is more than just the physical and mental – it’s also the emotional connections and working relationships built on camaraderie.”

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Bright young old things!

“To be a genius, think like a 94-year-old.”

If you’ve ever worried about your declining IQ, take heart from this fascinating profile of 94 year old John Goodenough who, together with his team at University of Texas, has filed a patent application on a cheap, lightweight and safe battery to revolutionise cars.

How does a man born in the 1920s outsmart the millennials?

The masterful application of knowledge and problem solving is behind Goodenough’s patent. And there’s a name for it – it’s called Crystallized Intelligence. The good news: as we age Crystallized Intelligence continues to increase (whilst our IQ shows a gradual decline). Crystallized Intelligence is accumulated information and vocabulary acquired from school and everyday life. It encompasses the application of skills and knowledge to solving problems.

Fluid Intelligence (also called native mental ability) is the information processing system. It refers to the ability to think and reason. It includes the speed with which information can be analysed, and also includes attention and memory capacity.

Neuroscientists at MIT and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) suggest that the details on our mental acuity are far more complex than previously thought. The researchers gathered data from nearly 50,000 subjects and found a very clear picture showing that each cognitive skill they were testing peaked at a different age.

There’s little doubt that aptitude testing is prized in profiling new hires. What is less clear is the weighting we should apply to Crystallised and Fluid Intelligence for various roles, different industry sectors and on a hierarchy of leadership.

What’s becoming evident:

  • IQ peaks between 25 and 29 years old, then drifts down through the working years, with decline becoming more steep after age 70.
  • If you’re Under 25 – you should be feted for your raw speed in processing information, logic, numeric and verbal reasoning.
  • Until around age of 25, short-term memory continues to improve, when it levels off and then begins to drop around age 35.
  • Different components of fluid intelligence peak at different ages, some as late as age 40.
  • For the ability to evaluate other people’s emotional states, the peak occurred much later, in the 40s or 50s.
  • While data from the Weschler IQ tests suggested that vocabulary peaks in the late 40s, the new data showed a later peak, in the late 60s or early 70s.

Professor John Goodenough refers to himself as a ‘turtle’ who has kept on walking and meandering through life looking and picking up clues along the way. There was no ‘Big Bang’ moment for him, even though at 30 he was probably an intellectual giant. Rather, the collected wisdom and observations over his turtle life have led to that new battery patent.

“Last but not least, he credited old age with bringing him a new kind of intellectual freedom. At 94, he said, ‘You no longer worry about keeping your job.'”

Where do you think Crystallised Intelligence fits into your world @work?

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When I was a Temp

I often ask friends and colleagues about their part-time jobs during their school and university years. Those experiences, what jobs they did and how they were trained, have in one or another, often led them to where they are today.

I myself worked at McDonald’s – on the front counter and in customer service at the drive-thru window. If you know me, I’m sure you can picture me in a navy blue visor and striped shirt with the golden arches logo. My dear old Dad was so proud! I’m not shy to say I was pretty good at the job. I was awarded Drive-Thru Employee of the Month twice and Employee of the Month – May 1988.

Working at McDonald’s was such great training. I learned procedures, discipline and responsibility. Sure, I was selling Big Macs, but even mopping the floor – there was a process for that – you had to do it the McDonald’s way. It was a fast-paced and structured environment, a great start to working life. My pay packet was also good incentive. I remember working out what shifts I could do to get the best hourly rates so I could buy a fabulous outfit, shoes or put a full tank of petrol in my car.

But what I liked the most about the job was the customers. I came across all sorts – from kids with their fed-up parents, to fast-food regulars and the party goers at 1am who threw pickles on the ceiling in the dining room – I can recall many encounters!

I expect it’s dealing with people in all their diversity that led me to recruitment. I still find them entertaining, to say the least. What’s really inspiring when working with temporary candidates is that sense of satisfaction – the feeling you’ve been able to fulfil someone’s needs when you get them working on one assignment, which leads to the next and the next…

Working with temporary candidates and coordinating temp jobs day-to-day makes me think about all the different types of work people do when they need flexible employment or are just starting out in their careers. It’s fascinating to learn about some of the more unusual opportunities.

Do you have a casual work story that you’d like to share?

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Our active lunch break

When a shiny new gym opened at the New York end of Collins Street (that’s near Melbourne’s Southern Cross Station), Angelika Langer-Zindel was one of the first members to join-up. It took another six months for her to recruit a work gym buddy, Diana Tanvis Loi. While there are a few fitness junkies amongst us in the workplace, these two colleagues who both work in our Shared Services team (Accounts Receivable and Payroll respectively), are often seen heading off to exercise together at lunchtimes. I asked what motivates them beyond the Healthy Me, Healthy You program we instigated at Slade Group last year.

