The Recruiter's Soapbox

rob davidson

Interview with Rob Davidson – Davidson

Introducing Rob Davidson:

Rob is the Founder and Director of Growth at Davidson.  Rob launched Davidson Recruitment in 1991 in Brisbane, as a one man start-up business specialising in legal recruitment.   Twenty three years on and Davidson is one of the largest most successful and well known agencies in Brisbane with offerings across Corporate, Exec, Project and Ops, and Trades recruitment.  In addition, they have grown their offering to include not only recruitment services but consulting and HR solutions and have extended their reach to NSW, VIC and NZ, with further plans for expansion on the cards.

Rob was instrumental in the development of the strategy to expand Davidson beyond the boundaries of Brisbane.  His role connects him to a myriad of recruitment industry leaders and he is passionate about creating a sustainable future for the industry through building better entrepreneurs.

So when looking to interview a key influencer and leader within the agency recruitment sector for my blog, The Recruiters Soapbox, it was hard to look past Rob.

 1. Can you explain your current role within the organisation, that of Director of Growth?
It is an innovative role.  Few companies have the luxury or size to warrant this position, but every company should have it if they can.  The theory is that to grow the company effectively and innovatively, one person is focussed on acquiring people, acquiring companies and discovering new revenue lines.  I get to chat to and to meet with very interesting people around the world and from these conversations, good ideas can develop or be tailored to our business.

2. You and your brother, Bruce, founded the Davidson Group 24 years ago.  Can you give us overview of the evolution you have seen our industry go through during this time?
In no particular order, the big markers of change have been:

  • The introduction of online job boards;
  • The introduction of LinkedIn and use of social media to attract and engage passive candidates;
  • Offshoring, which has had a massive impact on lower end jobs;
  • Technology is starting to play a massive part. Intelligent devices are becoming more efficient.  The impact can clearly be seen, for example, with lower end accounting jobs disappearing.
  • Increase in internal recruitment teams. They started with minimal capability but over time have become much more sophisticated and affective;
  • Globalisation – the power and focus of procurement over HR;
  • Demographics – average age of business owners is increasing.


 3. How do you see the recruitment industry in Australia performing at present and moving forward?
It is a patchwork quilt so there is no one blanket answer here!  The answer depends on the size of clients you work with, the geography and your particular area of specialisation.  If we look to the capital cities, Melbourne and Sydney are currently much more buoyant than the resources-based cities of Brisbane and Perth.  If I was a “hands-on” recruiter in this market, I would be paying particular attention to areas with continual growth such as emerging technologies or sophisticated executive recruitment where consultants are adding genuine value and a consultative approach.

 4. Why has Davidson Recruitment chosen now to embark on a period of aggressive growth?
Although these are certainly not buoyant economic times, paraphrasing Donald Trump, the most underestimated force in business and life is momentum.  If you have momentum in your business you can move forward despite external conditions.  If you are standing still, you are in trouble and will feel every bump in the road.  The challenge for business leaders today is to be realistic about economic conditions and work out how to adapt and move a business forward not withstanding those.

Professional Services firms the world over have to move up the value chain.  The problem with most agency recruiters is that they do not work to constantly increase their skill levels so that they can increase their value proposition to clients and candidates.  For us, this idea has manifested itself in adding new business lines like HR Consulting and adding new geographical locations, so that we can better service our clients.

I believe there are great opportunities for recruitment firms who have genuinely worked out how to add value to their clients.  There are parallel examples and lessons to be learned from looking at other industries.

If you look to the travel industry, for example, the research for a speech I recently presented to a global travel company shows that if you look at the US, since 2009, due to online booking systems and the power and reach of the internet, travel agencies have dropped in numbers from 34,000 to 13,000.  However, what is really interesting is that the small boutique agencies that have increased their service offering are in fact on the rise.

Take bookstores as another example:  The increase in popularity of the likes of online businesses such as Amazon and Booktopia has meant that our local bookshops have struggled and closed down in huge numbers.  However, the clever businesses responded by working out what genuine value to a customer is and once identified and implemented, we see specialty bookstores now on the rise again.  There is a definite lesson here for recruiters.

5. These are both good parallels to the recruitment industry.  What should we learn from this?
You have to increase your offering and focus on adding more value and a deeper relationship based on trust and built on genuine expertise. Recruiters have to change the nature of the relationship with clients.  We need to form a deeper connection than simply offering to fill a job.

Continual learning, in my opinion, is necessary to survival.  Recruiters need to ask themselves how they can substantially increase their skill set.  I tell all my recruiters that everyone should blog.  If you treat every blog as a university assignment and you think of all the work and research you would put into this then think about how much more would you know/have learnt at the end of this process.   Continual learning in my opinion is necessary to survival.

  6. Davidson’s growth to date has been a mixture of organic and growth by acquisition.  Do you have advice for any agencies that are looking to go down the acquisition trail?
Be aware of what you don’t know and surround yourself with experts.  We surrounded ourselves with experts who have knowledge of 200+ acquisitions including our Chairman, Miles Hunt, our CFO and external advisors such as Rod Hore.  We surrounded ourselves with the best people and the best advice.

Key things you need to look for are:

  • A culture fit;
  • A sustainable business model;
  • Strong leaders;
  • A general learning culture.

These are the attributes of a business which we believe are critical to success in the 21st century.

 7. What impact do you feel LinkedIn has on our industry?
Everyone talks about the impact of LinkedIn.  It was the same when online job boards appeared.  You just have to adjust.  LinkedIn is not going away and it will be replaced by something else down the track.  We all have to accept that we now live in a connected world.  Technology is making it easy to find anything and everything.  You have to learn to operate in a world where technology makes us more connected.  You have to find a way to develop your own candidate pools that are unique and loyal to you.  You need to have a business model and valued relationships with clients where it makes commercial sense to use you.

We will reach a point where everything about ourselves will be available live: school reports; social media; work projects etc.  Everything will be available online for people to see.  Privacy issues avail around this but ultimately if you decline to have your information out there, employers won’t look at you.

The bigger question you need to be asking yourself is: if 50% of the workforce is contingent and is, therefore, readily available and you are recruiting for a permanent role, why would a potential candidate come to you as a career advisor?  What is your demonstrated experience?  LinkedIn is not the issue; it is a connected world issue.  It’s going to happen and you need to be prepared and ready for it.

 8. What is your overall advice to Recruiters and Recruitment Agency owners today?
Be so good at what you so that your clients can’t ignore you.  Set up a learning culture within your business.  Push yourself outside of your comfort zone.  Learn a new skill set and become exceptional at what you do.  Stay still and you will go backwards.