Randstad North America CEO Karen Fichuk joined the company in February after spending much of her career at Nielsen. This is her first CEO role and she is new to the staffing industry, so I was very interested in her career journey, her approach to the position, and how she plans to lead Randstad into the future.
Karen leads the Randstad’s core business brands in the U.S. and Canada, and has additional responsibilities as a member of the company’s global executive board. With her expertise in data, analytics and technology gained from over 25 years of experience, she plays an integral role in driving the company’s transformation as a data-driven organization with a powerful human touch. Karen also has a strong track record of leading teams where performance, customer centricity, and people development are key pillars.
Randstad CEO Karen Fichuk
How did your career trajectory lead you to become the Randstad CEO? Have you always wanted to be a CEO?
I had a strong cross functional foundation with Nielsen leading up to my general management roles as President of North America and then Developed Markets. But when I think back on my career, I have made many personal choices along the way that were probably not what most people think of as a traditional path to the C-suite. After I had my first child, I worked part-time for a year. Midway through my career at the VP-level position, I quit to stay home with my children for about five years. That felt like the right thing for our family at that point in time, but I did do some independent consulting.
When I went back to work full time at the VP level, I joke that Outlook happened while I was gone. There were a lot of changes to get used to and some reacclimating/assimilating to the workplace.
I try to share that story certainly with young women leaders when they are thinking about the choices they have to make. Nothing is forever. If you work hard and you’re smart about it, then you can certainly have it all; maybe just not at the same time.
In that consulting role being outside the organization, did you learn some things that you might not have appreciated if you’d stayed in the workplace?
I learned the power of the network and staying fresh on your skills. Those were probably the biggest factors that helped me transition back into the business world. As a consultant, I did anything to keep my skills fresh and stay current in business. I kept my network going. To be honest with you, after summers at home with my children I was ready to do something intellectually stimulating in the fall!
When most people get the CEO job there’s usually some sort of a change mandate. Occasionally everything’s perfect and the former CEO rides off into the sunset. Which situation fits your role?
It’s an interesting leadership challenge for sure here at Randstad, but I’m not sure I’d call it a change agenda. It’s more about preparing our industry for the future. I’m not from the staffing industry, which I think attracted Randstad to me and vice versa. There’s a lot of disruption happening in the staffing industry, so they liked my background and experience in data, analytics, and technology and what I could bring from that perspective.
The goal for me is to add value and lead. It is about this idea of how we continue to run a very high-performing business today, and also be thinking about and preparing ourselves for the future and some of the things that are happening around us.
Digital is the obvious one, with lots of digital disruption – or opportunity, depending on how you look at it. We have to meet people where they are today both on the client/employer side and on the job candidate side in our world. Clearly that’s online. That’s mobile. I think the next frontier that people are talking about is voice recognition, especially with the millennials.
The other challenge that’s happening in the staffing industry is the scarce labor market. We have historic levels of unemployment, and that’s impacting the business model. It used to be that we were all about the client (employer’s) needs. That’s changing quite a bit given the labor market, where we have to be candidate-centric. We have to think about how that opens up new possibilities in engaging with them and creating a relationship. Being both a B2B and B2C business is the new model for us. That’s impacting how we prepare for the future as well.
In general, the future of work is changing, and we all probably see this certainly if we have children. When I started working, work was a place you went to every day. Today it’s much more defined by what we do. It’s the output we deliver to our employers. When we are partnering with talent in this more flexible definition of work, it opens up lots of opportunities for our business. How do we engage with and provide services to the candidates as much as we do the clients?
How much time did you have before taking over the reins at Randstad?
Not much! The whole process went pretty quickly. I did have a one-month transition with the former CEO, which was a gift. She spent a lot of time with me and was so helpful. She grew up in staffing and spent most of her career at Randstad. I felt like I got a primer course before things were official.
I also read a lot and have been meeting with the employees in the branches, which is my operating style. I have a license to do that being new to the position. I try to spend a lot of time talking to people, watching them work, and listening to our clients.
I think every CEO in his or her first 90 days to six months has some surprise that they uncover, which is sometimes good and sometimes bad. What’s been the biggest surprise for you?
One of the things that attracted me to Randstad was its culture: The fact that it’s a people business and a very human business in terms of what we do, as well as being integral to our Human Forward strategy and branding of the company. That’s all been true and something I’ve experienced every single day in the role.
I think the way that we do the work is also very human and manual as well. So that’s been a surprise and opportunity, and the reason why we are so focused on the digital transformation. I knew about that coming into this industry, but it’s even more manual than I realized.
How do you describe that culture to employees you are trying to recruit? What makes Randstad special?
It’s got a great brand, legacy and history. The founder is still alive. All of that is very present in our daily lives with our branding and messaging. There’s great pride in the organization.
One of the biggest things is our focus on diversity and inclusion. One of my proudest moments in the first quarter was when I attended the DiversityInc Top 50 dinner. For the first time, Randstad was named to their top 50 list, which recognizes the nation’s top companies for diversity and inclusion management, and we were also the first and only staffing company named to that list. You’re sitting there as they’re going through the countdown thinking we might be #40 or 50, but we landed at #30 our first year! That was a fantastic night. It was the result of a lot of hard work by a lot of people and a commitment from the top.
So it’s the branding and legacy and history, but also a commitment to making it a very inclusive workplace where everyone is comfortable and can succeed. An important part of my job is to protect, nurture, and expand upon that.
Stay tuned for part 2 of my interview with Karen!