M2 Nov&Dec 2011 The Right Track .pdf
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I’m from a place called Crumlin, which is on the south side of
Dublin– it’s quite an infamous place. It was pretty tough when I
was growing up but it’s even tougher now. Unfortunately, a lot
of gang stuff has taken over and there are a lot of drugs and
shootings. I took my boys back to the house I grew up in and
watched them looking at the size of the place. We went to my old
school too, and the cameras and barbed wire had their little eyes
going “what is this all about?” It was a pretty hard place to grow
up in but having said that, it was a fantastic environment full of
wonderful people as well.
Has your upbringing given you an edge in business?
Having a fierce work ethic is not just a
commendable attribute but a personal
value base that took Jeff Doyle from the
wrong side of the tracks in south Dublin,
to CEO of the Adecco Group for Australia
and New Zealand.
Photography by Stephanie Bailly
You can’t come out of growing up in that environment and not
have some type of ‘edge’. I was able to use that edge in a positive
sense. Thinking back, Crumlin was quite a physical, violent place.
Not that I was ever a tough guy but you actually needed to get on
the front foot. Growing up in a rough environment like this, it was
great to have football as an outlet and a focus, fortunately I realised
at an early age that I was pretty good at it. I think being involved
with sport like that somehow protects you and puts you up on a
bit of a pedestal. I was lucky enough that I was able to represent
Ireland at a schoolboy and youth level before going on to play
professionally in England
when I was 15. I suppose
it’s every kid’s dream
growing up in Dublin, and
that really gave me a bit of
a lift as a kid. I had a lot of
success early in my football
career and although I was
pretty talented it went to
my head and consequently I didn’t make the most it. At the end of
the day, my work ethic didn’t match my talent and that’s where it
counts the most.
Was it a bit of a leap to go from footy into the corporate world
Yes, I found myself playing in the national soccer league in Sydney
which is equivalent to the A league now. I was 27, and although
I’d had a decent career and it was a great lifestyle, I looked around
at the players and I knew that at the end of most of their soccer
careers – and it wasn’t like we were making mega money either
– they had nothing to move on to. That really frightened me. I
made a conscious decision then and there to get a real job. This
happened through sheer luck and good timing. I got a sales job for
a company that went from what was then Macquarie Stationery
and turned into Corporate Express. They were a $50 million
business in New South Wales ($300 million nationally). Over the
next 12 years I was very fortunate to be part of the team that grew
the business to a $1.2 billion publicly listed share market darling. It
was a fantastic experience!
From soccer to the corporate world, how did those skills
translate to the sales job?
I didn’t have a lot of experience but I had a fierce desire to be
successful and equally fierce work ethic. I found out pretty early
in life, a lot of people talk better than they do and it was just a
matter of being able to prove that I could do better than just talk.
I worked hard, I worked weekends, I worked late and I studied
as much as I could. I found out as much about the industry as I
possibly could. It was just a fierce work ethic that really kicked in.
Once I had learned a little I got a few more wins and I was able to
get on a bit of a roll.
How did your colleagues take it? Was there ever any thought
that you were showing them up by working all these hours?
When I started the job I was a bit of an underdog because I hadn’t
come from a business background. I was fortunate enough to get
put into a business development team because of some of my early
wins. The business development team were the ‘A’ league players.
Again, the work ethic thing came in and to a certain extent, the
Crumlin factor did too. Within 18 months I was running that team.
Do you think there’s a lesson in that for employers to look at
the underdog as opposed to someone with loads of
Absolutely. Not that I’m proud of it, and I don’t think you can get
away with it as much now, but I have no formal qualifications. So
many people I’ve come across have gone “Well, if they haven’t
got a degree I stop looking”. I think that’s a very scary way of
assessing how good a person is. Having a tertiary education is
fantastic but just because someone has that education it doesn’t
necessarily make them successful. They have to have a work
ethic to complement it. If someone has both, even better, but it
shouldn’t stop you looking at somebody just because they’re not
When you joined Adecco Group as Chief Operating Officer in
2007, you didn’t do things by halves did you?