Why do you choose to work out in-between work?

Angelika: At my local gym I was missing all the fitness classes – there were only one or two classes I could do. If I was late home from work, I missed them altogether. So it’s much more convenient for me to go at lunchtime.

Diana: Same as Angelika, I used to go to 6am classes at my local gym, but it’s just too hard and I started missing my trains to work.

Why go to the gym together?

Diana: At this gym, they have a rock climbing wall facility and it is definitely more fun to climb with a buddy and also safer, as we make sure that each other’s harnesses are secure.

How do you manage to change into your gym gear, then get back into work clothes, as well as fit in a 45 minute class within your lunch hour?

Angelika: There is no time for showers, so we don’t do classes that are too high intensity. A spin class is a definite no. I have short hair, so I don’t have any problems. If you have a complicated haircut, it just doesn’t work!

Diana: Definitely no body combat for me, or I’d sweat. Athleisure is a new trend in fashion – you can wear a hybrid tank top to work out and put a blazer over it to dress it back up for the office. We also have nice change rooms with free towels and showers in our building, but I generally use the facilities at the gym.

Do you miss doing other things at lunchtime? When do you actually eat your lunch?

Angelika: Not really. Doing a lunchtime class is good break; sitting all day is definitely not healthy.

Diana: Most of us only walk a few steps from our desk each day.

Angelika: It means eating at your desk, which is not the best habit, but you have to compromise. I always eat after exercising – if I eat too much before, I feel sick, so it’s good for weight management.

I see a lot people carrying gym bags on their commute. Is fitness amongst corporate types becoming more popular?

Angelika:  I think so. A lot of the classes where we go are fully booked, so it seems that others are sharing the same habits as us.

Diana:  I think more and more deskbound professionals are finding it really unhealthy to be sitting up to 8-10 hours a day. Employers are also becoming more aware of this and allowing flexible work arrangements.

What are some of the less obvious benefits to including exercise in your work schedule?

Diana: I spend a lot less money on shopping since I started going to the gym!

Angelika: That’s right, when you work in the city, you go shopping at lunchtime.

Diana: It’s also a great way to release your pent-up frustration. I don’t think about work at all while I’m exercising and by the time I’m finished I’ve forgotten whatever I was worried about.

Both: We are still recruiting if anyone is interested to join our lunchtime habits!

 

Have you been taking active lunch breaks? What are some of the healthy practices you have incorporated into your work schedule?

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Resourcing the new Infrastructure State. A challenge for Victoria?

Victoria – The Infrastructure State. It could be a number plate. The Melbourne Metro Rail project is underway, level crossings are being replaced, plans for ‘sky rail’ continue to cause controversy and an airport train could be back on the agenda. For roads, the Tulla freeway is being widened, the West Gate and Bolte will get improvements, and the Victorian Government is considering a proposal to build the ‘missing link’ Western Distributor.

Last December at the Engineers Australia Transport Year in Review, I listened with interest to Corey Hannett, Coordinator General, Major Transport Infrastructure Program on the current infrastructure program of works scheduled for Victoria. From a project resourcing point of view, the Government’s main concern is the lack of skilled project leaders to deliver this ambitious program of works.

Key themes presented were:

  • Ensuring the right balance between public and private resources to manage multiple, overlapping projects within optimum timelines
  • Sourcing skilled project leaders across different disciplines, including CEOs, Project Directors, and Senior Project Managers
  • Diversity in the Construction sector

From an executive recruitment perspective, these concerns certainly mirror our experience when consulting with organisations in building, construction and engineering over the last 12 months: Demand for experienced, diverse and specialist talent is at a premium. As the momentum for construction work Australia-wide continues to gather pace, the question remains how do we address this to help the immediate needs of Victoria?

There are serious concerns about poaching staff being felt across the sector, which is experiencing significant problems with retention (a fact that’s not lost on us when headhunting). Here are three points that were raised to consider when hiring, which also resonated with me:

  • When considering a candidate’s abilities, look for transferable skills, taking the time to consider all of their work history, not just the first page of the CV
  • You don’t need someone who has done the exact same job, you need someone who can do the job
  • Victorian employers may benefit from staff attrition with the completion of major projects interstate or could source talent from other sectors where demand has subsided, such as mining (particularly in WA and QLD)

I will be a keen observer over the next few years to see whether we have the appetite to meet the talent demands of the Infrastructure State.

What measures do you think are needed to address talent shortages for major infrastructure projects in your state? Share your point of view to continue the conversation.

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