40 Years In Recruitment: Part Three by Russell White
Part Three – The 21st Century
Last month I celebrated my 40th year in recruitment. There are not many people I know who have stayed the course in the industry and are still ‘at the coalface’ after all this time. Indeed I may be unique! Recruitment has changed beyond recognition since 1983 and I feel now is a good time to share my journey, as I somehow doubt I will still be doing the same thing after 50 years! The easiest way of doing this is breaking down each decade – sharing some of the stories and highs and lows that have occurred over a 4-decade career over 4 parts. If you need a refresh on my story so far, you can check out Part One and Part Two through the links below.
I remember 1st January 2000 well – I had a stinking cold and felt awful but still managed to celebrate the new century by dosing myself up. The main concern that everyone at the time was worried about was the Y2K bug, where computers would reset themselves and everything, from the National Grid to traffic lights would not work. My brother-in-law, by then a fully-fledged TV producer, made a programme about it that aired on BBC2, putting the fear of God into the whole country. He was with me as the clocks changed from 23.59 to 00.00 and I bet him a fiver that nothing would happen. I won!
The internet and World Wide Web were becoming more popular and almost everyone was using dial-up modems, that, although had speeded up from their first iteration, were still slow compared to today’s version. British Telecom had invented the first ‘always on’ broadband, ADSL. The very first telephone exchange to be broadband enabled was where I lived in North London and I was working with a company called Homechoice, which was the first company to provide ‘on-demand’ services in the UK. When they learned where I lived. I became a triallist for their service, which included kids’ cartoons, films, documentaries and a karaoke channel. After a year, they launched a browser service, whereby you connected your PC (it didn’t work with Macs) to the internet. I remember the day the engineers came to install it. Three enormous boxes, the size of video players, miles of cables and six hours later I was connected. The other people in the area who also benefited from this were a couple of tech journalists.
Homechoice asked me to feature in their PR and I got featured in the Daily Mail. A number of my clients saw this and asked if they could come around and see a demo of this technology. I recall entertaining heads of advertising agencies, coming to my humble abode, eating smoked salmon bagels and playing on the computer, with my youngest crawling around their feet. (She’s 25 now!). In terms of recruitment, at the time job roles were still being advertised in trade publications. During the late 90’s most usually carried just the client’s logo. For this new, exciting service, we pioneered branded recruitment advertising, not just placing the client’s logo but completely following completely the company’s brand guidelines, using imagery, fonts and language they would apply in consumer campaigns. Needless to say from these humble beginnings a whole industry in
recruitment marketing has evolved.
I joined Premier Consultants and on the back of my experience picked up a major assignment for a business that was ahead of its time – a sort of Checkatrade.com, backed by two major PLCs in Scotland. The business was based in Glasgow and for a few months, spent 2-3 days a week there, interviewing and building the management team. Unfortunately, the business closed when the two backers pulled the plug at the onset of the dot-com bust that occurred towards the end of 2000. I also learnt to program in HTML to manage our company website and placed one of the first e-commerce managers for a brand of a major retail group, which led to more assignments in e-commerce. At the time I called e-commerce ‘electronic direct marketing’, which it was (and still is).
By the end of 2003, I was working with a big US Publisher and was introduced to a veteran direct marketing recruiter, Lawrence Mayers. He mentioned a new site for a business called LinkedIn and said I should sign up as it connected business people and would be good for networking, which I did in January 2004. At the time there were around 100,000 users on the platform and I did not do much with it as it was predominately US-focused. I was though, one of the first (if not the first) people to sign up for LinkedIn in the UK and when they introduced Premium accounts paid (and still do) in dollars. LinkedIn now has 950 million users globally and I hope my joining 20 years ago played a small part in making it become the behemoth it is now.
Other events I remember are 9th September 2001, watching the horrifying events of that day in our offices in Chiswick with other tenants and 24th October 2003 observing the last Concorde flights into Heathrow from our balcony in the office, I also beta tested for Vodafone, 3G phones around 2004 and made some of the first video calls in the UK and the crash of 2008, which resulted in every assignment we were working on being cancelled. We left Chiswick and moved to a friend’s spare office in Covent Garden, overlooking the churchyard of St Paul’s Church. I got to know the caretaker of the church, which was occasionally used as a film set. One day there was a production team for an action film, starring Jason Statham but he had no idea who he was. Just as the caretaker said that Jason Statham walked past us and I pointed to him and said that’s Jason Statham, who turned in our direction and we got an angry look in return!
Recruitment was evolving during the 2000s, letters and faxes were out and email, mobiles and texts were the main way of communicating. Equally, job opportunities were increasingly no longer published in trade magazines but were to be found on Job Boards, Monster being the biggest one at the time. As such, measurement and analysis of their performance became important. My recruitment career has given me lots of unique opportunities, notwithstanding meeting some amazing people, in business, politics and entertainment as well as assisting dozens of executives who I have placed those who have gone on to make a difference to their organisations and the world at large. Part 4 to follow, will focus on the state of the recruitment industry and how I see it evolving during the rest of the decade and beyond!