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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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Hashtag fear less

We ALL fear change and that’s OK, says Marty Wilson. I was recently lucky enough to hear Marty speak at Mental Health in the Workplace, part of the Melbourne Chamber of Commerce People in Business series. He gave an inspiring talk on change and the fear that comes along with it. It’s a theme that often comes up in the workplace when you are faced with organisational change or are considering a career change, but what I couldn’t help think is how do we learn to embrace change and see it for the good that it can be?

As if we were linked via telepathy, Marty turned to me (I am sure at this point he was speaking DIRECTLY to me) and provided some answers to the questions I was contemplating.

First he looked at the Oxford Dictionary’s definition of the word life:

The condition that distinguishes animals and plants from inorganic matter, including the capacity for growth, reproduction, functional activity, and continual change [my bold] preceding death.

Did you see what I saw? Yep, you guessed it. Continual change is a part of Life.

At this point I was thinking to myself, I’m good with change… right? I realised, not only was Marty talking to me (directly to me, again), he was talking about me. Yep, I’m not afraid to put my hand up and say, “My name is Candice and I FEAR change!”

Recognising your fears are part of the solution, Marty gave me a few tips on how to deal with them:

  1. Life is change
  2. Trust your instincts
  3. Be grateful for tough times
  4. Take more risks
  5. Make more mistakes
  6. Lighten-up

Marty followed-up with this gem:

“Imagine if you could choose to become someone who welcomes change and disruption as a normal and exciting part of business and life.” – Marty Wilson

So here’s what am I going to do: I’m going to stop imagining and start changing, change and innovation will now be my middle names. I am going to let go of the past and take a fresh approach, to work and life in general.

If I’m going to tackle the elephant in the room in my workplace, it’s our database. It’s a pretty large elephant, lives in the cloud, has a few wrinkles… I’m sure most offices have a database/system/process/technology elephant lurking about. It’s that shiny new technology that will help us to work smarter, not harder, but often feels like it’s programmed the other way around. So from now on, in my role as Operations Manager, I’m going to focus on what the technology can do for us, not what it can’t do (although a few magic tricks wouldn’t go astray).

Applying #FearLess in a broader sense, I am going to embrace all of the curve balls life throws at me, which are by dictionary definition, part and parcel with change. I am going to fear less about the doing and dive right into change. I’ll make some mistakes along the way, but that’s OK. I started last week by changing my commute from the 75 to the 48 tram. Big mistake, constantly overcrowded, can never get on, changing back today… Yep, I am all about the change now!

What changes are you going to make?

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4 ways an Olympic triumph translates into success at work

It’s a simple formula for athletes in elite sports: focus, preparation, practice and teamwork. Recently I attended a lunch with the Victorian Chamber featuring Australian Olympians Michael Klim, Nicole Livingstone, James Tomkins and Craig Mottram. For them, achieving a lifelong dream by representing Australia and competing at the Olympic Games was secondary to their gold medal winning performances. But the most interesting part of their stories was how they had found new passions post retirement outside of the sporting arena.

  1. Preparation and process

It is very important to keep an unwavering attention to detail during a time of high stress and pressure. Klim spoke of the 1998 Olympics in Atlanta, where he was favourite for the 200m freestyle event. He missed the bus on the way to the pool, couldn’t find his coach and was only able to complete a brief warm up swim – he didn’t qualify for the final. In business, it’s critically important during stressful times that we stick to our defined processes, don’t rush hires or deviate from the norm just to fill a gap.

  1. Challenge and stretch

Tomkins mentioned that he and the other members of the Oarsome Foursome constantly challenged each other to come up with new, innovative ideas that could separate them from the challengers. However it wasn’t up to the athletes alone. They challenged their coach, nutritionist and psychologist to always come up with new ideas. Sometimes all it takes is a fresh set of eyes on a project to change the delivery model, reworking a central piece to pull together all the essential elements of a project. Businesses shouldn’t be afraid to hire from outside their sector or industry if a candidate has an open mind. New talent may give your organisation a ‘shakeup’, offering innovative solutions with the potential to benefit all teams.

  1. Don’t settle

So what happens when you’ve realised the dream and the celebrations are over? Since hanging up his togs, Klim has created the men’s skincare range Milk (a clever anagram of his name) with his family company, Milk & Co. Livingstone has enjoyed a media career as a well-known television host and sports commentator. Mottram recently completed the London Marathon (the competitive bug still bites) and has started his own consultancy business, Elite Wellbeing. Tomkins has worked for nearly 30 years in Banking & Finance, a career he maintained alongside rowing.

  1. Conscientiousness beats lucky

We can all relate to thrill of a win or the inherent disappointment when we fail to reach our goals. Livingstone says athletes make good recruits because they are by nature hardworking, dedicated and committed. I think you’d agree those are common leadership traits too. It’s a buoyant time in the Victorian infrastructure market, so I’m championing the lessons of these Olympians in my approach to executive recruitment.

What have you learned from successful people in your industry? Do you have a success story you’d like to share?

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