What defines a successful person? Embedded throughout my secondary education was that elusive end of year score, which for some reason was going to determine our success in life. However, success has many faces. Even those who reach great heights in academia need to have a balance of social awareness, connection with others, an empathy that supersedes intelligence and a touch of commercial reality.
The challenge of continuously competing with other students who were more intellectually inclined weighed heavily on my shoulders throughout my secondary and tertiary education. I felt demoralised knowing that my chosen career path, whatever it may be, could be in jeopardy due to the fact my brain was wired differently. I shouldn’t have. There is a litany of brilliant people throughout history who failed to win popular support for their ideas, as well as many arguably not-so-clever people who were smart enough to succeed.
My life experiences have been a bit different to my peers in my generation: travelling to third world countries and dedicating more of my time focusing on the needs of those less fortunate. Unlike those with a more limited world view, my volunteer work abroad – teaching English, providing food and essential supplies to children and families in the local community in The Philippines, Africa and Fiji – enabled me to empathise with people from other cultures and relate to people from different walks of life on a whole new level. It enabled me to grow and mature. I became more confident in my abilities and started to believe that I did possess unique skills that could take me anywhere in life. It was a defining moment for me that reshaped my understanding of who I am.
Aren’t we all more inclined towards repeat business if we are greeted kindly and treated respectfully, like a friend, rather than a customer or a number?
Before I joined the recruitment industry, I spent seven years working in retail, specifically women’s fashion. I saw many eager faces wanting to achieve managerial roles, believing that their ability to meet arbitrarily high KPIs was the key to becoming a great leader. However, running a successful business requires more than reaching budget. The true leaders of the organisation were the team members who demonstrated empathy and made it a priority to listen, and not just make our customers feel welcome, but also established an inclusive work environment for all employees. I, for one, loved working in an environment where my feelings and ideas were valued and acknowledged, ultimately boosting my work performance and productivity. In turn, we did our best to make our customers feel like they were the only person in the store.
pianist, author and composer Alfred Brendel famously said: “LISTEN and SILENT
are spelled with the same letters – coincidence? I don’t think so.”
to speak and be heard, yet it appears that few people can sit quietly and really
My experience in recruiting hasn’t been long yet, but in the short time I’ve been with Slade Group and the Interchange Bench, I’ve been able to observe a few things. Through my interactions with colleagues, clients and candidates I’m learning key skills that not only make a great consultant, but help ensure successful recruitment outcomes. People often talk about trusting your gut instinct and following your intuition, but there’s a lot be said for learning to listen. Our capacity to grasp how others feel and think may indeed be our most valuable asset in the workplace.
So, whether it
is facilitating temporary and contract work, permanent career changes or
helping organisations grow by sourcing the best talent, I’ll be listening
carefully to what clients and candidates are looking for. Recruitment often presents
us with sliding door moments – opportunities that might have been missed if we were
too focused on what we may think success should look like, as opposed to what
we can achieve.
we don’t see ourselves as Professional Services Consultants, then why should
I finished my tertiary study as an Economics Graduate with many
options for a career, yet can’t imagine any other role could have given me the
sense of purpose and satisfaction that my 20-year career as a recruiter and
industry leader has given me.
As a professional recruitment consultant, I use my IQ, EQ, deep
questioning and listening skills and develop a sound knowledge of my sector.
I must understand the perspectives, and work in the best interests,
of both my clients and candidates.
My interpersonal, negotiation and influencing skills are utilised
through all parts of the job.
I must apply my analytical skills to address
problems and partner with my clients to find an effective solution.
I must use my knowledge of the market and the needs and drivers of
the talent within it to truly consult.
I need to offer different solutions, have a Plan B (and C and beyond)
and recognise that no two people or companies are the same.
This is a tough gig requiring insight, creativity and originality to
consistently deliver results.
As a recruiter, I do not ‘sell’ a tangible product.
I work with people, on both sides of the process; the client and the
Human beings are far more complex than any product. Unlike widgets,
candidates don’t stay on the shelf whilst I negotiate a deal for them; I can’t
audit a set of numbers, rely on physics, contract law, design principles of any
other empirical facts.
I can’t manufacture another candidate to be just like the last
candidate I ‘supplied’ to my client and we certainly can’t re-engineer a person
(nor should we want to), if they don’t quite ‘fit’.
High performing people are still the critical determinant of
workplace success. I clearly remember the words from a speaker at a conference
I attended about 15 years ago; ‘By 2020, Executive Search and Selection will be
ranked as one of the Top 20 jobs.’ Why? Because to secure high performing
talent is the mission of every high performing organisation.
What we do may not be ‘rocket-science’, but sometimes it seems like
it’s more difficult than getting a person to the moon.
To build and maintain a career in this industry, I’ve had to have a
genuine interest in the long-term success of the people I am working with; my
colleagues, my clients and my candidates.
The best recruiters make it look
easy. Underneath it there is a huge amount of skill and effort and when
the deadlines roll in it can become stressful very quickly.
As our understanding of human psychology, workplace culture and
performance have evolved, so have the challenges and skills of a recruiter
As a naïve graduate I couldn’t possibly know how my career would turn
I’m grateful that it’s turned out the way it has, even in the face of
what the COVID-19 shock has delivered to recruitment, and the workforce, in
I don’t know what’s ahead in the next few months, or years, but I am
confident that everything I have learned from my career as a recruiter has
given me the best possible chance to thrive and to help my colleagues, clients
and candidates thrive as well.
This article was originally published by Sarah Morgan as “The Godfather of Recruitment” in The Brief, the magazine of the RCSA.
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
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
“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
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
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
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 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
“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
“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
“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.”