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This article was originally published by Sarah Morgan as “The Godfather of Recruitment” in The Brief, the magazine of the RCSA.

Geoff Slade - Godfather of Recruitment

They say it’s not what you know, but who you know that matters and when it comes to the biggest influencers in the recruitment industry, there are few better known and respected than Geoff Slade.

In fact, he is so well known and so influential, there might as well be a saying “all roads lead to Geoff” such is the broad reach of his connections.

And, when you are affectionately known throughout the industry as “the godfather of recruitment”, it goes without saying that your opinion on the industry as a whole, as well as the mistakes of the past and opportunities and threats for the future, are ones worth listening to – or reading about.

It’s been more than 50 years since Geoff began his career in recruitment and while an awful lot has changed in that time, his successes and widespread influence are a testament to his ability to play to his strengths, adapt and make key decisions based on merits and not just the traditional “rules”.

Geoff remains grounded about his achievements and influence during his five decades in the industry – including being the first president of RCSA – acknowledging the support and guidance he has received as his career has evolved, as well as the abilities of the people he employed.

“I always liked to think outside the square,” he says. “I liked to employ not just people who have worked in the industry.

“In fact, some of the most notable people I have employed had never worked in recruitment before.

“Four standouts were Andrew Banks, Louise Craw, Peter Tanner and Nanette Carroll, none of whom had a background in recruitment.

“Louise managed our office support business for over 25 years and was a rock on which the company could rely. She is now on our board. Peter moved on after six years to found Tanner Menzies.

“Nanette worked for me for 10 years and ended up being awarded the 1996 Queensland & Australian Telstra Business Woman of the Year. Andrew’s background is of course well known.

“It’s satisfying to know that not only people who worked in our industry, but people we have influenced and found jobs for have gone on to bigger and better things than we could have dreamed.”

Geoff admits he may also be known in the industry as a “tough and unreasonable” operator, acknowledging there have been many changes in leadership styles from his formative years in the 1960s.

“I would like to think that I’m regarded as hard but fair,” he says.

“Recruitment is enormously satisfying, but it’s bloody hard work.

“It’s not an exact science and demands focus and self-management and what I call purposeful productivity, strong listening and comprehension skills. When I talk of comprehension, I’m talking about what is now tested as verbal and inductive reasoning.

“A good recruiter can probe and follow questions to the end with both clients and candidates. A good recruiter can dig beneath the surface.

“One of the biggest issues I have with the current day recruiters is they think they can build relationships by phone or email. They don’t get out to meet and know their customer.

“I think good recruiters build relationship with a client – like getting married. You have to be able to talk to them about other things than where is my next assignment coming from.”

HOW IT ALL BEGAN

Geoff started out in accounting before moving into human resources in 1964 and then, finally, recruitment in 1967, but it could all have been so different if his dream of being a VFL footballer had been realised.

Despite being told by Melbourne Football Club that he wasn’t quite good enough, three years after he moved to the city from the country to pursue a football career, Geoff feels he “really lucked out”, albeit in a slightly unconventional way, after being thrown in at the deep end twice, and for two very different reasons.

“I returned to the country at a time a major refinery was being built on the western portside of the Mornington Peninsula and I applied for a job with the major construction company,” he says.

“I was lucky to be offered a job as assistant to the HR manager and it provided a very quick learning curve. He turned out to have a major health project and I was his only offsider, so I was left with a lot of responsibility.

“It ended up providing great experience for me: there were 1500 men on the site and there was a stop work or strike every day for three years. I had to deal with unions pretty much every day in a very volatile and aggressive environment, which taught me to try to use common sense and to solve problems.

“At the end of the project I was one only of two people offered a job at head office, and the offer came with a promise for me to be the HR manager on the next project.”

But, despite the promise, and because the company won no new tenders Geoff ended up doing everything for the business except HR. Looking for an alternative, he applied for a job through the biggest executive recruitment firm in Melbourne at the time.

