Meet Australia's Greg Savage, Aquent's International CEO – Europe and Asia Pacific

This profile is one in a series titled Monday Member Showcase. It was originally published on RecruitingBlogs.com, a recruiting and HR community, where I am a featured contributor. To read the whole series please click here.

"The movement of marketing and advertising to digital and interactive platforms will drive the demand for staff in this sector ... Job boards will become less effective and social media will increasingly play a role, although that is to be fully worked out yet. We believe specialization and depth of knowledge will be a key differentiator in the recruitment market and we are building our business accordingly."


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As Aquent's International CEO – Europe and Asia Pacific, Greg Savage contributes total strategic, marketing, financial and operational responsibility for all Aquent Business outside North America. Currently comprises 23 offices in 13 Countries in Europe and Asia Pacific. Greg has been involved with the premier recruitment Industry body in Australia — the RCSA. Greg has spoken at industry conferences all over the world including at least 20 RCSA conferences in addition to NAPS in the US and ACCESS in Canada

Q&A with Greg Savage

Six Degrees: Tell us of your home world.

I was born in Cape Town, South Africa and immigrated to Australia 30 years ago. I live on the North Shore of Sydney with my wife Bronwyn and three children Hannah (19), Nic (12) and Chris (9).

I have traveled all over the world with my job, but that does not dampen my enthusiasm for recreational travel with my family. We like to take the road less traveled and often backpack or use local transport to get a real feel for a place. That does not stop us staying at the odd five-star resort when we can afford it, but highlights in recent years include traveling by train through eastern Europe, overland through Vietnam, by mini-van through Borneo to meet the Oran Utangs,, Japan via bullet train, across Jordan and Israel with just my 12 year old Nic, and only recently by truck through Zambia, Botswana and Namibia. I find it a total release from work stress, it brings our family close together and certainly my kids have a perspective on the world not found amongst many of their friends – in a good way

We are a sporty family with my wife playing competition level tennis and my boys playing rugby, cricket and tennis. A highlight recently was the selection of my youngest son Chris in the Representative Under 10 cricket team for our district. Great celebrations. I can envisage him playing for Australia already…

Six Degrees: How many years have you been in the staffing industry?

Greg: I am a recruiting tragic. I got my very first job out of University with a Search and Selection firm, starting in January 1980, so I guess I am closing in on 30 years.

Six Degrees: What talent niche groups do you target and are these particular talent areas specialized under your review?

Greg: Digital/Interactive designers and technicians, Marketing specialists, especially online, and Print creatives


Six Degrees: How did you get started as a recruiter?

Greg: I fell into recruitment after finishing a degree in Psychology. In those days people talked about a career in “personnel management” (HR was not yet born as a title) and I went to a recruitment business to see if they could find me a job. The manager there said no client would hire someone with zero experience, but he was happy to give me a go! I worked in Executive Selection for Sales, Marketing, Finance and General Management jobs for three years. We sold search and retainers and what they called in those days “Advertised Selection” where we advertised in the press at clients’ expense. It was a great grounding and I learned how to sell value and process over price, an invaluable skill. I also learned to bluff because I was 22 when I started and most of my clients were in their 40’s. So were all my colleagues by the way. But at 25 I decided to travel in a Kombi van across Europe for six months with a friend. It was real odyssey and we visited 30 countries and travelled 25,000 miles. When the money ran out, I got a job placing accountants in Central London — Oxford Circus to be exact. It was a rough and tumble, highly competitive world, where speed was king and only the very strongest survived. I learned so much about urgency and fast matching and resilience and fast negotiation. I was then made manager of a permanent team of eight recruiters running the London West End business, which was my first supervisory role. Staying with the same company (now called Hays) I came back to Australia to run the Sydney office and was made a director of the company at age 27. IN 1987, when Hays bought our company, I left and with two others started my own business, Recruitment Solutions. We built this finance and accounting recruitment business to sales of $60 Million and offices all over Australia, finally listing the business via an IPO on the Australian Stock Exchange in 1997. I am still very proud of that business and its standards and efficiency and a testament to its quality was that dozens of our staff from those days now own and run their own successful businesses. That’s got to be a good thing right?

In 2001, I joined Aquent, the world’s largest marketing and design staffing company as Asia Pacific CEO. In 2005, I was promoted to International CEO, which includes all Aquent businesses outside North America. This covers 20 plus offices in 14 countries.

Six Degrees: What single event had the most impact on your sourcing/recruiting career?

Greg: When Hays, the UK conglomerate bought my employer, Accountancy Placements, in the mid 80’s it sparked off a chain of events that changed everything for me. The senior management team could not see ourselves as part of the new regime and we left and started our own company in 1987. This business eventually grew to one of the biggest in the country. As an owner everything changed including responsibility, risk, and financial security.

Being a Director of a public company after we listed Recruitment Solutions in 1997 was not so cool. Answering to shareholders, beholden to share price and non-executive directors, meant I only stayed the minimum time in the business after the IPO. This freed me up to join Aquent two years alter which took my career in a fresh, new and International direction

Six Degrees: Do you have a mentor to whom you attribute your overall outlook on recruitment, capabilities, and/or model your career after?


Greg: Sadly no, not one person. Certainly I have learned from many along the way and continue to do so. I often call on industry colleagues for advice and aspire to the strengths of people I know, but I have no one mentor to turn to, nor can I identify one or more people to whom I “owe it all”. I miss that fact actually.

