Along with Michael Schildberger, the former ABC anchor in the 774 morning time slot, now occupied by John Fayne, Geoff Slade was a founder of the popular Business Essentials in 1984, the audio magazine which plays a role as virtual business mentor to 1000s of Australian business leaders and owners. Business Essentials recently interviewed Geoff about the truths he’s learned in business along the way. In this audio file you’ll hear about his ups, downs and lucky moments, the rewards and challenges of business life, including the supremely important role of trust and long term meaningful relationships. He takes Heather Dawson back to the early days. It was 1967, he was 21 years old and had just opened the doors to his first employment agency. What did it look like?
An interview with Business Essentials
Bankers aren’t all bad.
“All businesses experience growth,” says Cindy Batchelor, Executive General Manager – NAB Business. “It’s in their nature – at some stage in their life, they must grow to survive.” In the following article by Nigel Bowen, written for NAB Business View magazine, Geoff Slade credits a longstanding relationship with the bank as having an important part in the growth and success of his business enterprises over the years.
Fifty Years of Business Wisdom Distilled into Seven Truths
After half a century in business, Geoff Slade has learnt a thing or two. Here he shares seven truths about what it takes to make it in the business world.
Back in 1967, aged 21, Geoff Slade began his first recruitment agency. A couple of decades later he received an offer for the company he couldn’t refuse and sold it, moving on to become HR Director at Pacific Dunlop. In 1992 Geoff launched another recruitment business, Slade Group. In recent years, with the likes of Seek and LinkedIn affecting the recruitment industry, he’s adapted by moving away from commoditised services and launching business intelligence services, such as Yellow Folder Research, which harvests and sells talent intelligence. Here, the 72-year-old shares what he’s learnt after half a century of launching, building and selling businesses.
- Your level of success correlates with how well you understand your customers
Whether it’s recruitment or any industry, you’ll usually find that 10 to 20 per cent of companies are doing well, 50 per cent are doing okay, and the rest are on their way to going broke. What separates out the 10 to 20 per cent? I’d argue it’s that they put the effort into truly understanding what their customer wants. Of course, often the customer doesn’t fully understand what they want. That just makes it more important to spend time with them, ask them searching questions and help them formulate what their real needs are.
- Change is a fact of life, so concentrate on staying ahead of the game
I remember buying my first IBM golf ball typewriter and marvelling at the advanced technology! No matter what technological, economic or social changes are occurring, the two questions to keep asking yourself are: “What can I do to differentiate myself from the competition?” and “What can I do to enhance my relationship with the customer?”
- Be discerningly persistent
It took me seven years, living on the smell of an oily rag, to make my first profit. People seem to want things quicker these days – to reap all the rewards before putting in the hard yards. Of course, you need to make a judgement about whether the industry you’re in is growing or contracting, and whether your efforts will pay dividends. But even in the most favourable of conditions, you should accept that you’ll need to work hard for a long time.
- Don’t get hung up on working for yourself
I launched my first business because a job offer fell through, not because I had an issue with being an employee. After selling that business I worked for a big company for a couple of years. There are things you learn as a business owner that make you a better employee, and vice versa. For example, business owners often don’t pay enough attention to collecting and analysing financial data. A stint in a corporate role is useful for learning that discipline.
- Be businesslike in your attachment
I had no intention of selling my first business, but a buyer asked me to name my price. I thought of a figure, doubled it, and sold when they accepted that price. That meant I’d achieved financial security by my mid-forties. Whether it’s your company, your house or anything else, you shouldn’t be so emotionally invested that you pass on a great opportunity to sell.
- Focus on selling – but don’t be too eager
Two pieces of business advice have always stuck with me. The first is: “Nothing happens until someone sells something.” That’s very true. The second is: “When you negotiate, you have to care, but not too much.”
- Don’t forget there’s more to life than business
After my first marriage ended, I realised I was guilty of not paying enough attention to my family. When I got remarried, I was determined not to make the same mistake. Thankfully, I haven’t. That’s involved decisions such as limiting the number of offices I open, which might have resulted in the business making less money than would otherwise have been the case. It also helps if you have a bank that is supportive during the tough times. I value the good relationships I now have with my children, my wife and my ex-wife. I lead a full life and have all the money I need to do what I want to do. Another $10 million, or even $100 million, isn’t going to make me any happier.
This article was originally published in Business View, the business magazine of NAB, Issue 24 Summer 2017.
