Take It from the Top: Lisa Frommhold, Global CEO for One Month at The Adecco Group [Episode 18]
By Lisa Frommhold
Welcome to Take It from the Top, a podcast brought to you by the Recruitment Innovation Exchange (also known as RIX). On Take It from the Top, we interview leaders within the recruitment industry to discuss various pressing topics within the sector.
This week we have a special "Millennial Madness" episode as Ben Weiner, Content Specialist at Bullhorn, interviews Lisa Frommhold, Junior Project Manager at Modis and Global CEO for One Month at The Adecco Group. In this warm and inviting conversation, these two ambitious 23-year-olds discuss Lisa's incredible journey to being named Global CEO and what's next for her.
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Ben Weiner: Hi everyone and welcome to another episode of Take It from the Top, episode number 18, brought to you by the Recruitment Innovation Exchange. I'm your host Ben Weiner, Content Specialist at Bullhorn, and today we have a very special “Millennial Madness” episode for you as we welcome on the Adecco Global CEO for One Month, Lisa Frommhold.
Lisa, how are you?
Lisa Frommhold: Hi Ben, I'm very well. Good to talk to you.
BW: Lisa I’m super excited to learn more about your experience but first, tell us a little bit about yourself.
LF: Well, let's start with the easy stuff. I'm 23-years-old and from Germany. I became the Global CEO for One Month of the Adecco Group this fall so in September. Before that, I was CEO for a month in Germany for the Adecco group in my home country. But I studied before that and did a gap year to find out what I really want to become because I wasn't sure what to do with my degree and then I applied for the program and got caught up in the group and its values and what it's about. So this is about me, the professional side.
Apart from the professional side, I love horseback riding and reading and I would say that I'm for sure a typical millennial. I love being a digital native, being tech-savvy, but on the other side, enjoying some free time, spare time out in nature. I’m super individual and that's mostly about me. I have a younger brother so we’re two double trouble millennials at home and I really enjoyed my month working for the Adecco Group and I just recently joined the Adecco Group after my month as a junior project manager focusing on retaining our associates. So I'm working a lot with millennials now.
BW: That's really exciting. So I want to know a little bit more about the selection process and what really piqued your interest in the Adecco CEO for One Month program.
LF: Well, the fun thing is that I didn't really know much about the Adecco Group before I started this program. So, my former boss, I was a working student during my studies and my former boss recommended the program to me because he joined the Adecco Group and got to know the program and then sent me a link during my gap year saying, “Hey Lisa, might this be something for you?” And I thought, well, applying is for free. I should just at least try it because this would be awesome if I could get into it, see the world from a different perspective, from the perspective of a CEO. So I applied and I'm overwhelmed still by how huge, big and incredible this company is. So the first initial interest was by recommendation.
BW: So 204,000 candidates applied from 47 different countries. What do your friends and family think when you told them that you were going to apply for something like this?
LF: Well, as you can imagine, they were a bit scared because we're a down to Earth family, I would say. We love the easy things in life like nature, going out, doing family things and not being so super international and on the global stage. So my family said, “Well Lisa you’re starting to spook us,” and I started to spook myself to be honest because this was nothing that I ever expected to be in and I loved every moment since then. My friends, I don't think that they were surprised. I asked them actually and they said, “Well, we were expecting you to become at least CEO in Germany,” so I met my expectations on that end, but my family was super happy for me when I told them that I'm not only applying, but going to be a CEO for a month in Germany first and then the global CEO for one month.
BW: What were some of the challenges or group tasks that you were asked to complete through the selection process for, for both the global and the German boot camps?
LF: So let's start with Germany. When I applied for the German selection process I had to send in a video in English and in German answering two questions. The first question was, “Who would I identify with from TV?” I said Jane Goodall because I'm a huge fan of hers. Then the other question was, “What do I think the future of work will look like?” And I said it will be very much individualized and more flexible than it is today because–I don't know how it's in the states–but in Germany it's still very, well let's put it like this, not very flexible when it comes to working hours and your contract, so I see it being more individual and more flexible.