Six Degrees: Tell us about your position at Aquent:

Greg: Aquent is the only global marketing and design staffing company. We are privately held so releasing numbers is not appropriate but we were recently nominated as the 85th biggest staffing company in the world and the largest Creative recruiter in the US. (Staffing Industry Analysts). My role is to manage the operations outside the US. This is a challenge because we are in 14 countries in Europe and APAC crossing many times zones, languages and cultural nuances. I currently manage through my team, 25 offices including 5 in Australia, 5 in Japan, 4 in greater China and 5 in Europe. Our big focus is in creative and digital contractors as well as marketing staffing. We have a strong perm business to complement the staffing operations. Staff numbers in my region peaked at 450 last year, although it’ss less than that now.

Six Degrees: What recent general news story or industry trend do you feel will have an impact on your work in the future? Why?

Greg: The movement of marketing and advertising to digital and interactive platforms will drive the demand for staff in this sector. Aquent is perfectly positioned to take the lion’s share of this market, as we have “owned” creative print staffing for more than 20 years. I also see a significant opportunity in contract staffing in the marketing arena as more companies get to understand the benefits of using a flexible model in this sector. Other changes that will impact our industry is a far more fragmented talent acquisition landscape. Job boards will become less effective and social media will increasingly play a role, although that is to be fully worked out yet. We believe specialization and depth of knowledge will be a key differentiator in the recruitment market and we are building our business accordingly.

Six Degrees: Tell us about your broader involvement within the staffing industry:

Greg: I have a long history of involvement with the peak recruitment Industry body in Australia — the RCSA. In fact I was Vice president of the RCSA for many years and sat on both the Ethics and membership committee. I was made a Life Member of the RCSA several years ago in recognition of services to the industry. I have spoken at countless industry conferences all over the world including at least 20 RCSA conferences but also NAPS in the US and ACCESS in Canada in addition to My current RCSA speaking tour. I have also spoken at several NPA conferences (some of my speaking engagements can be seen here)

Six Degrees: Can you detail how the recession has affected your particular industry niche?

Greg: The recession has had an impact on business in every country I am responsible for. Being in marketing, we may have been particularly hard hit. Permanent demand fell off markedly and temp has been affected too, but less so. We have taken the usual steps to reduce our cost base, but more importantly we are using this time to refine our processes, redesign our website, improve the customer experience and re define our strategic imperatives. As painful as the downturn has been, I am convinced we will emerge stronger than ever in the recovery. Recessions are a wonderful cleansing opportunity and the challenge is to be courageous and be prepared to innovate and refresh. Aquent cows can be lined up and slaughtered. Aquent is doing that now and its very cool.


Six Degrees: Aside from simply the generic term “Networking” what specific efforts have you made on your own behalf, or on behalf of colleagues to broaden your opportunities. Are there specific groups, both online and in-person that have proved fruitful in extending your personal brand and job seeking prospects?

Greg: Speaking at conferences has raised my profile significantly. As a result I am often asked for input from the recruitment press in Australia and elsewhere. My blog gregsavage.com.au has a high hit rate and this allows me a platform for opinions. I am recent to Twitter with only 400 followers, but I find it very powerful for driving people to my blog and my company website and also for announcing vacancies in my own business. As at least 80% of my followers are in marketing or recruitment, it’s a powerful audience. LinkedIn works for me too, but I have not been strong on actively seeking connections. People find me however and the network I have is very nicely defined within my area of interest.

Six Degrees: Worst mistake, biggest goof, lousiest practice you thought would fly but didn’t -- and how did that convert itself into a valuable learning experience?

Greg: Oh dear. Many and varied. Probably the one that stands out most was when, in the hurly-burly world of placing accountants in the 80’s, when speed was more important than quality, I sent the resume of a young accountant TO HER OWN EMPLOYER. It was embarrassing and damaging and it shook me very much indeed. I have paid attention to detail on stuff I sent out ever since. I also once asked a client on what I thought was our first meeting whether he knew much about (my company). He replied that I had placed him in a job several years before. Embarrassment plus!

In management, I have tried many things that have not worked but I firmly believe in still trying lots of stuff. Innovation and change is critical.

Six Degrees: Given your own Trial and Error experiences as a Networker, what advice do you have for your peers on what NOT to do?

Greg: I am not a networking expert, but online I would advise people not mix their personal with their business networking. I have a face book account but I have no clients or colleagues as friends. I actually have friends and family as friends! This allows me to share personal stuff with the right people and not bore them with business matters. Linked in and twitter however is for networking and I think it important to keep them very targeted. Don’t chase connections or followers for numbers sake. Make sure you connect with people you want to do business with (or who are key influencers) or who can help you access people you want to business with. Don’t be frivolous in the social media conversations, don’t spam. Remember manners and politeness. Give as much as you take.

Six Degrees: What is your next career goal?

Greg: I want to lead Aquent to preeminence in marketing and design staffing across every market in the world where talent and clients need our service, and where we can sustain a highly profitable business. I want to lead a company that is innovative and dexterous, and where people are changed for the better by working here.

I have no desire to take on more responsibility because what I have on is enough to stretch the most capable of individuals and certainly enough to stretch me, every day.

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