“I was told I was too young for a job they were recruiting for, but they wanted to offer me a job as a consultant,” Geoff says. “The owner gave me his word that the job was mine if I wanted it. I just had to tell him when he got back from an overseas trip.

“Four days later, he was unfortunately killed in a car accident.”

As a country boy with “no idea what to do next”, Geoff took note of the fact that he took the most enjoyment out of the recruitment side of his HR role. So he approached his parents to ask for a loan so he could start up his own employment agency.

“Dad said ‘what is an employment agency’?” Geoff recalls. “I told him what I thought it was, and he said he wouldn’t lend the money to me even if he had it. Mum was softhearted though – she had $300 in bank and said she would lend it to me as long as I paid it back.

“So I borrowed the money and rented a space, knowing I had to make a placement in the first two weeks so I could pay the rent.”

So began the 21-year life of Slade Consulting Group before its sale in 1988 to British multinational Blue Arrow.

For the first seven years, Geoff says he lived “on the smell of an oily rag” before he turned any meaningful profit, which came about in 1974 after he took back management of the recruitment agency after a stint working in London working with executives looking to migrate to Australia on the £10 Pom scheme.

After a few successful years, around 1981, Geoff decided to shake up Slade Consulting Group, which saw him focus more on management and less on day-to-day recruitment.

“I went out and hired three young people all in their mid-20s: Andrew Banks, Richard Weston and Greg Fish,” Geoff says.

“We sat down and did a SWOT analysis of the industry – how it would run and how we could grow the business quickly.

“At the time, Chandler McLeod and PA Consulting were both huge in terms of executive recruitment. We researched and discovered they were taking 10-12 weeks to fill jobs. That’s a very expensive situation for clients.

“For a company, that could be very inefficient and very expensive, so we went to their clients and said ‘we believe we can do as good a job as either of those companies; we believe it’s costing you a lot of money to have jobs vacant for so long. If we can’t do it within four to six weeks – we’ll do it for free’.”

That approach helped to guide Slade Consulting Group to a turnover of $10 million by 1984.

By 1987, it was the biggest executive recruitment company in Australia, with offices in five cities, as well as two in New Zealand, with a staff of 135.

At the end of that year, Geoff was approached by a representative of Blue Arrow – at the time the biggest recruitment company in the UK – who said he was “prepared to make me an offer too good to refuse”.

“He told me to think of a number to see if he would be prepared to meet it,” Geoff says.

Needless to say, the offer was good and Geoff sold the business, but it didn’t work out as had been promised.

Geoff felt compromised by what Blue Arrow was asking him to do and left the company and caught up with his long term client – Pacific Dunlop – which had made up 40 per cent of Slade Group’s business.

Geoff says that Pacific Dunlop has been “very influential in my success”, thanks to a long-term relationship spanning 20 years, but without some creative thinking on behalf of its then managing director, Philip Brass, he might have found himself “watching grass grow on the farm for the next year or two” as he served the term of a two-year non-compete clause.

“I went to Philip to tell him I could no longer be a consultant to him, nor could I consult in any way, shape or form,” Geoff says. “He told me he had a solution and offered me the role of HR Director for Pacific Dunlop.

“I said I would do it, but for two years only and provided I did a good job asked him if he would offer me a preferred supplier agreement when I went back to business.

“When I returned, it became the first preferred supplier agreement done in Australia.”

Geoff’s return to consulting came with Lyncroft Consulting Group, which was named after his country property, but in 1992 it changed back to Slade Group as Blue Arrow sold out of Australia.

Slade Group quickly moved to the forefront of recruitment in Australia, where it remains today.

THE BIRTH OF RCSA

In 1998, Geoff and others identified that it was “industry critical” to create a national industry body for the sector.

“There were a lot of people very unhappy as to how it was all going, with the NAPC and IPC being run through state bodies, because they were independent and there was no cohesion to move things forward,” he says.

“So we got together with senior members of the industry and agreed this had to change and we formed RCSA to represent Australia and later New Zealand. I’m really proud of the history and my involvement in RCSA.

“One of things I really love about the industry is its ability to have positive impact on people’s lives. It’s now very rewarding to see it evolve into the association it is today.”