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Then I made it into the global selection process, so when I became CEO for a month in Germany, I started doing seven challenges. We got seven challenges during our month from social media challenges to competitor analysis or surprised reports. So what surprised or astonished us during our month and then ending with heading into our innovation project for the group. After that, we were interviewed by two people from our headquarters in Zurich evaluating us on situations and situational behavior. The last step was the announcement before the boot camp and the top 10 candidates went to the boot camp in London to get tested on various assessments. It was such a variety of tests and assessments that we did. There were group challenges, individual challenges, one had to pitch a startup, and we also did a virtual reality challenge.
What else did we do? Two days fully packed with great things where you learn a lot and you get challenged but in a fun and positive way. So it was about getting feedback, testing our leadership skills, our creativity, our lateral thinking and whether we are innovative characters or not. So that was basically it and then we had a final interview with Alain Dehaze and a three-minute speech in front of his team and online, so it was live streamed and viewed on Facebook and that was it. So it was extensive, it was a bit exhausting, but very much fun and exciting and I learned a lot throughout the process.
BW: And at what point did you realize that you may actually be selected as the winner?
LF: I didn't really realize it even afterward! So when the top five were announced, that was a big deal for me. Then you become friends with the people who are there with you. They are so incredibly smart, so talented, so extraordinary, each and every one of them and you can't believe that you are the one who's getting selected. So it's not about winning, it's about being selected or nominated because each and every one of us who made it globally into a position of a country CEO is actually a winner. Also, making it into the final selection process of the country is great and I didn't realize it that much that day. It took me a week at least to really sink in, but I was really excited and happy. It was just incredible, thinking back to that moment I'm still getting emotional, but I didn't realize it. It took some time.
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BW: So you graduate from the International School of Management in Dortmund and within a year you're the global CEO for the largest HR solutions company in the world. I’m 23-years-old as well, honestly, what am I doing wrong in my career?
LF: You're not doing anything wrong! I guess it really was about being in the right place at the right time, having a great mentor who recommended the program to me, and always giving my best. I think sometimes you need to be lucky to be in the right place at the same time, but everyone could do that. If you're 23-years-old as well, go for it. Apply for next year. I am sure you will learn much and even if you're not at the end, the global CEO, you will learn a lot throughout the process. So I think I grew within the process and after I graduated from my university, I for sure wasn't where I'm at today just mentally and capacity wise. So I grew within the process. It takes you a bit to adapt to the global pace and what it requires to be part of such a huge company on a global scale. So just go for it.
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BW: I really liked what you said about sort of being lucky in the right place at the right time. I believe that we are lucky by design and that you do set yourself up for lucky situations to happen, but it's ultimately you setting yourself up for that lucky opportunity.
LF: Well, there's one thing that really I will remember for the rest of my life when it comes to this and it's about owning your–not life–but your decisions. We're often in a position where we tend to say, “You know, okay, let's do this next, or someone pushes me into this or that direction, or this job pushes me there, or my parents pushed me there.” At the end of the day, it's always you, as you said, who sets you up for success and at the end of the day you need to own it, not, not just your own life, which seems to be obvious, but also the decisions that you take and then just go for it and be active and proactive. So you've just made a very good point.
BW: Tell me a little bit more about the experience. What were some of the first few days like? Were you nervous?
LF: Well, I was more nervous when I started in Germany because I had no idea what to expect and then I realized how human the group is and how much they appreciated me being there, and how much they value reverse feedback and mentoring and it helped me a lot in the global month that I knew that the people I would encounter with would be great and just appreciate me being there, not testing me. So I was for sure nervous, very nervous, but it wasn't a bad thing. It was excitement which turned into not being nervous anymore. I was really excited.
The first days were incredible, I learned a lot. I traveled to Milan the first day, so I flew from Hamburg to Milan to go on my first operations review meeting. So we do those operation reviews in each country and region. So my very first trip was to Milan, and then to Rome, and then to Geneva. So the first week was very busy traveling as were all the four weeks that continued after this first one. I was nervous, but I had a lot of fun.
BW: During those first days, what would you say were your favorite moments of the entire experience?
