The Australian recruitment industry lost one of its very best when Victor John Plummer, FRCSA (Life), passed away last Wednesday, one week past his 91st birthday.
Mr Plummer was best known as the owner and Managing Director of Centacom Staffing; a leading Australian recruitment agency for temporary office placements for thirty years, until it was sold to, and folded into, Adia (now known as Adecco) in 1988. Mr Plummer continued to lead the business until his retirement in June 1993.
Mr Plummer and his son, John, became the two largest shareholders in Chandler Macleod in 1991 after a $600,000 purchase. Originally known as Chandler & Macleod, the company was established in 1959 as a provider of psychometric assessments and other workforce evaluation tools and consulting services. The Plummers expanded the group’s capability into recruitment via the Ready Group, subsequently purchasing aviation labour hire provider Forstaff, just before their back-door listing on the ASX in June 2005 as Chandler Macleod Limited.
In January 2015 the fourth largest recruitment company in the world, Japanese- headquartered Recruit Holdings, launched a successful $290 million takeover, which was endorsed by the Chandler Macleod board, including the still-active 86 year old V John Plummer and his son, John.
Mr Plummer also made capital investments in a range of other local recruitment agencies including Ambition, HJB, Recruitment Solutions and Clarius/Ignite and many others.
Less well known is Mr Plummer’s pre-recruitment life.
As an elite middle distance runner, John represented Australia, finishing 5th in the 1 mile event at the 1950 Commonwealth Games (then called the Empire Games), held in Auckland. By 1956 he had attained a career-high world ranking of 20. John continued to pursue his love of athletics well into his later life, competing internationally in Over 70s events in distances up to 10 km.
As a very successful student, John qualified as a chartered accountant and commenced employment in public practice during the early 1950s. As part of his accounting firm’s roster of clients he audited Centacom, which had commenced operations in 1955. In 1960, when the original owner decided to return to the UK, John purchased the business for $50,000 and became its sole owner.
Although he was never a desk-level recruiter, John’s desire to be a leader together with his strong interest in people made him an outstanding leader of recruiters, especially female recruiters.
John excelled at encouraging, promoting and leading women at a time when women were still relegated to second class citizen status in the Australian workforce (it took until 1966 for the government to lift the ban on married women taking, or remaining in, public service jobs).
As John Plummer (Junior) elaborated to me, three years ago:
Centacom…..had great success finding roles for these displaced (female) government employees. It is no secret that women are more comfortable dealing with other women and hence the focus of Centacom was female consultants placing office staff. So really the business was born out of environmental opportunity.
With the coming of population growth, the white collar service boom arrived. The demand for clerical staff was expanding rapidly and women were more than willing to fill the gap. The pill and the pay packet provided women with more control over their lives, changing society forever. Our industry provided the pay packet and helped fill the gaps, increasing productivity and contributing to the wellbeing of many through meaningful work.
John (senior) took advantage of this boom by employing hundreds of talented women, many of whom had, until that point, been unable to access the sort of job opportunities that were worthy of their talent and drive.
As John said in an interview with Tony Hall nineteen years’ ago (First Interview: Success secrets from Australia’s top recruiters, Navigator Consulting 2000, page 60):
“For 25 years I have displayed on my desk, this motto; ‘The best man for the job is a woman’. I get a lot of enjoyment from finding vibrant, successful women who want to apply their personalities and ambition to achieve in recruitment.”
John didn’t just employ women as recruiters due to the type of roles that Centacom were expert in filling. John employed women because he knew that women were a massively underutilised leadership talent pool and he needed effective leaders to expand Centacom’s reach. The company ultimately grew to 50 offices in locations all over Australia as well as New Zealand and London.
John Plummer (Junior), again:
In general industry there was a glass ceiling for women in management roles. So the philosophy at Centacom was to provide opportunities for women in both management and pay, effectively saying “no glass ceiling in this company”. Centacom had its millionaires club which had two concepts behind it. You joined the club when you hit a million dollars in billings and secondly it was to create as many millionaires in the staff as possible. Needless to say this was warmly accepted and won great loyalty. That loyalty was core to a very strong culture.
