The staffing and recruiting industry continues to experience high levels of growth as national and global enterprise staffing and recruiting companies position themselves to deliver more value to their clients, candidates, and internal employees in different ways. M&A activity is also very strong, and requires leadership to steer the course amidst significant change. The RIX team sat down with Greg Netland, former CEO of Randstad North America, to discuss his experience as a CEO during a time of high consolidation and what leadership lessons and industry advice around growth, he shares with his peers now as an advisor.
You were the CEO of Vedior NA then Randstad NA for a decade. What took up the majority of your effort during those times?
I would say a majority of my time was spent on mergers and acquisitions, strategy, and people.
Over a 5-year period, we did seven acquisitions in the U.S. and Canada. In addition, I was on the board of Vedior NV when Randstad bought us and spent the next three years leading the integration efforts for the combined businesses in the U.S. and Canada. In 2011, I led the acquisition and integration of SFN Group which, combined with Randstad NA, generated more than $4 billion in staffing revenue. Strategic planning and direction was also a key area of focus. With my team, we spent a lot of time working to define and refine the strategic direction of the company and align the organization to match that strategic direction. It’s a little bit like moving chess pieces around depending on the current scenario. For example, in order to gain share and grow in the MSP space, what’s the strategy? What do we need to commit financially? What are the partnerships we need? Or if we wanted to get into a new vertical, what’s the acquisition strategy or should we commit to an organic growth strategy? If so, what will that take? Beyond the day-to-day decision making, financials, and operational aspects of running the company, I was also always focused on our internal hiring engine, employee development, and whether we had the “right people on the bus.” In order to grow and prosper, we needed to excel at hiring and developing talent and to be great at having the right people in the right spots to move the organization forward.
What advice do you give to other staffing CEOs that you’re advising now?
To help focus on key growth strategies, it is important to have a good business planning model and a business planning session every year. The annual business plan should be simple with no more than 2 to 4 high-level strategic goals. Those goals need to be “SMART” and should have multiple strategies to support them as well as people assigned to each action item. Evaluating potential M&A opportunities should also be a part of the planning. As I mentioned before, the other aspect for me is always the people. You need to have a really good internal hiring engine, a strong employee development process, and you need to make sure you have the best people driving your lines of business and key strategic initiatives. One thing I learned early on is that you should always take your best resources and put those on your biggest opportunities!
Is there one experience that you look back on that shaped who you are as a leader?
Well there are a lot to choose from, but if I have to pick one, it was when I made the move from a top-producing salesperson into management and took a pay cut because I was sold on a concept of a career versus a job. I always felt that this was a pivotal moment in my understanding of what it was going to take to grow an organization. As a leader, I became very focused on having those conversations early and often and working hard to understand my team’s motivations and goals for their careers. As a team, we worked really hard to develop a farm system, getting talented people in early in their careers and pushing them hard to grow. We knew we could only grow if they grew with us. The real key that enabled us to take Sapphire to $400 million initially was about moving people upwards in the organization to take on more responsibility.
Who did you turn to for advice then? And now?
Throughout my career, I was blessed and lucky to have good partners and teammates. In the early stages of growth, I had partners who had complementary skills to mine and we worked as equals bouncing ideas off each other and having a strong decision-making process to handle the execution of the business. As CEO, I had a great CFO who was my go-to partner for bouncing ideas around and developing solutions to the many complex issues we faced. Once I joined the board of Vedior and then Randstad (both public companies), I became part of a really strong group of leaders that I could look to for advice and support when needed. Now that I am an independent advisor I am often the one that is giving advice, but when I am looking for support or help in solving a business issue, I turn to my vast network of people I have worked with over the years and can always find someone who can help
With that experience under your belt, what keeps you busy now?
I have spent the last five years as an advisor to the private equity world and to private equity-owned staffing companies in the areas of M&A, strategic planning, and business execution. There were more than 70 deals done in 2016 and there are more than 17,000 staffing companies in the U.S. with fewer than 1% making it over the $100M mark. There are even fewer who make it over $400M, so there has been plenty of work to keep me busy!
What do you miss about directly leading a company?
Not an easy question but if I really think about it, it comes down to the people and the day-to-day challenge of competing and winning. Luckily in my new role, I am working with a ton of great leaders and teams and essentially becoming part of their teams supporting whatever areas are needed. There are certainly days I do miss running the show and I may take that on again at some point, but in the meantime, I am really happy doing what I am doing – creating opportunities and helping really good staffing companies overcome the challenges of growth.