Recently I was one of 4 judges asked to select “Australia’s Best Recruiter 2013”. The calibre was high, drawing responses from all over Australia and New Zealand. The judging panel interviewed a shortlist of 4, and Peter Murphy, from Davidson Recruitment in Brisbane, was selected as the worthy winner.

Peter has an exceptional record in our industry, but I feel he won this award more for his attitude to our business, than his undoubtedly superb billing efforts.

I interviewed Peter, and pulled no punches in the questions. He pulled none in his replies, and it’s a compelling peek into the thinking, habits, attitudes and tactics of an exceptional individual in our business.

Why do you still love recruitment after all these years? What drives the passion?

I love recruitment because a fundamental driver in life for me is to help others. Recruitment allows me to get paid for listening and speaking to people, which I love. I am the luckiest bloke in the world. Each day I go to work I achieve enormous personal satisfaction and fulfillment by truly helping others. I love the stories of every new person, candidate or client, it makes each day a new and exciting adventure, as you don’t know what stories you are going to hear. You cannot succeed in recruitment if you genuinely don’t have an affinity and empathy for people.

Tell me about your measurable success as a recruiter – in terms of fees and/or placements over the past few years?

I have always set myself the personal benchmark of delivering revenue in excess of $1million in a year, which I regularly achieved. A change in focus several years ago resulted in my billings dropping to $500,000 p.a. as I shared revenue with consultants I was mentoring and developing. In August 2012, I returned to a revenue-focused role and have invoiced $500,000 in the six months. My average fee is $30,000 and I aim to make one placement every two weeks, which equates to $780,000 per annum. If you genuinely want to be at the top of this profession you shouldn’t be aiming to bill less than $1 million.

Putting dollars and numbers aside, how else do you measure your success as a recruiter?

Success has to be measured from both clients and candidates point of views. The reality in the market today, is that clients can find average executives. To be a success, I find them exceptional senior executives who will deliver outstanding results over the period of their employment.

With candidates, I judge success through the quality of career advice I provide. I am successful when a candidate achieves career enhancement by being placed in a role appropriate for that stage of their career. I regularly advise candidates that I don’t care whether I place them, but do care that if they move to a role that enhances their career. Turning candidates into clients is further evidence of success, as it is proof that my advice is valued, honest and of assistance.

What percentage of your assignments are exclusive (or retained)? How do you achieve that?

I estimate 98% of my work is retained or exclusive. I always asked for a retainer, and gain it 90% of the time and use exclusivity as my fallback position. I do not work on contingent assignments. If a client is not willing to commit to working in a true partnership, they don’t value my work and I won’t waste time on an “if and a maybe”.

What is the most satisfying piece of business you have ever won or delivered?

I hate losing any assignment, as I believe I deliver an exceptional level of service, so each and every win is satisfying. The one freshest in my mind, as a sports obsessed Aussie, is winning the assignment to recruit the new CEO for Swimming Australia. Some Board members believed a Queensland based recruiter couldn’t handle this assignment, yet I convinced them to appoint me to the assignment over large international competitors. This has been enormously satisfying, and it has been a rewarding assignment to know I have played a small part in continuing our proud sporting heritage in swimming.

We all get pressure on fees and margins these days. How do you overcome or respond to a client who pushes to reduce your fee?

There is always pressure on fees and margins from clients. My first response is to demonstrate the value being delivered. In the end, if a client is only interested in the fee, I will walk away as they don’t value my work, or I will enquire as to which part of my process they want cut. Very occasionally I will provide a reduced replacement guarantee. I believe the industry must change its own mindset to one that values the service and work we deliver. If we as the provider don’t value our work, why should a client value it? If fees are the sole focus it will be a race to the bottom and no one wins. Don’t undervalue what you do.

Who do you respect, admire or look to for leadership in our industry?  Do you have any mentors? What’s the biggest thing you learned from them?

Greg, attending one of your seminars in Sydney back in 1998 (?) convinced me that this was an industry I wanted to remain in, and impact. I have attended several since and like the consistency and simplicity of your message.

I also look for inspiration from mentors outside the industry who will not naturally accept my point of view and look at an issue from a different angle. My father, who is a practising lawyer at 77, has been a significant influence and mentor for me. He has shown me that you must strive for professional excellence, and be prepared to give back not only to your profession, but the wider community. It is from this that I have had significant involvement in charities and was in Nairobi when you interviewed me recently. Two other individuals, Wayne Patterson and Phil Marwedel, are both exceptional mentors, as they are excellent lateral thinkers who advise me to temper my expectations, to be more realistic, and to often adopt a bigger strategic picture rather than a limited self-interested point of view.

The biggest lesson I have learned from all is to be true to myself. That is why I love the poem “The Man in the Mirror” (which I carry in my wallet), as it challenges you to look at yourself and be happy with what you see looking back at you!!

What do you think the future of our industry looks like?  What are the threats and opportunities?

I have been hearing about the demise of the recruitment industry ever since I joined back in 1993. Sure, it has changed and will continue to do so, that is the only constant. The future – if you are a true recruitment consultant, and not a transactional recruiter – is strong as long as you add value. The sophisticated clients will use external agencies less, but the unsophisticated portion of the market will need assistance and value it, so they will pay. If you are adding value to your client through giving them access to candidates they will not find themselves you are not at risk. However sending a CV and demanding a significant fee for a simple email is unsustainable.  The personal touch, engagement and knowledge will always be valued and well remunerated.

Greg Savage

Greg Savage is a sought-after speaker and presenter, as well as consultant and advisor to the industry. He has founded several highly successful recruitment companies and worked in recruitment all over the world. To contact Greg please email: greg@gregsavage.com.au