LF: As you can imagine, a lot of people ask me this question and it's so tough to choose, so I'm not going to choose, I will just give you two or three. Maybe the most special one for me personally; also as a young person who graduated and did not really know where to take it next, I did some internships at a digital agency and at a startup so I try to get involved with different things and wasn't really sure where my next step would take me. So a very special moment for me was when I decided to join the Adecco Group on the long-term and that was during my CMO council, so Chief Marketing Officer Council, where our global marketing team met in Berlin and I was part of that group together with the CEO for One Month of the UK and we had the opportunity to not only participate, but actively involve ourselves into those meetings so we could speak up, give our feedback, ask questions and just help the team–at least we felt like we were helping and having an impact–in this whole discussion on marketing as a function and marketing within the group.
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That was very special for me to see how much we can actually do within the group as very young, very inexperienced people or talents. So that was special and I decided right after to join The Adecco Group on the long-term because I was so inspired by not only the people but the culture that is within the Adecco group. So that was special. One of my favorite moments probably when we did a fire drill, which sounds horrible, but it was a fun interview situation with Alain where we asked each other questions in front of our HQ colleagues, so in Zurich, and we didn't really know what the other one would be asking. Alain and the team asked good questions and I realized in this situation again how much I liked the culture of this group and how much trust there is.
So throughout this whole experience, there were various moments where not only Alain trusted me with speaking to political decision makers or important business partners and clients, but also with representing the program on a global scale. And this trust was just incredible and still is incredible how much trust I got and thinking about what my former CEO for One Month colleagues are doing now. I'm not sure if you have heard about Ed Broadhead, he was before me and he became Global CEO for One Month last year and is now head of Adecco’s analytics at the age of 24. I think he's one of the global shapers when it comes to innovative business solutions and it's just incredible how much this company trusts young people and does not really care about generations and age, but more about the talent that's within you and the German CEO for One Month last year, Sophie, who was also partly my mentor throughout the experience is now also group a part of the Adecco group in Zurich, working in sales as a global account director also at a very, very young age.
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So this is inspiring to see. It was incredible that we get that much trust. So the last thing that I would say before I stop talking too much was the global boot camp where I met the other Global CEO for One Month candidates who are now friends for a lifetime and one of them has his birthday today (recorded on December 5). He's from Italy, Mirko, whenever he hears this happy birthday Mirko, I hope that you're having a great day. We became friends and I'm inspired by the bright minds and learned a lot from each and every one them. So that was a special and favorite moment too for me throughout the entire experience.
BW: Were you able to sit in on any of these board meetings with Alain?
LF: To make a long story short, I was able to follow Alain wherever he went. I was his shadow and I was in board meetings and executive committee meetings. I was part of the ops review meetings, part of the budget calls with all our countries and regions. I was there when we talked to politicians in different countries and also part of a lot of events which we held with our clients or soon-to-be Adecco employees. So I was part of literally everything that he does and it's incredible how fast his pace is. As you can imagine, I don't know how he does sleeping wise. I was so excited all the time, I couldn't really sleep. I was lucky I got to follow him and ask questions and give my feedback and give as much as I could, but he had to make decisions all day long. So it was incredible to see him at work.
BW: Be honest with me, I really have to know. How many people did you get to fire?
LF: [laughing] I didn’t fire anyone! [laughing] This was not in the job description for CEO for One Month, not even for global. [laughing] Of course, I know that there are tough times for a CEO and I was part of tough decisions. I was there when they discussed different topics which aren't easy to discuss, but it was very interesting to see that it's not always this glamorous life of a CEO of a Fortune 500 company. You have to make difficult decisions and you need to always be aware of the greater good for the company and what brings the company to the next step and ultimately helps the company and its teams and your team to become better. So sometimes you need to make tough decisions no matter what there are about. But it wasn't in my role description to fire people. [laughing]
BW: Reflecting on the entire experience, what do you think surprised you most?
LF: I was surprised by how complex this company is and how huge the variety of companies are that lie within the Adecco Group. So if you think about LHH, Lee Hecht Harrison, they’re doing career transition and development consulting, and then there’s Modis, where I'm working at now, our professional brand for IT engineers and life science experts. Then there is Adecco operating in 60 different countries all around the world providing incredible HR solutions. Same goes for Pontoon Solutions. Then there are our digital ventures such as General Assembly that we just acquired for digital learning skills and there's so much more to discover in this group. I was surprised by how complex–but in a good way–complex this company is and how much it is transforming. I was surprised by the variety of initiatives there are to support young people and do something for the greater good. Have you heard of Win4Youth?
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BW: I have not.
