Blog Archives

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.”

Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in The world @work

A thought provoking start to 2016

For insight into the talent challenges facing businesses today and tomorrow, today’s blog is an edited excerpt from the Business Excellence interview with Anita Ziemer, Executive Director of Slade Group. Business Excellence is the publication of the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, a member of the Australian Chamber of Commerce.

A candidate who is a 70 per cent fit for a role is more effective than a perfect-on-paper candidate. “Bearing in mind that many things you learnt 10 years ago are now redundant and the majority of skills are learnt on the job, what’s important is how you’ve learnt and adapted,” Anita explains. “One of the partners at a top-tier law firm says he feels guilty inducting new graduates with the highest grades because he knows much of what they have learnt can be downloaded with the a click of a button in the form of ready-made contracts. Those applicants need to find new ways to add value; it’s about what you build around your job description that’s important,” she adds.

As degree-level qualifications become the norm, and job suitability is governed less by where you live or the schedule you work, soft skills become more important differentiators. Anita says: “We’re hearing from many organisations that graduates are theoretically and academically prepared, but face a big shock when it comes to managing their working day, which is why we like to see a range of part-time jobs on young people’s résumés.” She adds: “Businesses across all sectors are looking for employees who can use their intellect to join the dots, be creative and deliver value that cannot be outsourced.”

The role of a recruiter may have changed dramatically in the last 20 years as companies moved away from hiring homogenous groups of people. “The key qualities of a good hire almost never change in that No. 1 is being passionate about the role and No. 2 is sharing the values of the organisation,” says Slade Group’s Anita Ziemer. “But in this fast-changing environment, flexibility and adaptability are also very important traits,” she adds. “It’s out of date to say ‘that’s not my job’ or ‘that’s not how we do things around here’; you have to be able to work with ambiguity, within a fluid workplace and fluid job description.”

Technical operations, construction, education and healthcare employers are among those keeping Slade Group’s recruiters busy for the foreseeable future. Anita says nursing, a profession that requires nurturing skills, may be one of the more reliable occupations to be in and recruit for, while automation and the globalisation of the workforce is redefining the meaning of talent in many sectors. “It is still common for the education system to push students towards so-called middle-class security roles in accounting, medicine and the law, but much of that can be offshored,” she suggests. “So back-end accounting goes to the Philippines, low-level legal work goes to India and – it’s a scary thought – if a surgeon has conducted a routine procedure hundreds of times why does your operation need to happen in Australia?”

On the positive side for jobseekers who are able to upskill or cross-skill, new and more interesting roles can be created in this flux. Anita points out: “People talk about manufacturing flattening out but the flip side is that we’re seeing new roles in the bespoke side of the market. A tailored approach to manufacturing continues to be something that Australia and particularly Victoria does well, which is why to lose those manufacturing skills would be a tragedy.”

The prerequisite for all of today’s recruits is digital expertise, as revealed in the results of Slade Group’s Australian Digital Skills and Salary Survey 2015. Anita explains: “The survey of 150 organisations showed that rather than looking for single candidates with a broad digital skill set, employers are expecting all staff to have the digital expertise related to their role. While 70 per cent believe a digital skills gap is taking a moderate or heavy toll on their business, a quarter said they find it difficult to source digital employees and attribute this to a lack of talent.” The survey results also indicated, however, that internal human resources teams are ill-equipped to accurately assess the digital skills of applicants and are relying too heavily on existing employee feedback to identify areas requiring development.

Another core attribute of the ideal hire, says Anita, is a “broad view of the world”. Professional services firms in particular are placing increased emphasis on cross-cultural awareness and communication as the business world becomes borderless. “Not having a broad view of the world is why some academically successful employees find themselves confined to the backroom technology roles while those who can engage, network and create strong links climb the ladder,” she adds.

In contrast to popular representations of millennials as entitled narcissists, Anita insists aptitude for hard work is just as likely to exist in a twentysomething as a baby boomer. She says: “Some argue there’s a trend among millennials to expect reward and promotion almost immediately, but maybe that has always been the case and people just sucked it up because workplaces were so regimented and hierarchical.” She adds that employers should not beat themselves up when an employee in their 20s moves on after a year, but should nevertheless review the opportunities they offer for internal progression to meet the craving of today’s employees for lifelong learning.

Of course there is no single, correct approach to recruitment, as reflected in Slade Group’s own workforce of experienced recruitment consultants and sector specialists who have retrained for a second career in recruitment. The layers of candidate assessment undertaken by TRANSEARCH International, the Group’s executive search division, take into account far more than a job description can encapsulate to help businesses meet their future talent needs.

One of the key growth areas for the company is in temporary staffing, and Anita sees this trend as far from the nightmare painted by some social commentators who see us all becoming lonely, disenfranchised contractors. “Casualisation makes sense for both employers and employees, in that the former can work with fixed costs and employees can work across their portfolio of interests,” she says.

“About 15 years ago I remember broadcaster Phillip Adams talking about how by the end of the century the employment model will have flipped and 70 per cent of us will not be in full-time work, leaving society with the challenge of how to occupy its citizens,” she continues. “But while it’s likely that teams will look very different in the future than they do now, we’re still social animals and want to learn from each other – you only need to look at the growth of co-working.”

As for emerging occupations that businesses are expected to need recruitment support for, Anita says digital security looms large. “One of the great opportunities we see is in the technological dark arts, in that employers are going to want to hire the 22-year-old boffins who can hack their system and know how to test the integrity of software, but those are the people who fly under the radar and are hard to find,” she explains.

While employers are busy embedding innovation into day-to-day operations, a fresh perspective on the personalities and skill sets that your team needs to power its success is perhaps something that only an external recruiter can provide.

Anita says: “Experts say we’re still 40 years away from artificial intelligence in its truest form so the human overlay of recruitment experience is still much needed; an algorithm cannot do this yet.”

Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in The world @work