Randstad Financial & Professional: Better Together – Tara Ricks

Acquisitions by Randstad have brought together new talents and competencies. CEO Tara Ricks tells Ellie Broughton how her organisation - Joslin Rowe - is contributing to the group, what the recession generation has to offer and where the future jobs market could be heading.

Established in 1982, Joslin Rowe is a specialist financial services recruitment agency that has grown to become one of the UK's leading players in financial recruitment. It has witnessed a two-stage evolution in recent years, starting in 2006 when Vedior took a majority stake in the Blomfield Group, of which Joslin Rowe was a member, followed by Randstad acquiring the recruiter outright two years later.

Joslin Rowe has now linked up its offices in London, Edinburgh and Glasgow with the Randstad network's more than 4,000 offices in over 40 countries to enhance the global recruitment service it had begun to develop on its own terms.

Tara Ricks, the CEO of Randstad Financial and Professional, began her career in investment banking working at Morgan Stanley on the convertible bond trading desk. She joined Joslin Rowe in 1990 as a consultant in the investment banking division and in 1994 was appointed director, with responsibility for the permanent recruitment teams in both London and Scotland. Ricks rose to managing director in 2002 and seven years later was made CEO of the new financial and professional arm of Randstad in the UK.

Despite being the world's second largest recruiter, Randstad's corporate profile has stayed relatively low in the UK. The group is currently running a national marketing campaign to raise awareness of its capabilities amongst UK professionals and Joslin Rowe has taken the opportunity to work more formally with its sister companies in the Randstad group Hughes-Castell, Martin Ward Anderson and Prolaw. This summer all four brands will rebrand to become Randstad Financial & Professional.

"I think that the way our clients evolved changed the model for recruitment," says Ricks. "Clients became more global and needed similar recruitment partners, broad bandwidth, and a deeper service proposition."

Global placement

Ricks notes that professionals and corporations alike have new expectations for mobility - companies need professionals who will travel and many are happy to do so. "That changed the way we placed our clients. Our capabilities are broad and global to reflect the needs of our clients - particularly the professional market."

Her company is far removed from the traditional 'boutique' recruitment business that would be focused not just on one geography, but often on just one industry. Another departure from tradition is the company's use of social network sites such as Twitter and Facebook to connect audiences, disseminate information and stimulate interest in the progression of the industry. Sharing the business on the web this way takes away the boundaries that restricted recruiters in the past, and also reinforces the company's global identity in an original way.

"A strong relationship with a client is the only way to build a successful partnership."

Post-recession, Ricks believes people's ambitions have become more fluid. "Our business offers routes to new industries," she explains. "In challenging times people become more flexible, and if they have developed transferable skills, they'll absolutely use that in pursuit of a new role."

Financial services witnessed a marked downturn that affected all the industries to which RF&P supplies. The most obvious shift in the jobs market was that candidates were faced with a much narrower range of vacancies to choose from. At the same time, the recruitment industry became more crucial than ever to its two increasingly polarised client groups. "We were challenged to manage expectations, and to continue to offer really good service at a time when there were few actual jobs to be had," Ricks recalls.

Generation R

At the time, Ricks continues, she and her colleagues noticed a trend emerging in the marketplace that was later to become the subject of one of Joslin Rowe's market intelligence reports.

Staff cuts during the recession created far leaner teams than most people had experienced before. This put the surviving employees under a much greater strain but it also accelerated professional skill development. As teams attempted to manage a pre-recession workload on a reduced workforce, employees took on the work of senior colleagues. They upskilled rapidly, creating a new generation of hyper-talented professionals with a new appreciation for their own capacity.

Joslin Rowe's research into this 'Generation R' trend found that 70% of financial services professionals had stepped up to much more demanding roles through sheer necessity. Furthermore, 81% said they'd had more experience in a wider skill set than at any point during the boom years. The 'all-hands-on-deck' mentality created during the recession meant that 73% considered themselves to be working at a higher level than their job title suggested, and were looking for the recognition and reward that they believed their achievement deserved.

"We identified that generation, and we know they've got high expectations regarding their next moves," says Ricks. She adds wryly: "While that's a challenge for employers, it's an opportunity for recruiters who can facilitate that."

Professional flexibility

Ricks' organisation has discovered that the skills that were charged during the recession have prepped many to take on tough change management roles as opposed to the traditional permanent role. Clear career progression is no longer a requirement as candidates start to embrace professional flexibility.

A significant amount of people surveyed said they wanted to pursue a career based on skills they developed during project management and restructuring. Financial services employers based in the City agreed that they were fast becoming aware of the phenomenon and that the employees they've retained have, on the whole, been proficient and more commercially aware.

Almost 60% said they had discovered 'future stars' in small teams, who carried big responsibilities and in the process enhanced their commercial skills, their re-structuring capabilities, their understanding of offshoring and nearshoring and their ability to drive down costs. The challenge for employers now is to fast-track these employees, work out how to get the most from their Generation R skill set and - most importantly - to retain them.

Partnership approach

Ricks describes the Randstad Financial and Professional group as being a strong business partner as well as a recruitment expert. "We work along very special business lines," she explains, "and each company in the group grows its own business through a combination of recruitment professionals, graduate training and people who come from the market they're hiring for."

Industry experts afford the organisation a lot more credibility, she continues. Each of Randstad's clients is given its own account manager from a specialist team to bring specialist industry experience to the table. This relationship-based model has kept clients in Joslin Rowe's books for more than two decades.

"A strong relationship with a client is the only way to build a successful partnership," Ricks says. "We provide our clients with a lot of market intelligence, whether by reporting trends, or providing legislation advice, HR theory or management information, because we want to be the ones at the table, driving the industry forward."

Ricks speaks positively about the changes to her company since it was added to the Randstad group. Where before, the company operated as something of a silo, a single-geography business, its new access to international business has better reflected its long-term aims.

"Emerging markets are buoyant with growth and development, and they’re exciting places to work."

"It gives our candidates access to more opportunities, better insight and greater knowledge," the CEO says. "We've got better practices and larger databases - when we merged accounting, financial and legal services in the UK we created our own LinkedIn database, essentially." She's proud to have sent former UK-based recruiters to Asia-Pacific and the Middle East, saying "it's not something we have always been able to do."

Emerging markets

The drive at the moment is to improve awareness of Randstad across the international recruitment market but, she adds, it's encouraging to find out more about the true reach of the organisation, and she's got big ambitions for the scalability of her business.

"Emerging markets continue to be attractive, both for clients and candidates," explains Ricks. "They're buoyant with growth and development, and they're exciting places to work. The majority of our clients are executives and these candidates want to work in more than one geography."

Future challenges for her organisation and the wider industry include meeting the demands of a more resilient working population. As life expectancy creeps closer to 100 with every generation, employers will need to consider adapting roles in their organisations to accommodate many more people over the age of 60.

Legislation continues to impact clients' best practice. Ricks highlight's this year's new rules on temporary workers' pay parity with permanent staff. Buyers of large-scale, high-volume temporary workforces need to assess the effect the new rules will have on their recruitment practices early in the game.

Consolidation is also at the top of the agenda for the recruitment industry, as Ricks knows from her own experience. The market is increasingly dominated by stronger specialised players, with a dwindling number of middle-sized and smaller specialists. Ricks won't predict the end of the recruitment boutique just yet, but she seems confident that the companies that are offering a global service will see their business go from strength to strength.