Raynaud's vision for Hudson

Hudson UK’s chief executive Christine Raynaud is going into battle in this recession equipped with talent, technology and a strong team spirit. Colin Cottell reports

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Christine Raynaud is living proof of the adage: if you want something done, give it to a busy person. In January, the president and chief executive of Hudson Europe took on the additional roles of CEO for UK & Ireland. But while this doubling up of Raynaud’s role is only due to last until she has completed her search for a new CEO later this year, she is determined to push through what she describes as her “change agenda”.

The UK company, part of the eponymous global recruitment group formed from the demerger of TMP in 2003, has been hit by the recession. Revenues were down 35% year-on-year for the first quarter as demand for midmarket professionals and executives in which it specialises has slumped.

But breezing into Hudson’s spacious Chancery Lane offices in London, Raynaud seems determined not to let the economic storm throw her off course. “I am not giving up on my change agenda. On the contrary, I am accelerating it because I am a strong believer that in this market, the ones who are sitting still are dead.”

Raynaud’s obvious zest and appetite for battle will certainly be needed as she focuses on what she calls “riding the storm” that has engulfed not just Hudson but the recruitment industry as a whole. So what is Raynaud’s battle plan and what arms can she bring to bear?

Raynaud has pushed ahead with a series of initiatives based around technology, which she says will provide Hudson’s consultants to go to market with “the Raynaud’s vision for Hudson ammunition” they need. My.hudson.com, a career portal launched in March, allows candidates to track their job applications. In June, Hudson is launching a portal for clients that will allow them access to their jobs through customised accounts. Yet another development is a personality questionnaire that will be used for all first interviews, whether retained or contingency. “Thank God we have invested these last three years and are ready to go to market with these,” says Raynaud.

However, she is keen to emphasise that technology is only one strand in the Hudson armoury. Clients will only see added value in the technology if it builds on Hudson’s existing strengths — the expertise of its UK staff, something which Raynaud is keen to point out has never been in doubt. “I found very good people, very strong professionals; a business more focused on service rather than hard sell,” she explains.

Raynaud says the company is particularly strong in the areas of public sector, IT, supply chain and energy. “We are not trying to be a jack of all trades. We are true experts in certain sectors. Specialisation remains a key aspect of our organisation. We provide a solutions and partnership approach, with senior consultants who are experts and junior consultants growing up the career ladder.”

That said, Raynaud says one of her long-term battles is to be able to offer a career path and career development to Hudson’s staff. This will help reduce staff turnover, which has been more than 30%(in line with the industry) to something in the 20s. “It’s absolutely not possible to build a business with a high turnover.”

A key part of Raynaud’s strategy is its focus on talent rather than simply recruitment. For Raynaud this means engaging with clients over the whole life cycle of employees, from attraction, to selection and even internally within their company. “We like to think of ourselves as a talent company rather than as a recruitment company because at the end of the day, what organisations want — if we put ourselves in their shoes — is talent.”

Although providing talent can take many forms, from project teams and permanent staff to contract workers, or by growing that talent internally, this is the core of what the company does, she says.

The company offers a range of services such as assessment centres, and consultancy advice on retaining high potentials and succession planning. It also publishes research and runs seminars — a recent example, which Raynaud attended, was on maximising female talent.

Around 15% of Raynaud’s time is spent pressing the flesh. Raynaud says she wants to increase the talent management side of the UK & Ireland business from a meagre 5% now to between 10% and 15%. She also sees opportunities for growth in the RPO (recruitment process outsourcing) and contracting sides of Hudson’s business. “A firm believer” in flexible resourcing, Raynaud says she has identified a space between temps and interim management that has worked for Hudson in Holland. Hudson’s UK company has had a turbulent few months.

At the beginning of the year, it saw its former CEO Andy Rogerson resign, a topic Raynaud declines to discuss. The UK company, which accounts for around half of the group’s revenue — £750m in 2008, has seen its staff cut from more than 700 to something over 500, although it may now have stabilised. “This year I am just trying to keep the business afloat. Break even is possible in the UK. That’s the space we are in when the market is falling the way it has,” she explains.

“A recession is a unique moment when you need to have strong team cohesion, but at the same time you can push your change agenda.” It is also an opportunity to gauge who in your team has what it takes, she adds.

If there is one person qualified to pull Hudson through this sticky period, Raynaud would appear to tick all the boxes. This is her third recession, she admits, declaring, tongue mainly in cheek: “It helps to be a bit older…”.

Certainly Raynaud’s roots and experience within the recruitment industry run long and deep, her CV littered as it is with the names of the world’s largest and best known staffing companies.

As chief operating officer of Manpower France, she was responsible for overseeing the entire French network and nearly 100,000 temporary staff placements daily. It’s no exaggeration to say that as regional director of Manpower Asia in the mid to late 1990s, Raynaud was in at the birth of the temporary staffing in countries such as China and India.

As with so many others Raynaud ‘fell into’ recruitment, when a classmate told her about an opportunity in Singapore, while she was working in a Thomson Electronics factory in charge of shipping, a job she held for three years. Since then her relationship with recruitment has been full on. “When you have been in recruitment for a while, you either love it or you hate it,” she says. “If you love it, then it’s about the interaction with your market, your candidates and your team.” But beyond that it is a “far more complex industry than it appears to be”, she says — for example, when you expand into new markets.

Both aspects — the interaction and the complexity — clearly appeal to Raynaud, and nobody could have the slightest doubts that recruitment is in Raynaud’s blood.

She even manages to imbue a certain nobility of purpose to what recruiters do. Her glowing description of the founder of Ecco (which in 1996 merged with Adia to form Adecco) Philippe Foriel-Destezet, her mentor for 10 years, is spoken with almost missionary zeal. “This man was a conqueror. He set up one branch in Lille and went on to make it as a world player,” she says.

Raynaud is aware that Hudson faces competitive pressures. Not least from some of the large players, Manpower to name but one, which she believes are looking to enter Hudson’s mid market professional space. If successful, then Raynaud says the likely “commoditisation” of the market could prove dangerous to Hudson as margins are slashed to 3-4% EBIT (earnings before interest and tax).

Raynaud has no intention of letting this happen. “We don’t want to be a commodity player because we can’t compete on volume,” she says. Nor does she envisage Hudson moving into executive search. “I want to remain in the mid market professional space,” she adds.

While clear on her agenda for Hudson, Raynaud insists that being a chief executive has never been part of her own plan. Any career moves have been motivated by the need to find excitement, to push her own boundaries and to “play bigger”. She left Manpower France because the business scene had changed and she preferred the ‘red in tooth and claw’ Anglo-Saxon business environment.

Exactly where this pushing of her own boundaries will take Raynaud in the future remains unclear, but in the meantime, her vision is focused firmly on the present. “Hudson has a great story to tell,” she says. And by all accounts, Raynaud will tell it in her own way.

CHRISTINE RAYNAUD: A SNAPSHOT

Home: Paris
Studied at: French business school, Hautes Etudes Commerciales (HEC)
Career milestones
2009
appointed chief executive Hudson UK & Ireland (while retaining existing role at Hudson Europe) 2004 appointed chief executive and president Hudson Europe
2002 appointed chief operating officer Manpower France
1995 regional director Manpower Asia
1984 general manager of Ecco (Adecco’s predecesso company) in Hong Kong, becoming vice president for international development

 

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