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Adecco CEO Tig Gilliam: Talent Talk

Business leaders are fond of saying that their best assets leave by elevator every night, a mantra meant to underscore …

Business leaders are fond of saying that their best assets leave by elevator every night, a mantra meant to underscore their esteem for valued employees. But what of the increasing number of workers who fill in the gaps, coming into companies for interim assignments that can range from a single day to a six-month stint? 

Many companies are increasingly relying on these non-employees- known as a company’s “contingent work force”-to join teams in a wide range of functions on an as-needed basis. “The traditional temp space was around office and clerical skills,” says Tig Gilliam, CEO and country manager of the U.S. division of Zurich, Switzerland- based human resource services firm Adecco. “Today, the need is to address professional skills sets-IT, health care, finance and accounting.”  

An aging work force, cost-cutting measures that leave an organization too leanly staffed, and the desire for flexibility are all contributing to the shift in the demand for skilled contingent workers. In a turbulent economy, contingent workers can be an ideal solution, enabling an employer to shore up its team during a boom period and then jettison the new faces when the tide turns. Yet even companies that regularly employ significant numbers of contingent workers often fail to make the most of the temporary employee route, notes Gilliam. 

“Companies can spend hundreds of millions of dollars on contingent workers and still not under stand the investment they’re making,” he explains, noting that Adecco Worldwide places more than 700,000 people in temporary assignments each year. “Our best clients are those who say, ��I need a work force strategy and part of that strategy has to include a contingent group. I need to optimize that entire work force- made up of full-time, long-term employees; overtime workers; parttime people and contingent workers- in terms of cost, productivity and quality.'” 

Gilliam, who came to Adecco from IBM Global Business Services in early 2007, pledges to help companies do just that. Also on his agenda is a plan to bring HR services out of the dark ages from an IT standpoint. “When I got here I didn’t realize that there was no known format for electronic interaction- or none that anyone actually uses,” he says. “Coming from the supply chain area, I view that as a huge opportunity to change the fundamental operating model and the technology and process that support the industry.” 

The U.S. division already accounts for a healthy $4 billion of Adecco’s $20 billion in annual revenue, making it one of the largest temporary staffing companies in the country. But thanks to market turbulence in the U.S. and Canada, Adecco U.S. took a 6 percent hit in the second quarter of 2007. While optimistic about a market recovery in 2008, Gilliam plans to offset the economic trends by leveraging the company’s powerhouse position in the broad temporary staffing services market.

“We participate in a lot of market segments-clerical, light industrial, finance, IT-each of which is dominated by completely different players,” he notes. “In finance, it’s Robert Half; in IT, it’s a whole other set of players. One of the things we’re working on is how to leverage the scale we have to be seen as the most focused niche provider in every segment of the marketplace. That’s the magic we need to get this company really humming.”

Innovation Spending Intensity by Industry

At left, the two highest-spending industries were computing and electronics and health care. At right, the software and internet industry and health care lead in intensity, defined as R&D spending as a percentage of sales

Source: The findings (represented by the graphic) are from Booz Allen Hamilton’s annual Global Innovation 1000 study and published in the winter 2007 issue of strategy+ business magazine. Reprinted with permission of strategy+business magazine (www.strategy-business.com). Copyright 2007 Booz Allen Hamilton Inc. Note: Sums do not add up to the total due to rounding

About Jennifer Pellet

As editor-at-large at Chief Executive magazine, Jennifer Pellet writes feature stories and CEO roundtable coverage and also edits various sections of the publication.