Continue reading on the RCSA news website…

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Posted in The world @work

How to follow your passion and be successful: 7 wise words from a former Olympian

It was sensational to have triple Olympic Gold and multiple world swimming champion, Australia’s own Grant Hackett, join us for a Slade breakfast recently. Grant shared some of his personal journey as an Olympian and his thoughts about what creates high performance behaviours.

Here are my seven takeaways from Grant’s talk with our team:

  1. Goals: As a young teenager, aiming for the Sydney 2000 Olympics, Grant started writing down his goals on the bedroom wall, spelling out what he wanted to achieve across all his main swimming events.
    Takeaway: Think and ink your goals

  2. Purpose: A strong sense of purpose will help you find true meaning in what you do.
    Takeaway: Be really clear within yourself about why you are doing, whatever it is that you do, particularly when planning your career

  3. Benchmark: Grant recorded and gauged his performances against the then world king of the 1500 freestyle, Kieren Perkins (coincidentally his team mate). He compared Kieran’s achievements at various milestones, including age, distances, times and winning results, analysed them against his own performance and set himself targets.
    Takeaway: Compare yourself to the best in your field and set approachable goals

  4. Passion: Doing something you are passionate about involves pushing yourself beyond the ordinary boundaries, sometimes suffering, not always enjoying it and can often lead to disappointment. When you absolutely love something, you will want to be successful, no matter what.
    Takeaway: Passion is what gets you through the challenges

  5. Success: What would success (or failure) look like for you? For Grant, qualifying to wear an Olympic blazer wasn’t enough, he had to win gold, to be number one. While we can’t all be world leaders, we can certainly model others’ successful behaviours at work.
    Takeaway: With clarity over your objectives, you determine your own success

  6. Sportsmanship: Competing with the same people internationally, year-round, Grant made lasting friendships with some of his team mates, as well as his competitors.
    Takeaway: While competition is healthy, developing collegiate relationships with your coworkers, customers and competitors also helps bring out the best in you

  7. Self-talk: It’s the talk that you have with yourself, that voice inside your head, which can be more hinderance than help. Paradoxically, winners sometimes have more negative self-talk than others.
    Takeaway: Some self-doubt is normal, so take stock of yourself and the situation, then get on with it

As a specialist recruiter in Leisure & Sport, I have seen many former athletes go on to leadership roles, where these behaviours translate to business and career success. Grant is continuing to apply his learnings in his current role as CEO of Generation Development Group, where he is building a team with a high performance culture. Use our world class takeaways to get you started and go for gold!

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Posted in Consumer, Sport & Entertainment, The world @work

Australian manufacturing – alive, and thriving!

Last week on a beautiful sunny Melbourne winter morning our Technical & Operations team hosted the latest in our series of boardroom briefings. Over breakfast, David Chuter, CEO of Innovative Manufacturing CRC (IMCRC), led the discussion around challenges for leaders in the sector, Industry 4.0 and its transformation imperative.

Attendees included a diverse range of senior manufacturing executives; Ruby Heard, recently awarded the Victorian Young Professional Engineer for 2019 by Engineers Australia, was an active contributor, especially from a younger person’s perspective.

With the demise of the Australian automotive manufacturing sector, we are constantly reminded that the manufacturing sector is in decline. It was refreshing to hear David refuting the state of manufacturing in Australia, providing examples of many of the exciting innovations that are being developed locally that are at the cutting-edge internationally. David is passionate about innovative manufacturing and the role that it will play over the next decade. He firmly believes transformation will be achieved through “collaboration by inspired leadership”.

Speaking about transforming Australia’s manufacturing industry, automation and AI (Augmented Intelligence, rather than Artificial intelligence, in David’s view) the concept of Industry 4.0 is not particularly new. Such technology, including robotics, has already been in use for many years, especially in automotive production. The group observed that what has changed, is that the barrier for entry has dropped significantly, meaning manufacturing technology is no longer limited to well resourced multi-national operations.

