Jack Felice: "A lot of the industry problems are self-imposed. If everybody was ethical and everybody worked right, we wouldn't have all the issues we have."

December 2nd, 2016
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“A lot of the industry problems are self-imposed. If everybody was ethical and everybody worked right, we wouldn't have all the issues we have.”
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Meeting Jack is what I imagine meeting the godfather would be like. With a thick New York accent that rings of an old world, he’s full of wisdom with so many stories to tell. He’s been in this game a long time, and instead of being stale, traditional and clinging to old ways, he’s one of the freshest men in the business. And he’s not above telling someone to **** off if he thinks they’re wrong.

Jack I know you must be so busy.

Nah not really. I take it easy most of the time.

How did you end up in the world of recruitment?

It was too long ago, I can’t remember. I’m getting too old for this game.

No way, don’t believe it. 

I don’t even want to tell you how long I’ve been in the business.

I’ll keep it a secret I swear.

49 years.

49 years in recruitment! (This man has serious perseverance)

Correct.

How do you have the patience? 

Good question. We were relatively successful early on. Success makes you want to stay in it.

What keeps you going?

I just like business. I like coming in every day and figuring out the problems. To me it’s fun. How are the problems going to change us. And you know what it’s like in this industry, there’s a lot of problems.

Ain’t that the truth. Why do we have so many in particular?

A lot of the industry problems are self-imposed. People in our industry cause a lot of problems. If everybody was ethical and everybody worked right, we wouldn’t have all the issues we have.

Do you realise everybody out there hates us?

Yup, I’m aware of that. 

Everybody! And we provide a great service, we help people all the time.

Will you ever step back from business?

I’ll never retire.

Do you not want a rest? (I have a good few decades before I can retire and I’m already planning it).

Oh well I take a lot of vacations, that’s my retiring.

Okay well you’re crazy, but back to business. Your idea of everyone in recruitment being better, surely that’s utopian? 

Yeah but what I tell my people is that it gives you the opportunity to make yourself different. If you do it right and you’re professional and honest, you’ll already be winning because so many people are not honest.

But you can do everything right and still not make a match.

Absolutely! But excuse me, you only have to win one out of five times.

You speak sense.

It’s just about having the commitment to always do it right, regardless of what happens.

Was there ever a moment you wanted to quit?

I run our business, and have been running it for years, but I don’t get into the trenches so I always want to stay in the industry.

I mean, every business is the same. You just have to work hard and treat people right.

Why do you think there’s such a high turnover in recruitment?

It’s not as easy as everybody thinks it is. Also, it’s a lot easier to do the job the wrong way, than the right way.

How do we change that?

It depends on the strength of the manager who hires somebody. They need to say we’re going to do it this way without question, and give me three months of unquestioned commitment and I’ll show you what you can do. But I always say human nature is our biggest problems. People won’t do it. They always think they’re smarter and start questioning things.

Am I getting boring?

Not at all. 

No I really do. I get so hung up about these things, that I just start babbling.

No passion is everything, I love it. You’ve mentioned culture and how important it is. Has it always been like that?

No I think it’s more of an emerging thing. It didn’t used to be as important as it is now.

Why is that?

I want to say I don’t know, but I think it could be the technical arena we’re in now. I think people think they’re more sophisticated now, or they’re smarter now.

You don’t think they are?

Nah! They’re the same. There are book smart people, and street smart people.

Which do you prefer?

Give me the street smart person every time. You can’t teach somebody certain things, but if they’re street smart, they’ll be able to work thought issues and understand better. That’s what you need!

What have been the biggest changes that you’ve seen in business?

The technology. I was around before the fax machine.

Wow. How about telegrams?

We used to send orders round our various offices by teletype.

I don’t even know what that is Jack.

It was ridiculous, caused loads of problems. But it was fun.

I’ll take your word for it.

Then fax machines came into it. Oh my god that was another problem. And forget about the email, uhgh please.

What’s your favourite?

Email I guess. But here’s the thing, it’s how you use it. Email is a real problem if you use it to get away from calling somebody. In my experience, it’s used much too often to eliminate the call you should be making.

Yeah that makes sense.

It’s like texting, is it better? In some cases yes because you don’t want to talk to somebody so you get out of the conversation. I mean, I’m starting to like texting.

Yeah!

On a personal level though, not business.

Everybody likes to hide behind a keyboard don’t they.

And that’s a problem in our business. There’s multiple reasons for high turnover in our business, but it all boils down to people taking the easy way out.

You put a lot of emphasis on the managers, but how do we make great managers?

See that’s my job. Everyone is a human being, and very very few people are self motivated. It’s hard to find them because they’d be out on their own, most of the time. You have to just keep looking and talk to enough people.

Is history repeating itself in recruitment, or are we developing? 

Unfortunately, human nature takes over, and that’s the issue. People are always primarily going to be lazy. For example, I am lazy.

I don’t believe it for a second. 

No seriously I am. So so lazy. If I didn’t like going into business and solving problems, forget it. I’d be on a vacation every day.

I just can’t see it Jack. 

I’ll give you an example. From 3:30 this afternoon, I’ll want to take off. Go drinking in a bar, go relax, that’s what I want.

I’m so jealous.

That’s one of the reasons I’m probably not more successful.

(And this is coming from one of the most successful guys) 

For as long as I can remember, around 3:30/4, I’d take off with one of my mangers.I’m the reason some of my mangers weren’t more successful. We’d go to a bar and hang out from about 4 to 7.

That sounds like a good life. 

Why do you think I’m still working.

I left the office last night at 11pm and you’re clocking off at 4. I think I’m doing something wrong. 

Well a lot of people look at me and say look at you you’re relaxing etc, but it took me a long time to get here.

Actually, that’s a lie, I used to still do it back then.

(I think I’m in love with this man). Well it’s about working smart not hard right?

No question about it. Every single thing that happens, you have to say to yourself, how am I going to use this, even when there’s a disaster. And it’s never as bad as you thought it was. Fortunately for me, I’m at a stage in the game where I don’t care that much anymore.

(I’m not sure I’ve ever laughed so much in a business related interview). What advice would you give to the people just starting out in their careers who have 49 years ahead of them?

If you think for one second that this job is easy, you’re absolutely wrong. It’s going to be the toughest job you’ve ever had. Ever! If you’re not prepared to put int he work, forget it.

And if you get a job at a company you like, with a manger you like and respect, do every single thing they tell you to do, the way they tell you to do it. And don’t think you’re smart for the six months. And if you start questioning me, forget about it.

There’s so many negative stereotypes in our industry, how important is it to change that?

It’s extremely important, but, I don’t think we’ll ever do it.

Where’s the hope Jack?

There’s not enough people who are willing to do the tough job and make it right.

I’m a little upset at this news.

But let me tell you this. The Movement is really trying to accomplish this, and if we can get enough people involved in that, we can maybe change it.

Are you going to be involved in TR5?

Yes.

Amazing, I’ll see you in France then and we’ll continue this conversation.

We’re not going to continue this conversation.

Oh!

We’re going to sit, have drinks, relax, and we’re going to talk about you.

And that’s how I fell in love with Jack Felice, quite possibly one of the funniest, and most charming men in the recruitment industry, who just happens to be a genius that builds incredible companies.

Would you like to work in recruitment in London?