After Corporate Express
I spent about six months
looking for my next job and
was fortunate enough to
get the COO position within
the Adecco Group. It wasn’t
really a COO role to be
honest, it was more like the
Managing Director of one of
their biggest business lines. It gave me an opportunity to turn around
a poorly performing part of the business. We were able to get a good
team in place quickly and turn the business around relatively fast. That
gave me an insight into what could be achieved here if I was ever
given the chance across the group. Low and behold, 18 months later
I was tapped on the shoulder to take on the group CEO role.
When you became CEO you made some pretty fundamental
changes to align the individual businesses within Adecco
Group. What sort of process was involved in implementing
I did initially use the Professor for Strategic Management
at Adelaide University, Graham Hubbard. I used Graham
to facilitate a couple of sessions to get the overall strategy
working. We came up with the employment lifecycle strategy
which was great. We aligned that with service excellence.
We put 10,000 candidates out to work every week, it’s really
working with that candidate team to make sure that they
keep coming back to Adecco throughout their employment
lifecycle. We were also very much focused on every time that
our client or our candidate talked to Adecco they got a service
excellence feel in their dealings with us. I came from outside
the recruitment industry and because it’s a no barrier to entry
business, there’s lots and lots of players, there are thousands
of players. For every good company out there, there are ten
bad ones that let the whole bloody industry down. We were
adamant that there were certain things we needed to get
right but if we went with an employment lifecycle strategy and
aligned that with a service excellence approach, that every time
our candidates and our clients touched us they got a positive
experience. If we did that consistently over time, that would
stand us out from the crowd.
You grew up on the wrong side of the tracks in a house in
Ireland that you describe as being not much bigger than your
son’s bedroom is now in Melbourne...
Did you get total buy-in from the individual businesses?
I keep going back to the Crumlin thing. We’ve had some pretty
honest, direct (and sometimes brutal) discussions at times. However,
I think you have to have an environment like that and people have to
be able to come to the fore. If you can get people engaged, knowing
that they can come to the table and have a pretty forthright and brutal
discussion if need be, as long as it’s done in the right way it can take
the business forward. It wasn’t me coming in and going “This is the
strategy” because I think you can do that in a team and get a win for
a week or a month or even six months, but to be able to build a good
strong, sustainable team that’s going to deliver consistent results time
and time again, it’s got to be a team thing. It can’t just be a me thing.
Is there some kind of balance between say an autonomy of the
different businesses within the group and working under this
umbrella strategy? Is there a fine line?
I don’t think there’s a fine line. We’ve got MDs running the business
and you have to treat them like an MD. I treat the guys like I like to
be treated. They’re senior businessmen and senior businesswomen
and you have to give them the level of autonomy that they want and
need to run their own business. Again, it’s just getting that balance
right in what the best thing is for the overall group. We discussed
that at group level and that’s where the pretty forthright and frank
discussions come. You agree to disagree, work through all that
and then we sign off on it and it’s up to the MDs and the business
line owners to go and execute that. It’s a team thing, it’s not just
me saying this is the way it’s got to be. It takes time and you make
mistakes. I’d be the first to put my hand up and say hey there were
plenty of mistakes I made along the way but if you’re not making
mistakes then you’re not getting the opportunity to learn. It’s the
learnings from the
mistakes you make.
I’ve made plenty of
them. It’s how we
evolve. When we
agree on something,
we execute the
hell out of it. That’s
where the real
strategy comes in
and that’s where
the doing comes in.
A lot of meetings I go to, and other companies that I look at, their
talking is good but you’ve just got to question the actual doing.
How important is it for businesses these days to go beyond
just business and look at other initiatives?
