Last week we learned of the passing of one of the Australian recruitment industry’s founding fathers, the affable and highly successful John Plummer Snr. John started Centacom in 1960 which became the largest agency in Australian and was eventually purchased by Adecco in 1998. John mentored and supported many recruiters who went on to launch their own successful agencies.
Here is my interview with John back in 2000 and published in First Interview – Success Secrets Of Australia’s Most Successful Recruiters. All of his advice is extremely relevant today and his predictions for the future of recruitment were spot on.
John Plummer was Managing Director of Centacom Staff Group for thirty years
from 1960, during which time he built the company to fifty locations around
Australia with offices in London and New Zealand. Centacom was the largest
provider of permanent and temporary office staff placement services in Australia.
It was sold to Swiss company Adecco in 1988 and managed by John for a further
Since his formal retirement in June 1993 John has been active in the industry as
Chairman of Chandler & MacLeod Consultants. He became Managing Director of
Riddells Staffing in Melbourne in July 1999.
He has been President of the RCSA at state, national, and international levels and
published a book in 2000 entitled, ‘Staffing Consultants, A Management Guide’.
He is an active sportsman. As a middle-distance runner he represented Australia
at the 1950 Auckland Empire Games and in 1956 was ranked 20th in the world in
the 5,000 metres distance run. He now competes internationally in the over 70s
age group in events up to 10,000 metres. He also enjoys fun runs and participates
in the Sydney City to Surf event.
With this track record it is hardly surprising that John says he likes to be a winner.
He got a taste for it at an early age striving to be the best at athletics, swimming,
tennis and debating. He was elected School Captain but chose to assume the Vice
Captaincy because his father was headmaster.
John is motivated by the challenge of competition. A good example of this is his
response to the establishment of London-based Brook St. in Sydney. John was
driven to constantly match their expansion and successfully preempted their
interstate and suburban strategy with the growth of the Centacom business.
He observes that if he were motivated by money he wouldn’t still be working now.
Instead he believes that a high quality of education is very important for success
in business and likes to train others to achieve mutual success. He gains a lot of
job satisfaction being successful through the efforts of others, perhaps partly
because he had two teachers as parents.
I originally trained as a chartered accountant but I prefer people rather than
figures. This is why I pursued leadership roles in work, sport and associations
– I have a natural desire to be a leader and a strong interest in people.
It is the nature of the recruitment industry that I really enjoy – it is very
profitable with low capital investment and a high return on working capital if
it is done well.
I also savour the challenge of finding the right person for the job. For 25 years I
have displayed on my desk, this motto, ‘The best man for the job is a woman’. I
get a lot of enjoyment from finding vibrant, successful women who want to
apply their personalities and ambition to achieve in recruitment.
Inspiration tended not to come from others in the Australian market because
we were always leading the way. I have been most inspired through my
reading by authors such as Earl Nightingale, Steven Covey and Norman
Vincent Peale. Dale Carnegie’s book, ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’
also deserves a mention.
No 1 Recruitment Success Secret
Recruiter success comes down to having a positive attitude leading to
perseverance and a refusal to accept knock-backs. To be able to sustain
positive action to continually search for the right person for the client, the
recruiter must believe in action rather than thinking or talking about it. A high
energy level is important, even without very long hours.
No 1 Manager’s Success Secret
To be successful a manager or business owner you must choose the best
people. Only employ the best and never accept mediocrity. By this I don’t
mean seek superior people but rather to see the potential in people you
employ. Don’t overlook personality: clients and applicants will respond best to
someone who is outgoing, warm and pleasantly assertive.
Attributes of Top Recruiters
The best recruiters have these characteristics in common:
• They are pleasantly assertive as opposed to aggressive. Smiling, warmhearted people do best.
• They are commercially qualified, they know the market they are
• They must have commitment, dedication, perseverance and ability to
• They have a desire for recognition, advancement and a high income.
Sales ability is not essential although it is a distinct advantage, but it is not
good to be restricted to recruiters who are too pushy. The best recruiter is one
who understands sales techniques (you can teach them) yet gives their clients
the impression they are not too sales oriented. Success will come from
matching the right people to a job. Even if the recruiter doesn’t have sales
ability, good presentation and recruitment skills will cause the sale to happen
Recruiters also need to have a willingness to learn, have confidence, are liked
and are trusted.
Creative thinking helps to cross sell candidates among clients. Core skills in
one profession are often transferable to other industries although it does
require some selling skills to get people to switch professions.
Advice to Recruiters Wanting To Be The Best
Observe those who are the best and copy their style.
Do further training to learn more and make sure time management is a
priority so that quality time with the right people yields consistent performance.
Helping new recruits is important to bring experienced people back to basics
and tighten up their skills.
I encourage self-improvement – pay attention to your dress, voice, learning
and skills training and read motivational books with success stories.
Advice to Owners & Managers Growing A Business
My advice to owners and business managers would be to identify and commit
to your mission, goals and long term plans. Don’t grow for growth’s sake but
keep to business sectors that are profitable and make best use of your
expertise. Fast growth should happen through mergers and acquisitions and
through developing and promoting your best people.
Follow Key Performance Indicators to show you are on track keeping an eye
on profit, cashflow, placement ratios, advertising response, applicant utilisation
and industry performance indicators. Survey your own market to appreciate
its size, competition sources and identify problems and opportunities early in
Career Lessons Learned
Importantly Centacom had a very successful 30 years of growth with a
profitable sale to Adecco in December 1988. However with the benefit of
hindsight I would have done some things differently.
I would have delegated the management and training function sooner. I took
a while to have the courage to place people in senior positions but when I put
managers in place, locally and interstate, the business really expanded.
I would have allowed Centacom more time to diversify and grow into other
markets such as medical, industrial and executive. I see now that it would have
been better to have a one-stop shop rather than a high volume office support
niche. If growth is the aim then diversification of services is needed.
I chose not to employ sales staff even though some of the bigger agencies had
success using sales people to bring in new business. This would have grown
my business faster but possibly at the expense of the high levels of client and
candidate service which come from one-on-one relationships.
In hindsight I would not buy my own premises again. I had capital tied up in
the ownership of 20 sites and I only made normal real estate returns with
limited capital gains. I now believe long-term leasing can still protect the
company’s goodwill and provide stability, flexibility and more working capital.
I would have been tighter on debtor days outstanding, reducing them from 40
to 28 days.
I could have made the company leaner and meaner to make more working
capital available for expansion or investment in other revenue generating
activities such as the share market or overseas partnerships
Recruitment in 2005
The industry is still growing. In the future I estimate that 25 per cent of the
workforce will be part-time, temporary or on contract. There will be growth in
part-time and temporary as these areas increase in acceptance. Permanent
employment will grow as the image of recruitment firms steadily improves
and specialists are shown to really help clients.
Executive headhunting will grow as the need for quality people continues to
dominate. I predict 10 per cent growth per annum in volume.
The industry needs to increase its support and loyalty to the RCSA because its
programs are beneficial to everyone. The industry really must get stronger on
regulation and the policing of ethics, particularly where pirating of staff and
temps is concerned.
I would like to see education being more available and encouraged. A more
active political stance through lobbying is needed to improve the legislation.
Importantly relationships with unions need attention to ensure they continue
to develop positively.
For all the chapters of First Interview – https://www.navigatorconsult.com/product/book-first-inteview/