Getting to know...Gilbert Boileau, president Adecco Canada

1. What was your very first job and how did it prepare you for your role today?
My first job after university was as a sales engineer at IBM. In those days, IBM put you through so many tests and interviews that getting the job felt like being the “chosen one.” Then came the training. That’s the part that stands out the most for me. IBM training was well-known for being comprehensive and more of a bootcamp, where they put you in the thick of it. It taught me, early on, how to adapt to uncomfortable situations and work in a high-pressure environment.  

But, the job that really helped me early on was in sales at a Montreal-based software company. When I started, the only real sales experience was from my IBM training. I had to be a pure hunter, with a long sales cycle, no base salary and surviving on full commission. It was the kind of environment where you quickly become street savvy, out of necessity. Learning happened by trial and error. From small failures, you quickly learned the incremental improvements that were necessary to eventually win big. I found success once I figured out how to put my own spin on my IBM training.   

2. How did you get your start in our industry?
I went to work for a company that sold IT project work and consulting, which I was used to and staffing services that I was not so used to. The big difference with staffing was its speed. I was used to a long selling cycle and combining strategic and tactical approaches, so staffing’s ability to close fast was appealing. The other upside was the opportunity to learn in an environment with well-defined processes. This showed me how efficient processes support your success.  

3. Name a business book that changed your life and why?
Books outside the business world have had a far greater influence. I find much value in learning concepts that can be applied to the business environment, such as books about behavioral economics.  I want to understand our biases in the decision-making process and apply it to the business world. A pivotal book for me was Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. To me, it’s a must-read. Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics by Richard Thaler is another important work. Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s books — especially The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable and Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder — are interesting reads to understand how our biases drive decisions, whether it’s our failure to appreciate randomness or our overemphasis on continuity. Lastly, I enjoy books by, and about, great mathematicians and physicists. In this genre, The Man Who Knew Infinity: A Life of the Genius Ramanujan by Robert Kanigel stands out.

4. What gives you energy?
I’ve always played sports — both competitively and recreationally. I apply many things I’ve learned from sports to business, such as discipline, goal-setting — everything that supports meeting your objectives. It’s why sports are often a metaphor for business. It’s easier to explain concepts like having a goal, dealing with competitors, needing a plan and process to execute on in sports terms, but the approach is the same. 

Playing sports helps clear my mind by shifting my focus to something else. Having the opportunity to shift from the business side of my life to a physical activity energizes and prepares me to take on the day. This is also why I am such an advocate for the Adecco Group’s global corporate program, Win4Youth. It motivates our colleagues and clients to get active and track their activity online to support a corporate donation to Plan International based on our results. The program encourages our employees to lead healthier lives, which, as a happy byproduct, can also translate into higher productivity levels when they’re at work. 

5. What do you do to unwind?
It’s the same answer — play sports! On the weekend, I’m always out of the city. The activities I enjoy all take place in nature. In the winter, I’m either fat biking, cross-country skiing or snowshoeing, and in the summer, you can find me road cycling, mountain biking, gravel riding and hiking. I’m a firm believer in finding the work-life balance that works for you, and then giving each activity your undivided attention. When my kids were younger, I’d spend time with them and completely unplug. When I’m at work, I’m focused on work. And when I’m playing sports, I’m all in. 

6. What qualities does an employee need today to thrive or what’s your best advice to those now entering the staffing/recruiting profession?
There are some basic qualities that every employee should have. First: resilience. Over your career, you’re not going to be successful all the time. There will be failures. An ability to recover from these failures is what makes you successful. Second: persistence. It’s important to not be afraid and to try again.  Being paralyzed by a fear of failure only hurts you in the long run. Third: adaptability. The world of work is changing. Being nimble in a changing market is how you create a career. 

My advice to those entering the job market is to not be afraid to invest the required effort to build a good foundation for your career. Too often, people jump from role to role without doing the hard work of improving themselves and developing their resilience, persistence and ability to change. My other piece of advice is to learn from your mentors. Take the pieces that you find useful, emulate them, and leave the rest behind. This ‘cut and paste’ approach helps you create a career model that’s perfect for you. Besides, it would take a lifetime to learn everything on your own. 

This is something I hope to instill in the Adecco Group’s CEO for One Month every year. Through this paid internship program, one ambitious individual gets the opportunity of a lifetime to shadow me for a month and discover what it’s like to lead a national organization. This year our winner is Frances Doria (left), who will also have the chance to compete with other interns around the world to become the global CEO for One Month working with Alain Dehaze.  It’s an amazing opportunity for the individual to see what goes on behind the scenes, but the fresh perspectives past winners have brought to the table have also kept me on my toes, proving that learning is a lifelong pursuit. 

7. What makes you excited about the future of our industry?
The most exciting part of our industry’s future is the unknown. Though some may claim to be able to predict the future, no one can!  We have all these variables that are already in the mix — our traditional model, the new digital model, integration of AI, new self-serve portals. We get to shape the future and be part of something that’s evolving.  It’s probably even more exciting today than it was 20 years ago because there are many more moving parts, some of which we know and others we don’t. Twenty years ago, the environment was more static. The growth of the internet changed it all -- bringing digital platforms and enabling AI. The beauty of the future of the staffing industry is we don’t yet know ‘how’ these parts will mesh together. What will work? What won’t? All these components coming together make it fun. And at the end of the day, it’s all about how we shape this future to improve our client service, candidates’ experience, and our colleagues’ well-being and aspirations.