While Industry 4.0 is not limited to a specific sector, one of the challenges in Australia is our proliferation of small businesses: 90% of manufacturers employ less than 20 people and only 15% of manufacturers turn over more than $2M per annum. With so many SMEs invested in manufacturing, collaboration between companies can be difficult too. IMCRC estimates less than 40% of manufacturers have an appropriate business strategy to meet current and future requirements.

One of the positive initiatives David has taken with IMCRC is to bring industry, educators (universities) the CSIRO and other resources together to support SMEs in manufacturing and help foster collaboration. CSIRO’s recently released Australian National Outlook showed a massive and unprecedented opportunity for the future growth and prosperity of manufacturing. It predicts manufacturing’s contribution to GDP growth will be more than two and half times that of any other sector.

When looking for transformative projects that will create commercial outcomes for local manufacturers to take Australian products and service to the world, we also need to seek out opportunities to develop the project management, technical and leadership skills that cannot be simply solved through education. Governments have a role to play in supporting manufacturing with investment – for example, here in Victoria our trains are built with 60% local content and some trade-based TAFE courses are government funded. Industry also needs to lead by providing opportunities for technical specialists and professionals to further and diversify their experience, which will upskill its workforce.

Overall, we need to be braver and bolder, if we wish to become a world leader in advanced manufacturing. We need to change the perception that we are limited by market size or geographical distance, and focus on establishing smart tech hubs with a global focus, where the emphasis is less on production, and more on invention, design and value.

I’m looking forward to seeing what the next generation of manufacturing in Australia looks like.

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Posted in Technical & Operations, The world @work

The rewards of a good hire are amplified for SMEs

I have a hypothesis: mid-sized and smaller companies (remember, SMEs comprise the majority of Australian businesses) can benefit most from professional recruitment services. While smaller companies have less experience and fewer available internal resources to identify and attract top flight talent, a great senior level hire will generally have a measurable impact on the growth and success of a smaller company. And rather than relying on informal networks, job boards, and other indirect methods, I would argue a senior appointment in an SME is best served by an experienced Executive Search and Selection provider.  

Of course, senior level hires are made less frequently than more junior roles so naturally many companies are ill-prepared when they arise. Internal HR departments (or individuals) may be very good at handling the company’s ongoing recruitment needs, but these internal resources are usually not experienced in managing the recruitment of senior level or one-of-a-kind positions.

Unfortunately, there is a perception in the business community that the executive search process is only relevant for large companies. Most related articles involve the appointments or searches for executives for well-known ASX 200 companies, or of key government departments and authorities, where the emphasis is on the remuneration attached to the role, rather than the level of difficulty involved in placing a suitable candidate.

We know the cost of hiring the wrong person goes well beyond the time and effort involved in recruitment. Negative results, including loss in profit, reduced income, the impact on customer goodwill and company morale, can be a significant blow.

Deciding to engage a consulting firm, then finding the appropriate consultant to partner with, can be similarly overwhelming, so make sure you choose a professional who understands your needs. As an executive specialist in engineering, I am always interested in getting to know as much about the company’s culture, workflow, plans for growth and vision for the future. It’s part of my due diligence before commencing any assignment, and knowing your business before you set out to attract others to work for you is something everyone can afford — whatever your size.

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Posted in Technical & Operations, The world @work

Experience – your gift to give.

A couple of times lately, younger professional women have come to seek my advice on some situations they’ve found themselves in in their work life… Anything from discussing appropriate work wear, or how to handle a tough conversation with a client or colleague, correct ways to entertain clients and how to be confident. And believe it or not, just plain feeling comfortable ‘being themselves’ in a business setting rather than ‘being an exemplar businesswoman’.

It got me thinking about the times when I went to my more experienced peers seeking advice (and I still do), and the positive impact of those conversations on me and how they shaped my career decisions.

The truth is, I feel really honoured to be a person that other women trust. Whether it’s to discuss a situation and seek my advice (somewhere along the track I may have experienced something similar or I am familiar with the circumstances) or to see how I would handle a situation. I help them make up their own mind about how to tackle it, and in most instances they just need a sounding board.

