UNSUNG BUSINESS HEROES – SERIES TWO
If you believe in parallel universes, then there is a universe in which Michael Floyd is a professional tennis player. In fact, he’s so good he’s playing Pat Rafter in the final of the US Open.
Michael recounts; “I’m sitting back watching Lleyton Hewitt and Pat Rafter and thinking; maybe? it could have been? But, probably not!”
He has a recurring dream where he’s playing Pat Rafter in the final at Flushing Meadows and it’s two-sets all, he’s up 6-5 in the fifth, and is serving for the match. He draws a deep breath to bring his nerves under control, bends his body at the hips to prepare to serve, then looks up and allows himself a brief moment to eyeball Rafter. His opponent has sweat pouring down his brow, he’s drawing deep breaths into his swollen chest. He looks a beaten man.
Michael soaks it up, a sense of satisfaction wells up inside then he reverts to his serving routine. Head down, the ball in his left hand, the racquet in his right and three, always three, bounces. He tosses the ball in the air, arches his back as he pulls the racquet back behind his head and rises onto his toes.
His body now fully stretched as he pulls the racquet up to meet the ball at the precise moment it reaches the zenith of its rise. The sound is sweet as the racquet and the ball meet….
“That’s when I wake up. I always wake up at that moment.”
At the age of 15, Michael was a promising tennis player and was tapped on the shoulder “by a fairly well known coach at the time” to make a decision about his future.
Reflecting on that moment, Michael says, “at the age of 15 I don’t know that anyone has the maturity to make a well-thought out decision around that kind of issue. That’s life-changing, significantly life-changing!
“So with my parents who have been, and continue to be, a fairly strong guiding light in my life, we decided it was best for me to focus on education.”
So that’s where the parallel universe was created. One person could have chosen a tennis career at that time but we’ll never know how that went, while the other person chose a reality which led to a corporate career. This culminated in the creation of a boutique human resources consultancy with a focus around attraction, retention and development of key talent within organisations.
Are there any regrets?
Michael responds, “I think within most of us, there is this nagging question, what if? How good could I have been?”
He concedes, “would I have been a top ten player? Probably not. Would I have survived on the tour? Who knows. It’s just one of those things – you think about it, but not much more than that, apart from the occasional fantasy dream.”
However, the decision to pursue education didn’t really go to plan. Eleven weeks into a commerce/accounting degree on the back of twelve years at school, Michael decided he’d had enough of schooling and left university to join the workforce.
From that point, Michael confesses, “I don’t think I actually knew what I wanted to do until I was in my early 30’s.”
There were false starts in several roles prior to the realisation that Michael had a knack for sales.
“I found I could build relationships with people quite well, and I established enough credibility and trust that I’m not just there to sell them a pup, if you like; I’m actually there to do what’s right. I progressed through a whole raft of sales roles in several organisations and that led to running a small division of a business, before heading into consultancy.”
At that time though, “there was no plan, and I probably shouldn’t say that because that’s what we advocate to our clients and candidates. It was more about ‘what can I make out of this situation?’
“People tend to be quite good at what they enjoy doing,” Michael observes, “so I followed a path I was enjoying. I’d love to say I had a career plan, but I didn’t. I just took advantage of or leveraged situations. I suppose to some extent I built my own career path within the organisations for which I was working.”
Those organisations were largely in the consumer packaged goods sector; “high-volume food and beverage manufacturers, or anybody who sells a product through a retail or wholesale distribution channel.”
It’s an industry Michael and his business partners know inside out, so when they set up Carrera in 2002, it was the obvious industry on which to focus. They looked at the companies for which they’d worked, as well as their competitors, and realised there was a lack of anyone doing anything about developing people.
In summary, Michael describes the process then as “just get people in, work them really hard, get them out and get the next one in.
“I thought there has to be a way of bringing people in, putting them in an environment where they actually like coming to work, can contribute positively to an organisation; grow, develop and contribute even more, which would take the organisation and the employee to an even higher level.”
