Are these the two dumbest recruitment executives in history?

Sometimes you just have to wonder at how dumb some people can be.

I know, not a nice way to start a blog post, but wait till you hear this.

Last week I was coming back to Sydney from a week in the Aquent London office. I stopped over in Bangkok, and had two hours in the Qantas lounge there, doing what all the other business dudes were doing. Blackberry, laptop, maybe the newspaper.

Now the seats in the Qantas lounge are fairly close together, and it is impossible NOT to hear what the people sitting behind you are saying, even if you are trying hard not to listen in. And, after a week of difficult conversations in Europe, I had no desire to listen in to anyone. In fact I had my Ipod on for most of the time I was there.

So there I was sending emails and listening to music, when the wait-person in the lounge asks me whether I would like a coffee. I take my earphones out to talk to her, and am immediately struck by the loud conversation of two guys, about one metre behind me. They are talking business. No surprise there. But the first phrase I hear is ‘Temp Margins’. Can I help myself but listen in?

The conversation continues. They are talking loudly. Aggressively even. I could have heard every word if I was 10 seats away let alone one. And what words they were!

In a few minutes I learn these two are senior executives of a global recruitment company. But there is more. Their business competes directly with mine, Aquent, in several locations. The conversations moves from current revenue, to temp margins and then on to which countries are doing particularly badly (Thanks for that!). Then the conversation gets personal. A manager of a particular location is named, and described as a “spineless tosser”. ( I report the conversation verbatim). A second person is mentioned, by name, and one of the men suggests he needs to be ‘boned’, a callous Australian slang word for ‘fired’. Then things really start to hot up. Two people are discussed, both of whom I know personally (through business) and one of whom applied for a job with Aquent less than 12 months ago. A profit figure for the Australian and Asian businesses is talked about and budgeted profit for next calendar year is debated. They talk about competitors and at one point I thought Aquent was going to be discussed. And there I am, the Aquent CEO, almost part of the conversation!

It’s truly amazing isn’t it? These same dudes probably agonise over having all their staff on legally binding restraint clauses. They will pay lawyers thousands to chase down ex-employees who ‘abuse company information’ and yet there they are, in a business lounge, talking loudly and arrogantly about the most sensitive of information. Even if I had not been a recruiter I would have found that conversation extraordinary and irresponsible.

And so it’s a cautionary tale for all of us in this industry. Not only senior managers. Many years ago, my own business was located at 275 George Street in Sydney. That building has 12 levels, and my company occupied two of them. And yet there were 10 other recruitment companies in that building!

What other industry has such a concentration of competitors? And even in those days I was amazed how you could get in the lift (elevator) and hear indiscrete consultants prattling on about clients, candidates and often, colleagues. How immature. How irresponsible.

In our business our stock in trade is not only talent. It’s information!

Information is power, and so is trust.

Abuse one and you destroy the other.

Views: 169

Comment by Harold Ensley on September 25, 2009 at 12:25am
Geez that's dumb. If this was twitter, it would be #fail
Comment by Hassan Rizwan on September 25, 2009 at 6:35am
True Greg. It's like a responsibility of each and every employee to keep the information to them and not make it a discussion out of it in public places. This is where the true work of a leader comes in. A person who is good enough a leader would inject the passion for the company among all the employees so much so that they start considering it as a part of their own dignity and respect. Hiring managers and leaders with these qualities is truly a work of a genius.

Hassan Rizwan
International Channel Development
Comment by Charles Van Heerden on September 28, 2009 at 5:01am
I am not surprised by your story Greg, as the same thing happens on planes, with mobiles etc. A timely reminder to all.
Comment by STEPHEN CAUSEY on September 28, 2009 at 2:07pm
LOL! You should have turned around and gave them your business card. The expressions on their faces would have been priceless!
Comment by Michael Goldberg on September 28, 2009 at 2:18pm
I would have walked up to them as they were leaving and said, "Hey, I work for Aquent. Thanks for the competitive information. I can't wait to discuss with my senior executives". When will people learn that the walls have ears and the streets have eyes? Nice post and thanks for sharing.
Comment by Ross Clennett on September 28, 2009 at 5:26pm
Extraordinary stuff. In the same vein I frequently see people reviewing resumes on public transport - you just never know who people know, or who you might sit next to, anywhere and at any time.
Comment by Greg Savage on September 28, 2009 at 6:58pm
Hi Karen, No, I will make no "active" response to this encounter. I don't see it as my role to inform their Board or provide them with any counsel whatsoever. If they were two junior recruiters making fools of themselves, I might offer a quiet mentoring word, but these guys are senior executives and are beyond redemption. Any approach to their seniors will be seen as sour grapes and "interfering". They need to get their own house in order, I feel. On the other hand I have certainly evaluated some of the data regarding their business that they so freely shared, and compared it with my own business result. Its helpful to calibrate and its all fuel for the competitive fire. Mostly though the interlude provided me wonderful entertainment during a tedious 24 hour trip and left me feeling confident that despite a very tough 12 months, we seem to have a better idea about running a business than most! Cheered me up no end actually!
Comment by Bill Morgan on September 29, 2009 at 5:30pm
I'm in staffing now but I was a Mgt. Consultant for 10 years. After meeting a company President of a new client company for the first time my partner and I went to the bar/restaurant a couple blocks away to eat. We spoke in the car on the way over then turned off the work switch when we got there.
We couldn't help but overhear two guys in a booth next to the bar who were talking about these a#@hole consultants the President hired to fix things and how he'll make sure they look bad.
Well, turns out the next day we were back meeting mgt and he was the VP-Finance. Not only that, we found out in the due diligence he was robbing the company blind.
We remembered what he said about us and his coments about us and boy, did we smirk when we told him he was FIRED!!!
Comment by Maurice Boily on October 1, 2009 at 5:27pm
Nice Post. When I go on calls with new recruits I always make sure we don't discuss any business topics until we're in the car. I also make sure to mention to my candidates that they must call me immediately after an interview but ONLY once they are in the parking or in their car. We had a candidate who was overheard in an elevator bragging on how great he was and how he nailed the interview, needless to say he didn't get an offer.....
Comment by Amanda Garcia on October 1, 2009 at 8:22pm
I believe that this incident not only teach us how important discretion and professionalism we need as recruiters, but this situation can also happen in our social life, because you never know with who are you gonna be working with as client, candidate or source.


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