LF: So Win4Youth is one of our biggest initiatives that we run globally. So a lot of our employees participate in sports and Win4Youth tracks kilometers, whether it's running, swimming or cycling. It's based on a triathlon but you can also track kilometers for horseback riding or whatever other sports you're doing and you do something good with those kilometers based on the amount we've tracked. We donate an amount to Plan International which is our partner in this. So we decided to go with Plan International this year and then once a year there is a Win4Youth triathlon where 70 ambassadors from all over the world get elected in the early months of the year, so sometime around February, and those ambassadors get training for five months to complete this triathlon and most of them have never done anything like this before.
They have never done 10K runs, they've never done 40 kilometers cycling before and they've never swam in open water. So they get the chance to not only meet their international colleagues, track kilometers for a greater good, but also to develop and grow themselves by participating in this and getting the right training from Adecco, so it's an incredible program. And then there is of course CEO for One Month which helps young people get the right experience and works towards lowering youth unemployment and developing this young generation. But then there is as well our athlete program were Olympic athletes get coaching and job opportunities, and we help them find a professional career after they have completed their sports career, or we help them to find a career that works along with their sports career.
So these programs really make the difference. Not only the programs for sure, we are all purpose-driven and you’ll see that Adecco does not only make the future work for its employees all around the world every day, but also for other people around it and has initiatives that support this vision. It surprised me, it really surprised me and I'm glad and very proud to be part of this company because I support this vision and the ideals and values behind it.
BW: That sounds wonderful, truly an unbelievable experience. What do you think was the biggest lesson you took away from this experience?
LF: So one for sure is own it. You have to be proactive. Sometimes our generation is perceived as high maintenance or perceived as always demanding, but never really doing and I think if we want to change that perception, we need to be very proactive. We need to own our decisions and take it from–not only there–but to the next level because I believe in my generation. I believe in people like you. I believe in people who work around me and I think that we can do a lot of good things. Maybe I'm a bit too positive, but what makes us human is still being positive. Having a vision for the future and making it work, collaborating, and sharing our ideas. So owning our own decisions in life is part one. Being proactive is part of that I would say. And then something that I didn't expect to learn is that authenticity and being yourself is the most valuable attitude that you can have and it's so difficult to learn. It's tough sometimes. It's really tough to be brave enough to be yourself because you think, “Maybe I should be more like this person or more like that person,” but being yourself and being authentic in what you're doing is what I valued the most. I guess, and then be brave enough. Just go for it, try it and the response will be extremely positive. So if I learned something then it's these three things: own it, productivity and authenticity.
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BW: I couldn't agree more and I definitely don't think you're too positive. I think the world needs more positive young leaders like yourself and it's amazing what you were able to accomplish in the past six months. So now that you've joined the Modis team as a junior project manager, can you tell us a little bit more about your current role?
LF: Sure. So, I love my project. I really like what I'm doing. I'm excited to go to work everyday and not only because it's part of being the Adecco Group and working for the Adecco Group, but also because I can make a difference and I believe that is what we are widely asking for as a generation, getting responsibility and having an impact on what we're doing and the situation of other people.
So what I’m doing is focusing on how we can retain our associates because we have great people working for us, especially within Modis we have a lot of engineers, IT specialists and life science experts and we want to become better. So how could we do that in not only asking for feedback from our associates but actually implementing it. So this is what I'm doing right now. I flew home from Zurich on the 31st of October and started on the first of November here in Hamburg. So not much time to relax but I couldn't be happier to get started right away. I'm still in the phase of analyzing everything here and then I hope I can implement some changes and help the company not only here in Germany, but globally. That's also an ambitious goal, but you should never start with low ambitions.
BW: Do you miss your old job or was one month enough as the global CEO?
LF: Well, during my fire drill interview, someone asked me whether I would like to become a global CEO of a Fortune 500 company one day and I couldn't really answer it at first. I was a bit speechless because I know that I'm not ready for something like this yet, you need to be very special and very intelligent. But apart from that I wasn't feeling ready at all to answer this question. But then I was reflecting on it and I loved what I did in the last month. I love the pace of it. The fast and flexible way of working, having so many topics on your desk everyday, getting into so many different companies, so many diverse companies and brands. Getting into so many different cultures and talking to so many talented people and having this purpose of making the future work for everyone.