Slade Group clocks 50 years in recruitment
Continuing the theme of reflecting on our milestone achievement, Slade Group has been looking back on our 50 year journey from the early days back in 1967, to present day and beyond. In 2017 we are reshaping our vision for the future and anticipating what challenges may lay ahead for our business, the broader landscape of Australian organisations, and people @work. We present the following article, which was published on recruitment industry news site Shortlist.
Slade Group celebrates its 50 year anniversary this month, founder and chair Geoff Slade reflects on the demise of generalists and where recruitment is headed.
“The day of generalists has pretty much passed. I will willingly admit I’m a generalist myself, but that’s something that’s happened over the evolution of time. The future consultants will be very focused; they’ll have a vertical talent community to look after,” he told Shortlist.
Slade Group, which employs 40 staff, hasn’t dramatically changed its approach to recruitment since it first started in the industry in 1967 as GW Slade and Associates, he notes.
Trust remains the most valuable currency in the industry, and will become even more important for consultants who will have to build a community of perhaps 100–120 people, he says.
“There’s been some big challenges with the advent of Seek and LinkedIn in particular, but I think the key to [surviving] it has been the ability to adapt.”
Client and candidate one and the same
Many recruiters “have missed the boat” in terms of understanding the candidate is as much a client as the organisation paying the fee, says Slade. “That [understanding] is something that has served us well over the 50 years.”
He says the company’s emphasis on building relationships has resulted in lasting staff tenures – with some consultants working at Slade for 10 or 20 years – and long-term client retention.
“If you look at the professional services end of the market, we’ve got a lot of contracts with universities – some going back over 10 years – where we’ve had to fight off competition every three years when they’ve put it out to tender.”
The company aims for a mix of experienced consultants and those with background in their specialisation, along with fledgling recruiters, and it devotes resources not just to coaching and developing staff as consultants, “but as people”, Slade says.
“Onboarding is important. We don’t just say ‘here’s your desk, here’s your phone, you’re a consultant now go to it’.”
Education, healthcare, and property are Slade Group’s fastest growing sectors, he says, but expanding into other areas depends on the calibre of people it can attract to drive growth.
A milestone year for Indigenous education
Slade Group is proud to support the Cathy Freeman Foundation in their 10 year anniversary celebrations this year. Last week we hosted an art show to mark ten years of making a difference to Indigenous students, which coincides with our own 50 year anniversary celebrations. Kath Markov provides some insights on the Foundation’s achievements.
This year the Cathy Freeman Foundation will celebrate 10 years of providing educational opportunities and support to children and families of Palm Island in north Queensland.
“I never imagined that we would have the privilege to work with the beautiful and talented children of Palm Island for 10 years! I am grateful to the Palm Island community who have embraced the Foundation and its programs and I look forward to celebrating this incredible milestone,” said Cathy Freeman, Co-founder and Director of the Cathy Freeman Foundation.
The long term partnership between the Cathy Freeman Foundation and the Palm Island community is undoubtedly one of the Foundation’s greatest successes. Ruth Gorringe, Palm Island local and Community Liaison Officer for the Foundation, says “The Cathy Freeman Foundation is special because people from all over Australia donate and they want to see Indigenous education succeed. People in our community know the Foundation is here for our children’s education. We’re here for the long run and for as long as the community want us here.” Ruth has been a part of the Cathy Freeman Foundation team since 2014 and is currently studying a Bachelor of Education.
Celebrating Year 12 Achievement
More Indigenous children are completing Year 12 than ever before and whilst there is still a long way to go in closing the education gap, the Foundation is proud to celebrate and share in the achievements of students from our community partners.
Last year for the first time in Palm Island history 100% of all senior students graduated from Year 12 with a QCE. “We strongly believe that it takes a whole community to educate a child and this year we celebrated the unprecedented outcomes from working together. We recognise the significant support these students received from the Cathy Freeman Foundation on their journey towards completing Year 12,” said David O’Shea, Deputy Principal, Bwgcolman Community School (2016).
All students who graduate from Year 12 receive a personal letter from Cathy Freeman. “We want their education to go beyond school so it is very empowering for the students to receive a letter from Cathy upon completion of school. I feel really proud and emotional knowing the struggles some of them had throughout school including peer pressure and all of the other things that go with it, but they stuck it out.” said Ruth Gorringe.
If you would like to purchase artworks from the recent Slade Group – Cathy Freeman Foundation Art Show, including Wayne Quilliam’s photographs and unique paintings by Tiwi Designs, click here to view the catalogue or contact us for further information. Click here to find out more about the Foundation or to make a donation.
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.”