Experience in business, and the confidence that you gain as you encounter different situations, comes with time. Dealing with those difficult meetings, standing your ground on a decision, knowing when to negotiate and even knowing when to walk away from a deal, all come with time.

As a recruiter, I see many candidates who are starting out in their career and have aspirations of taking over the world – their enthusiasm for their work is palpable!  It’s something I find quite inspiring and probably something that makes me enjoy working with people daily.

I think those of us with experiences over time have a responsibility to guide and mentor others who are starting their professional life or making a change in their career. When the going gets tough and someone less experienced doesn’t know how to handle a situation, it’s up to us to listen. We should take time out to talk with them about how to handle that situation, so that once resolved, they can add it to their collection of experiences, to one day pass on with their experience gained with time.

Are you part of a mentoring program or have you benefited from being mentored at any stage of your career? What advice would you give to other professionals who are just starting out or are new to the industry in your world @work?

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Posted in Slade Executive, The world @work

Perception versus reality

Making the decision to change direction mid-career is not easy.

I spent over a decade in the construction industry, first as a draftsperson, later as a market analyst, working in both Australia and the UK. While for a time the data nerd/maths geek in me enjoyed analysing the dynamics of supply and demand on materials and labour costs across the industry, I found I was becoming more interested in the people and organisations bringing projects to market.

After months of deliberation (and procrastination), I realised further study was the only viable option to take me where I wanted to go in the long-term. I enrolled in a postgraduate Diploma of Psychology with the intention of pursuing it through to a Masters.

Earlier this year, with the majority of my first degree completed, I made the move back home to Melbourne from London. Looking for a role that would leverage my industry knowledge and complement my ongoing studies, an opportunity presented itself… enter Slade Group.

My preconception of the recruitment industry was of pushy twenty-somethings cold-calling businesses in a frantic effort to meet daily sales quotas. Presumably little thought was given to understanding candidates’ personalities and motivations, nor the cultures of the businesses recruiters represented. It seemed to me the odds of landing on a considered, collaborative process, let alone matching the right candidate with the right role, were similar to spinning zero in roulette.

After carefully researching the role, I admit I still had a degree of trepidation when I decided to take on a consulting role. My perception of recruiters had changed, but the reality once I was in the job was even further from those first thoughts.

So, what’s it really like being a recruiter?

Sure, as with all professional services, business development is part of the process of managing a client portfolio. However, calling potential hiring managers with the intent to set-up a face to face discussion is not a pointless numbers game; meeting with employer clients allows us to develop a deeper understanding of their organisation, its vision and mission, and the type of people who are suited to the culture. Typically I have found employers appreciate a consultative approach – the depth of my inquiry to gain a sound understanding of their needs is authentic.

I’ve worked with great companies who are involved in some exciting projects, particularly during the current construction and infrastructure boom in Victoria. And I’ve connected with some highly talented people who will remain in my professional network.

As I return to full-time study to complete the last chapter of the qualifications I mentioned earlier, I’ll be able to apply the practical knowledge I’ve gained in the recruitment business. When it’s my time as a hiring manager, I’ll have a greater appreciation for the tangible benefits that top talent are seeking in a prospective employer (flexibility, a positive culture, development opportunities…). I will also be attuned to some of the prerequisites that can ease frustrations on both side – a well thought through job description, clear strategic hiring objectives and a thorough briefing from the organisation.

What have you learned through experience that has changed your perception about an industry or a particular role?

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Posted in Technical & Operations, The world @work

References – pathways to gold

What’s been debated, outsourced, digitalised and recorded… but in the end come full circle?

Yes, the answer is those essential in depth candidate Reference Checks that have stood the test of time.

Talking with my colleagues and clients, we all agree they form part of the recruitment process that demands more than a nod and a tick for due diligence. Thorough reference checking is due diligence and meets some tick the box compliance needs, but more than that, it’s a gold plated step on the path to finding out more about a candidate, such as areas for development once on-boarded with your organisation.

