Sometimes you just have to wonder at how dumb some people can be.
I know, not a nice way to start a blog post, but wait till you hear this.
Last week I was coming back to Sydney from a week in the Aquent London office. I stopped over in Bangkok, and had two hours in the Qantas lounge there, doing what all the other business dudes were doing. Blackberry, laptop, maybe the newspaper.
Now the seats in the Qantas lounge are fairly close together, and it is impossible NOT to hear what the people sitting behind you are saying, even if you are trying hard not to listen in. And, after a week of difficult conversations in Europe, I had no desire to listen in to anyone. In fact I had my Ipod on for most of the time I was there.
So there I was sending emails and listening to music, when the wait-person in the lounge asks me whether I would like a coffee. I take my earphones out to talk to her, and am immediately struck by the loud conversation of two guys, about one metre behind me. They are talking business. No surprise there. But the first phrase I hear is ‘Temp Margins’. Can I help myself but listen in?
The conversation continues. They are talking loudly. Aggressively even. I could have heard every word if I was 10 seats away let alone one. And what words they were!
In a few minutes I learn these two are senior executives of a global recruitment company. But there is more. Their business competes directly with mine, Aquent, in several locations. The conversations moves from current revenue, to temp margins and then on to which countries are doing particularly badly (Thanks for that!). Then the conversation gets personal. A manager of a particular location is named, and described as a “spineless tosser”. ( I report the conversation verbatim). A second person is mentioned, by name, and one of the men suggests he needs to be ‘boned’, a callous Australian slang word for ‘fired’. Then things really start to hot up. Two people are discussed, both of whom I know personally (through business) and one of whom applied for a job with Aquent less than 12 months ago. A profit figure for the Australian and Asian businesses is talked about and budgeted profit for next calendar year is debated. They talk about competitors and at one point I thought Aquent was going to be discussed. And there I am, the Aquent CEO, almost part of the conversation!
It’s truly amazing isn’t it? These same dudes probably agonise over having all their staff on legally binding restraint clauses. They will pay lawyers thousands to chase down ex-employees who ‘abuse company information’ and yet there they are, in a business lounge, talking loudly and arrogantly about the most sensitive of information. Even if I had not been a recruiter I would have found that conversation extraordinary and irresponsible.
And so it’s a cautionary tale for all of us in this industry. Not only senior managers. Many years ago, my own business was located at 275 George Street in Sydney. That building has 12 levels, and my company occupied two of them. And yet there were 10 other recruitment companies in that building!
What other industry has such a concentration of competitors? And even in those days I was amazed how you could get in the lift (elevator) and hear indiscrete consultants prattling on about clients, candidates and often, colleagues. How immature. How irresponsible.
In our business our stock in trade is not only talent. It’s information!
Information is power, and so is trust.
Abuse one and you destroy the other.