I’m a big believer in having a cause. I explained to the team when I
took over that we were part of this fantastic global business that had
a fantastic reputation and had performed consistently time and time
again. The Australia, New Zealand region was somewhat riding on
the coat-tails of the global business and it had never been what it
should be or could’ve been. I was blunt, I told people that we were
in the second division. The reason I did that was not because I come
from a football environment but because people in Australia and
New Zealand play sport – whether it’s football, netball, rugby, soccer,
tennis. Men, women, and children– everyone plays sport. My way of
giving the team a sense of where we were at was to describe us as
a second division team. We got into the premier league last year and
this year has been all about winning it. We’ve made some videos
incorporating the premier league thing. It’s been a bit of fun but there
is also a serious message in that.
It’s interesting, in a way you’ve got two masters really, the
candidates and the employers. Do you have a leaning towards
one or the other?
No. Some people will but I think it’s absolutely critical that you get
your focus right on both. You’ve got to have the best clients to be
able to put the best candidates into and vice versa. If you haven’t
got a fantastic candidate pool then you’re not doing the right thing
by your clients.
If you haven’t got a fantastic client then you’re not doing the right
thing by your candidates. You have to be very focused on the
needs and wants of both.
It must be a fascinating role because you are across so many
It’s a fantastic job and a fantastic company to work for. I jump out
of bed every day! The team that we’re building now is a first-class
team. To be able to do that in itself is a fantastic experience.
We’ve got some wonderful clients and to be able to sit down and
work with them on their challenges and pressures and to come
up with an overall solution is a really positive experience. Then
you’ve got the candidates. There’s nothing better than putting
someone into a good job and keeping them in a good job, or
putting them into their next job. I’m working in a fantastic industry
and am a very lucky man.
There are always unemployment figures bandied around as an
indication of how the economy is doing. Do these figures tally
up with the reality?
Yes they do, but if you look at the Australian environment it often
gets quoted as the two speed economy. If you’re looking from
afar, you look at Australia, its GDP growth and all the economic
criteria and you think the place is booming. However, if you’re
outside the mining and resources sector, Australia is somewhat
doing it tough now. You look at retail, manufacturing, building and
construction and things are tough. Again, I go back to having a
flexible workforce in these times. I think it’s absolutely critical.
How bad is what we’re about to go into?
I haven’t got a crystal ball but I think we’re going to go through a
of slow and tough.
Who knows what
will happen or
where things are
really at but I don’t
think we’re going
is all about
you have to make the time for work/life balance though?
It’s a constant challenge. It’s a constant getting the balance right.
Some people do it better than others but at least I have a focus
on it so I try and do the best I can. My wife is an ex-sportsperson,
she was an Australian tennis champion as well so it’s a pretty
sporty house. I’ve got two wee boys and I’ve got a constant
focus on spending as much time with them as I can. In a role like
this with the length and breadth of the business, I’ve got to get
out there and I’ve got to travel and I do enjoy the travel but it’s
trying to get the balance right.
Have you got any advice for people thinking about making a
There is quite a bit to this question but there are some key
considerations: Ascertaining which new field you want to work in
is critical – speak to as many people in that sector/industry/role
before you put yourself out there; Identify what characteristics
and skill sets are required to be successful in that sector/industry/
role and highlight those that you have in your resume; Try to
spend time in that new field, where possible, via work experience
opportunities or the like; Enquire into any courses or studies that
could assist with you being successful, once you commence
these studies ensure it’s featured on your resume – to help show
your commitment to this new field; Be prepared to take a step
down or sideways move in order to “break into” this new sector;
and finally, get a mentor who works in this sector and seek their
advise on how to fast-track this opportunity.
1. Grow or die
2. Be a captain/coach – don’t fly
3. Build a business not your career
4. Promote from within as much
5. Have passion for the cause
6. Clarity and alignment
7. Have the right people, positive,
determined and decisive
8. Communicate widely, formally
9. “Do” better than you “talk”
10. Have fun and keep smiling