Centacom Staffing numbered 300 employees, of which 298 were women, when Adia bought the company for $15 million in December 1988.
Not only was John decades ahead of his time in promoting women into leadership roles he was also incredibly progressive in investing in the personal and professional development of his employees. This was long before L&D became a legitimate function in any Australian organisation, private or public.
John loved the books authored by the pioneers of personal development like Dale Carnegie (How to Win Friends and Influence People), Norman Vincent Peale (The Power of Positive Thinking), Earl Nightingale (The Strangest Secret) and Stephen Covey (The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People). He soaked in the messages of personal responsibility, positive thinking, communicating effectively and ongoing learning to continually improve his own leadership, thereby inspiring others to do the same.
John Plummer (Junior) elaborates on his father’s passion for learning and empowering his employees with skill, motivation and opportunity:
My father was an innovator and his simple training slogans are still remembered by all that worked directly for him; “can do, will do, will fit” was the recruitment formula. He took groups of staff to US conferences in cleverly designed reward systems based on profit not sales aimed at boosting activity in quieter times. He focused on creating female millionaires in an era when such a concept was deemed nonsense.”
John’s passion for learning now extends to students at The University of Sydney via the V John Plummer Scholarship in Business; an undergraduate scholarship that supports students experiencing financial disadvantage, a medical disability, or those from rural locations, to pursue an undergraduate degree in business.
John didn’t just lead his employees, he led the industry,
John was one of the instigators of the early version of today’s RCSA and he never stopped contributing to our industry.
As a five-year experienced recruiter (I wasn’t even a team leader at the time) I had the good fortune to serve alongside John as a NSW Counciller on the NAPC (the immediate forerunner to the RCSA) during 1993 and 1994. At this stage John was about to retire from operational recruitment yet he was still passionate about, and committed to, all the issues we discussed around the boardroom table. I was a minnow in the industry yet John treated me as an equal and was always interested in what I had to say.
John’s life membership of the RCSA along with being voted, by his industry peers, as equal first in my The 5 most influential people in the recruitment industry in the past 60 years are just two pieces of evidence as to John’s stature in our industry.
Most important to John, more than financial success, the recruitment industry or wider recognition, were the individuals that made up this industry, especially his loyal employees:
I’ll leave it to one of Mr Plummer’s former employees, Teri Moxham, to summarise the giant of a man Mr Plummer was:
“Mr Plummer was an inspiration to all his team….he treated all his employees with the utmost respect being a chivalrous, old school gentleman. His language was and is always polite, educated, courteous, direct and positive.
Mr Plummer was keenly interested in all his staff – their personal situations as well as their business performance – and many times he assisted his employees through difficult times with counselling, financial aid, listening and caring. He HELPED them get through their difficult times and never held anything against them – just helped them again if need be!
He was always there for us! More like a caring Father or Uncle who understood his employees and we knew we could turn to him if we needed help. I personally know MANY women who have gone to him for assistance or guidance and he helped them. He has never asked anything from us. But he has ALWAYS been there for us!
A true gentleman who changed the lives of hundreds of women directly and hundreds of thousands of people indirectly throughout the last 50 years.
Vale Victor John Plummer. Not only were you a giant of our industry you were a giant of a man. We grieve with your sons, Greg and John, your grandchildren Amelia, Zoe, Steve and Matt and your great-grandchildren Joshua, Teddy and Daniel.
Our loss is great. Your family’s loss is greater.
Rest in peace.
Acknowledgements: Thanks to Shortlist, Tony Hall’s excellent book First Interview, Teri Moxham and John Plummer Junior (2016 Recruitment International Hall of Fame acceptance speech and various correspondences to me) for much of the information in this blog.
Below: A very fit 66 year old, V John Plummer about to hit the surf with me at Scarborough Beach, during conference down-time, NAPC Owners and Managers Conference, Perth, March 1995