My first proper job after Uni was as a management trainee with a large US car rental company Enterprise Rent-A-Car. A dominant force in the US market, they had set their sights set on European expansion and I was part of a vanguard of “J-1 Visa” workers from the Old World sent into the heat of California’s six-lane super highways and omnipresent car dealerships that formed the backbone of ERAC’s customer base.
I learned a lot in my time there, particularly about Sales and Customer Service, both found to be surprisingly transferable skills into recruitment as I found out in later years. I also learned a lot about America’s unrivaled capacity for whimsy. The cheesy TV adverts and syrupy on-hold music were one thing, but the constant reminder of the company’s history, in frequent video and training sessions at head office, created a cult-like culture that pervaded everything employees did.
You see, despite being a $6 billion turnover company (in the late 90’s, doubtless more now), the business was incredibly enough still a family-owned affair. Set up by a charismatic leader of men some time in the 50’s, Jack Taylor, a World War 2 hero, named the company after the ship he served on, the USS Enterprise.
And he did ok. Better than most in fact. He grew it into a multi-site business with operations stretching across a few states. But it was a long way from the US market dominating behemoth that I joined in 1999. That was really built by the son of the founder, Andy Taylor, who took over the business as his father aged and took it to whole new levels. Starting out washing rental cars at the age of 16, he eventually took over in the 80’s and grew the business from a fleet of 5,000 cars to 900,000 cars during his tenure.
So a conversation I had with a recruiter yesterday got me thinking about how rarely this has ever happened in recruitment. If ever? He reminded me of a chap who I had placed into his firm, who was the son of a well-known NZ recruitment leader of more than 25 years standing. Despite his lovely nature, his privileged upbringing, and his quality education, he had decided that anything his Mum could do, he could do better. So he decided to give recruitment a go.
He lasted about a year. In fact he actually did quite well, by all accounts. But unsurprisingly it wasn’t for him in the long run.
I say “unsurprisingly” with no hidden meaning. I love what I do and am glad to have stumbled into a career in recruitment. But it can be an absolute bastard of a job at times, right? Unreliable candidates, agitated clients, no win no fee models leading to hours of wasted work, all while being the scape-goated whipping posts between two unpredictably moving targets. It can be thankless, exhilarating work. But thankless, and maddening, nevertheless.
So why do we keep doing what we do, and coming back for more? Because the DNA of top recruiters is a tight bundle of nervous energy, ambition, hunger for success, a desire to please, and unrelenting competitiveness. Without all of those things it’s hard to be good at recruiting. And frankly, if you’ve grown up as a child of a successful recruiter then it would be unusual for there to be the requisite mongrel needed to be a top recruiter yourself. Despite the financial rewards on offer, sometimes it’s just not worth putting up with all the crap you need to get to them.
It is for the same reason, I contend, that you never see the sons of famous and well paid footballers going on to replicate the successes of their parents. Often they will have just the same levels of talent. But talent isn’t enough. You need hunger, drive and enough tenacity to work hard through the tough times, to enjoy the glory on the other side. I can’t see Rooney Junior or any of the Little Beckhams appearing on a premier league pitch in the future, can you?
I do actually know of a couple of kiwi recruiters following in the footsteps of their parents, and I watch with interest, for they are a very rare breed indeed.