Here are my 3 ‘Insider Tips’ as a seasoned ‘Referencer’:

  1. Asking for references from your candidate
    Do it at the start of the recruitment process – it will give you an indication of how serious the candidate is about the position. At interview I cross-check to verify the referee names and ensure that those provided are direct managers – if not, I’ll ask why.  If a candidate is hesitant to provide referee details, it could be a red flag. Without referees there’s also a high possibility the candidate will withdraw from the process.
  2. Ask for the referees you want, not the friendliest manager/colleague they want to give
    Don’t settle just for first named referees as candidates tend to provide referees who they know will say good things about them. Obtaining in-depth information is important and can be challenging so make sure you ask to reference them with their last manager, not their last ‘friend’ at work.

  3.  Conducting the reference check
    Ideally I conduct reference checks over the phone or even face-to-face. At Slade we give referees the opportunity to provide detailed information, as opposed to collecting graded responses (yes, no, good, ok etc. don’t tell us very much). It’s important the referee isn’t rushed and is able to talk about the candidate at length. This conversation often takes 15 – 30minutes and you’ll be looking to confirm and complement the information gleaned from earlier candidate interviews.

References are an ideal time to get clarification on any question marks about a candidate. In addition to standard reference questions about past performance, we gather insight into how best to induct the new employee into the organisation, as well as key areas of focus when managing the new hire.

I’ll ask follow-up and probing questions to uncover the full story, counter any bias, and provide all the information to make the best hiring decision possible.

References are a gift, not a bore!

What have you learned from reference checking? Have you changed your approach to references recently?

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Posted in Slade Executive, The world @work

Call out for a call back!

Something I learned a number of years ago… always follow through with what you say you are going to do in business. Close out the deal, finish the process, you get the drift. If you say you are going to do something, then do it. If something is going to stop you from delivering on your promise, then face up to it, and come up with a solution.

In recruitment, sometimes we hear people say that recruiters don’t call them back when they have applied for a job. I understand this happens, and I’d like to think our processes are strong enough at Slade Group, that it is not a frequent occurrence with our candidates.

Whether it be an email to say that, unfortunately, you have been unsuccessful with your online application or a phone call to provide feedback after you have interviewed with a prospective employer, it’s the least we can do to be honest with candidates. It’s also the least we want to give – we often provide career advice, referrals to other employment opportunities and build lasting relationships with candidates who in turn become clients over the years. Slade Group is also an ISO 9001 Quality Accredited executive recruitment firm, our reputation with our customers (both clients and candidates) is on the line, so we really do want to get back to you.

For good measure, I always ask every candidate I have met to ensure that they keep in touch with me as well, within a timeframe we have agreed.

It makes sense in business (in fact any relationship) that you’re likely to be more successful if you endeavour to build rapport with the people you are dealing with. For a candidate, the recruitment process typically means taking a big step in their career. For the organisations we represent, there is an element of risk to taking on a new employee and we do our utmost to ensure the candidate we refer is the right fit.

So it’s a little puzzling when, well into negotiations with a candidate, I have put forward a great offer from the company I am representing and then there is… silence, crickets! You begin to wonder what has happened?

Giving the elusive candidate the benefit of the doubt (maybe they are sick or maybe they are caught up in a meeting?) it’s OK to excuse a couple of hours. However, if the candidate is a person who is usually on top of returning calls it can certainly be disconcerting.

Recruitment can be like dating, sitting around waiting for someone to call you… after a while you get the drift, and you know they aren’t going to call. You have most likely experienced it or may have even done it yourself. (Why don’t they call???)

If you are dealing with a recruiter who has put you forward for a role and being a highly sought after talented individual, you receive an offer, I encourage you to act with integrity and finish the process. Talk to your consultant about why you have reservations about taking the role. A good recruiter will listen, see if there is something they can do to help, and if not you can still walk away. Leave a good impression, be professional, finish the process. Regardless of the outcome. It’s polite, courteous and the very least you could do.

 

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Posted in Technical & Operations, The world @work