04 May 2016

Hall of Fame acceptance speech by John Plummer Jnr

Last Thursday I attended the Recruitment International Awards (Australia) in Sydney. The last award for the night was a Hall of Fame award. This year the joint recipients were V. John Plummer (Snr) and John Plummer (Jnr). The latter accepted the award on behalf of himself and his father (you can read about the contribution of the Plummer family to our industry in this blog from nine months ago).

The room of over 300 out-to-party recruitment consultants listened in respectful silence for ten minutes as John Plummer Jnr gave a wonderfully humble and informative acceptance speech. I loved what John said so much that I requested his permission to reproduce his speech in this week's blog. John graciously agreed. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

"Thank you to Recruitment International, all the Sponsors and the industry for this award.

My father is now 87 and is unable to attend tonight. He remains an active investor in the industry and follows it with a keen interest. He sends his best wishes.

We love temp staffing.

It is worth spending a minute or two reflecting on our industry. Temporary staffing developed post WW2. We had returning military displacing the women on the home front who had served so well in their absence. Social standards were focused on the male as the breadwinner. The workforce was 60% blue collar. Married women were not allowed to work for the government, having to quit on marriage. This did not change until 1966.

With the coming of population growth, the white collar service boom arrived. The demand for clerical staff was expanding rapidly and women were more than willing to fill the gap. The pill and the pay packet provided women with more control over their lives, changing society forever. Our industry provided the pay packet and helped fill the gaps, increasing productivity and contributing to the wellbeing of many through meaningful work.

In 1970, Consultants were expected to make a minimum of 5 placements per week and fees were 5% of annual salary. Fairfax was living off the rivers of gold flowing from employment advertising. Weekly pays were in cash calculated on Kalamazoo sheets and the in-demand clerical skills were gathered in the smoke filled typing pools, where shorthand was an asset and the typewriters had ribbons. Carbon paper was popular. The concept of temp staffing had to be sold face-to-face, door-to-door and documents were sent to clients by taxi. Group certificates were typed in triplicate and shipped in boxes to the ATO.

My father was an innovator and his simple training slogans are still remembered by all that worked directly for him; "can do, will do, will fit" was the recruitment formula. My father banded together with some like-minded individuals and formed earlier versions of the RCSA. He took groups of staff to US conferences in cleverly designed reward systems based on profit not sales aimed at boosting activity in quieter times. He focused on creating female millionaires in an era when such a concept was deemed nonsense.

When Centacom was sold in 1988 the staff composition was 298 females and two males.
Progressively, technology has changed the way we do business - pays moved to cheque and then EFT, communications moved to fax and then email, job boards and the list goes on. What of our fees these days? As an industry our margins continue to decline. For 30 years we have been running up the margin down escalator.

At Chandler, which was never really a recruitment company and I say that because perm revenues were never greater than 5%, we used core metrics in client discussions: time to hire, cost to hire and quality of hire. This led to a pragmatic evaluation system for any business process change which was called our Olympic motto "faster cheaper better". This template was applied across the board - our clients and candidates and consultants. Fail any one of the three tests and the technology or process was rejected.

The industry continues to consolidate. In Chandler Macleod days we made over 30 strategic acquisitions (and one big strategic sale), always seeking out new sectors, new geographic regions and intellectual property. Again we rode on the coattails of my father's mantra ethos "behaviour follows the reward system", "people leave managers not companies" and the list goes on.

The Chandler mission statement was simple: "Best Fit". We like things simple rather than complicated. We focused on client productivity enhancement through people and technology.

Chandler introduced new methods of financing temp businesses, offered greater transparency in staff reporting and psychologically assessed anything that moved.

In my last year there (2015) we provided payroll support services for over 400,000 public servants, led people strategy sessions for 3 top 10 ASX listed companies, and provided productivity enhancement and workforce management services for a dozen other major corporations on four continents. Chandler was not a recruitment business.

My biggest disappointment was that we were forced by the industry to base consultant reward systems on sales not profit. Sales are important but the profit behaviour encourages a more client friendly and focused service delivery.

My father and I have sought integrity and honesty in our actions. We have strived to do the best possible job we could, rewarding the many people that have worked with us along the way. Our successes have probably outweighed our failures.

Over the last 60 years we have been delighted to help hundreds of thousands people gain meaningful employment, adding value to their everyday lives. Those people have all contributed to this award.

We thank you for this honour."

PS: In a subsequent email, John told me that the record set in the early days of Centacom (when it was a single office with 10 consultants) was 150 placements in three weeks.

Note: Last week's blog on the rec-to-rec industry has generated such a response that I have decided to hold over the publication of the promised follow up blog until next week to do justice to all the people, both rec-to-rec owners and customers, who were happy to give me their views, both on and off the record.

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