He’s run for parliament, been head of the Australian Computer Society and runs Alt-U, one of Australia’s top search firms. CXO talks with Edward Mandla about finding the right staff, losing his voice and running the “Barrow Boys” out of town.
What’s the 30 second pitch on Alt-U? Alt-U leads with Search Strategies to identify top performers which are typically not looking for work. The talent we identify are the backbone of an organisation. These people are head-down working in other companies and unlikely to be on job boards or cozying up to recruiters. They are loyal and often underpaid as they are more focused on achieving for their current employer than looking after themselves. It’s the opposite of recruitment which throws resumés around. Most of the people we approach either don’t have resumés and they are very out of date.
What’s the biggest challenge for the company at the moment?
Since July, we have been flat to the boards. The challenge is whether we hold on for another quarter to scale up. What a difference 6 months makes in our industry.
The other challenge is in-house recruiters who think they can do Search. By definition they can’t. It’s a bit like selling your own house – apart from routine technical hires – it’s too in-your-face. I think its weird and downright dangerous for a company to directly approach it’s competitors. Search isn’t about convincing someone to take a job – it’s about understanding a person, their career objectives and timing. It’s a discrete subtle art form.
What’s the biggest opportunity for the recruitment industry at the moment?
There’s been an almighty clean out. The UK Barrow Boys have all been sent home. Prior to the crash we had hundreds of recruiters basically working for drinking money – little care and no responsibility. The industry got into bad habits, like not meeting clients and not meeting candidates (forbidden in a number of recruitment companies).
The opportunity for the industry is to clean up its act and to really provide client care. The mystery is why clients gave the barrow boys a chance in the first place? The answer I get is the best way to get rid of a recruiter is to say send me a resumé. That way they are gone and now and then they get lucky with a good resumé.
You’ve run businesses, run for office, been head of the Australian Computer Society. What’s on the agenda next?
One of the best things about running your own business is that you can do other things. I’ve been able to be ACS President, run for Parliament and have a weekly radio show. I was one of seven who got into the Australian Film Television and Radio School, this year, to do a Graduate Diploma. Seven of us have just finished running a radio station for 10 days, 24 hours a day as a showcase to the industry. I got run down, lost my voice and have a cold! Have a peek at radio 2RS.
What amazed me is how many of the Current Affairs programs I produced and aired had a technology flavor to them – not to mention the technology I had to learn this year – ProTools, RCS, VoxPro, Klotz, Netia. Technology is becoming a platform for a number of professions. I have little doubt I will appear doing someone new in the next few years but I need to keep my business going as I’m very passionate about it.
What’s the best business advice you’ve ever received?
Bad clients prevent you from finding good clients as they soak up all your time and energy. Sometimes its better to make a loss for three months, let the bad clients go and go out into the world and find the good new clients.
What are the skills that you promote and most respect in business?
Autonomy and pro-activity in staff. There is nothing like having a team around you that is creative, takes personal responsibility and is always looking for better ways to do things and better ways to serve the client. You need a flexible environment to foster this but its gold when it happens.
What has been your greatest challenge to date as far as your career is concerned?
Accepting as you get older you can’t get every opportunity. When you are young – you seem to nail it every time and land every job and opportunity. As you get older and the jobs become more serious and in demand – politics comes into play. Often the best person doesn’t get the job – its usually a compromise decision made by many people.
For example, it’s almost impossible to be ACS President or to be pre-selected for a political party by just rocking up, being the best person and giving the best speech and interviews. It takes weeks, months and years of getting people on side. It’s the same thing in the IT job market. When you get older and go for the big jobs, your networks, reputation and how people perceive you, overtake your skills in importance.
Where do you see Alt-U heading over the next five years?
Our goal is to take our strong position in the technology vendor space where we Search for Sales, Pre Sales, Consultants, now and then the Best Developers in the market and Management, and to apply it to the end-user IT Department
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