Carrera’s business model has developed into getting the right people matched to the right organisations, and then helping both to be productive and grow.
That focus on solving the clients’ problems by finding the right candidates has created a new word in the English language, at least in the Michael Floyd dictionary; ‘clientsandcandidates’.
When talking about Carrera, Michael can’t say the word ‘client’ without subconsciously adding ‘candidate’ every time.
He explains, “for us it was always around the way we approached the person we were looking to put into an organisation. Rather than looking at them as a potential commission cheque – as most of our competitors do – we look at them as a real person who has a wife, probably children, a mortgage, car payments, school fees and more ; what we are doing impacts how they live.
“We want to understand more about them so we can apply what they are looking for to an organisation in a more meaningful way.”
This is not simply a surface exercise as Michael notes, “it’s about that depth of knowledge and understanding; it’s about high touch with clients and candidates so that they get the best possible result from their relationship with us.”
That focus on clients AND candidates has been the backbone of Carrera’s success. From two guys who looked at the market and thought ‘there’s something not quite right here’, the company has grown to cover three states and employs 40 people.
Technological progress has allowed Carrera to streamline its operation in recent years, but the core principles remain the same.
More than ever given the impact of technology, “we are now focused on depth rather than breadth, so we want to have really deep relationships with our clients and candidates. The deeper we know and understand them the better we can help them.”
Michael believes Carrera’s desire to help both clients and candidates sets them apart from their competitors.
To accentuate this difference, “we’ve banned the word ‘agency’ in our office. We are not a recruitment agency.
“To me, agency means speedy transactions and there’s no depth. We are a consultancy. Our tagline is ‘Master Every Turn’. We want to be in a position where we are sought out by clients and candidates to help guide them and master every turn they make in their career.”
Reflecting over the more recent history of recruitment, Michael notes, “a decade ago a couple of very famous CEOs were quoted as saying companies like LinkedIn will be the death of recruitment agencies. One of them was 12 years ago the other was 10 years ago, but guess what, we’re not dead.”
Michael believes Carrera is still alive and kicking because of its consultancy approach to the business.
Looking to the future, it seems more relevant that “rather than be seen as a recruitment agency, we certainly want to be focused around helping and guiding our clients and candidates.”
Michael admits the advancements in technology have brought challenges for Carrera, but the benefits are greater. “Technology is a great aid for us when used properly. In dealing with clients, a conversation can uncover issues technology can’t, and in dealing with candidates, there is no substitute for a face-to-face relationship.”
Of course, “we can communicate online, and can access crucial information, but when it comes to finding the right candidate for the right client, there needs to be a personal relationship. We can leverage technology in many, many ways to make what we do more effective and efficient. But at the end of the day it will never replace the human-to-human interaction.”
There’s one piece of advice from Michael Floyd which stands out from them all: “Don’t have a plan B.” He believes your backup plan can become your easy way out, when things get a little tough.
Michael believes if you want someone to be successful in their venture, this needs to be the strategy. “I know it’s really easy for me to say to someone else, don’t have a backup plan.
Most people want to succeed, so if you have no backup plan you’ll put all your energy into your project to make it work.”
It’s the advice he’s given his 19-year old son who started his own business, and he’s also advising him to get some mentoring.
The thought behind that is, “if you’re a younger entrepreneur there’s experience and exposure to different elements of business you don’t yet have which others do. I probably haven’t used mentors enough in my career. Find as many people as you can and just absorb everything they tell you.”
Frankly, Michael admits that “being in business can be very, very difficult and typically there is no-one there to reach out to and ask for help. So you need to have a mentor, or somebody close by, even if it’s for a brain dump or simply admitting ‘I’m not okay, can you help?’. You can never know everything and when you think you do, you’re about to fail.”
Michael also draws on his experience as a 15 year old, trying to decide between a sporting career and education when offering advice, especially to those in a similar position to that in which he found himself.