So do I miss it? Do I miss working with Alain and getting his input, getting inspired by this leader? For sure, I do. I would love to repeat this month. But what I now like is that I'm able to act. During my month I was able to give a lot of feedback so this is really about reverse mentoring. So giving the Adecco Group something and I had a very human, let's say a human point of view. I'm always human-centered so I asked a lot of questions about how people interrelate with each other and what we could do better to foster the human touch within the company. And now that I'm here at work focusing on a very human-centered topic, I just love being active. So for sure, I would love to do it one more time or two more times.
I can imagine one day being a global CEO of a Fortune 500 company, but just if I'm ready. It's not a goal of mine, I will just see where my ambition takes me and wait and see. But for now, I'm really happy to learn how the business functions at the lower levels where we come from. So being in a branch, getting the firsthand insights on the business, seeing the troubles and being able to act and change something is just a great feeling. And I will see what's next. I think the Adecco Group has a lot of adventures and surprises, that's for sure. So, well, yeah, I miss my old job, but I wouldn't change it. Let's put it like this, I would love to stay CEO for One Month for a lifetime while working for Modis as a project manager.
BW: Certainly only positives to come for you in the next steps in your career. As you reflect on it all, and this is my last question, how do you think being global CEO shaped you to be the leader you want to become?
LF: It shaped me in many different ways. So I learned a lot, that's the first thing. What type of leader do I want to become or what type of leader would I like to become... I definitely want to be a leader that never stops learning and I think maybe that's a bit too obvious, but we all have to think about that for not just this generation but for everyone who's now involved in working, we all need to continue to learn forever and never stop learning. And having this attitude towards learning, I want to become a leader who's creating an environment and that people can thrive. So if I'm able to foster and facilitate my team, which I will hopefully have one day, I would love them to thrive in the environment that I create. I want to give them the resources and support they need to be successful to develop their talents and give them the opportunity to be their best selves. I truly believe that this is what makes not only a team succeed, but also a company.
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And if I'm able to do that, that would be perfect. And I learned a lot about that at the Adecco Group during my month. And as Alain said, “Impatience is a good thing because it creates energy.” So I think I have to keep that impatience and eagerness to make the next step and I'm really looking forward to it. But most importantly I want to become a leader that creates an environment and that people can thrive and that's always able to future-proof the company.
BW: Well Lisa, I'm really excited to see where your career ultimately takes you. Your story is truly inspirational. What an incredibly unique and fascinating experience you got and at such a young age of 23, I wish I was able to participate in such an amazing program like this. I really enjoyed talking to you. Is there anything you think that we missed?
LF: So did I. I really enjoyed it as well. I hope that everyone who's listening to this at the end of the day seize the opportunities that lie ahead for each and every one of us and the opportunity that this company gives us as a young generation and the trust, and if there's anything that someone wants to know, they can happily reach out to me at anytime. I'm glad to answer questions or give feedback on whatever. I really look forward to collaborating and sharing this program and what I've been able to experience and I hope that I could help a bit on changing how our generation is perceived because we're not just high maintenance we’re really great future leaders, and we will all do our best to make the future work.
BW: Absolutely. If anybody wanted to reach out to you, are you on Twitter? Can people follow you?
LF: You know, after this program I really became a social media native. I have LinkedIn. LinkedIn is probably the best for everyone to see what I did during my month, I have daily updates on LinkedIn on what I did and I'm frequently checking if there's something going on.
BW: If you're listening and you want them to learn more about Lisa’s story, check it out on LinkedIn. She's giving us updates there.
Again, Lisa, this was awesome. This was an amazing first podcast for me. I hope you can say the same. Thank you again for coming on and talking with me.
LF: Thanks, Ben. It was fun and as you can see some millennial madness working from Boston to Hamburg, Germany and it's great how we can connect and how we are able to share our ideas through podcasts, books, posts, social media, and we should cherish that. So thank you and I'm looking forward to hopefully another conversation once you are the Global CEO for One Month at the Adecco Group or pursuing another career at Bullhorn.
BW: [laughing] Well, when I'm the Bullhorn CEO, you'll be the first person I call. [laughing]
LF: Good, good! Looking forward to it.
BW: Alright, thanks again, Lisa.