Returning to the initial parallel life scenario, “that whole experience certainly has influenced the way I advise my children. And it’s not around get an education followed by go and get a high paying job. It’s get an education so you’ve got options and choices. Find something you absolutely love and are passionate about and just be the best at that you can be.
“Having the choices and options that come with education gives you the ability to move on, to try something else, when things don’t according to plan, plan A that is.”
Carrera has recently gone through a rebranding process to set up the company for the next ten years, and part of that was looking for ways to be more involved with the community.
In short, “given we are in the people business, we were looking at how as a business can we contribute to people and their development.”
It’s amazing how the universe works when you put an idea out there. While the rebranding was happening at Carrera, Michael was undergoing a life-changing experience in his personal life and amazingly the two became a natural fit.
“I have two teenage sons and thought that was it, but my partner fell pregnant and now, at just over 50, I have a third son and it’s given me a whole new outlook on life.
“During the first two months of his life my son spent a number of those weeks in the intensive care unit at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and at the time it was very scary. I look back in amazement at the people who were in that unit.”
From Michael’s perspective, “being in the people game, you can look at a business or a hospital in this case and while the best processes in the world may be there, they are useless without the right people. It just blew me away how committed and how motivated these particular people were.”
During that period there were instances arising regularly where there was perhaps a lack of resources or when hospital staff commented, ‘if only we had more of this or more of that’. That drove Michael to think, “we’ve been searching for something relevant to us as a business and as individuals to give back – this is the right cause.”
But Michael wanted to do more than just hand over a cheque. As he mentioned, they are in the people business and the intensive care unit deals with people every day; people who are usually in stressful situations.
The decision was made to “get involved with that particular fund-raising unit at RPA and understand just what it is we can do. We’d love to do more than just give money, we want to be involved.
“It’s important to us as a business that there’s an opportunity for us to work with others, and I suppose it humanises what we do as well. If there’s ever an occasion where we might become a little distant from the realities of life I think that kind of activity where everybody is involved is really important.”
Carrera, through Michael’s personal experience, has been working with RPA to find ways they can have a meaningful impact.
There are several options; “it could be using business skills, it could be leveraging networks we have across the corporate world in terms of fund-raising efforts, it could be physically doing some kind of activity within the environment.
“There could be things that need to be done for which they don’t have the resources, and as a team we could go down there, for example, on a Friday afternoon and do whatever it is they needed done.”
Having another child later in life has also helped Michael realise the importance of a proper balance between work and life; something which he admits he hasn’t always been good at.
Michael expands his perspective here, “life now is more around having time to spend with my new son and my two teenagers, just exploring the things that are important to them.
Also spending time with my partner and being there, rather than just existing.
Putting more into life, taking the time to walk along the beach and actually see what’s there.”
Another insight into Michael’s people-oriented view of life is, “I love people-watching. You can learn a lot about parenting, seeing what others are doing. You see things in others you might see in yourself.
I can be inspired by the success of others; just looking at the way they do things and thinking that’s a really cool way of doing whatever it might be.”
You can’t help but think, if in that parallel universe where Michael Floyd is a tennis player, that he’s not wondering what would life had been like if he’d chosen education over tennis at 15.
That’s one we can answer, and clearly the Plan A of that reality has seen a satisfying outcome for Michael.
- “People tend to be quite good at what they enjoy doing.”
- “I don’t think I actually knew what I wanted to do until I was in my early 30’s.”
- “I thought there has to be a way of bringing people in, putting them in an environment where they actually like coming to work, can contribute positively to an organisation; grow, develop and contribute even more, which would take the organisation and the employee to an even higher level.”
- “Being in business can be very, very difficult and typically there is no-one there to reach out to and ask for help.”
- “If you’re a younger entrepreneur there’s experience and exposure to different elements of business you don’t yet have which others do.”
- “You can never know everything and when you think you do, you’re about to fail.”
- “Get an education so you’ve got options and choices. Find something you absolutely love and are passionate about and just be the best at that you can be.”
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