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Bob Crouch, CEO of Adecco Group North America
Jax Daily Record Monday, Dec. 8, 201412:00 PM EST

First Coast Success: Crouch brings Adecco Group home

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Bob Crouch is bringing business home to Jacksonville in a big way.

The CEO of Adecco Group North America is moving the North American headquarters of the world’s largest staffing company to Jacksonville from Melville, N.Y.

Crouch was chief financial officer of Jacksonville-based MPS Group when it was acquired in 2010 by Adecco Group, which is based in Switzerland. After the merger, he left the company, but was brought back as CEO in 2012 and continued to maintain his home and office in Jacksonville while commuting throughout the country and to Europe.

The company had more than 350 headquarters employees in Jacksonville before the transition from New York and has added 185 more. Adecco Group and its divisions have 750 employees in the area. Counting the temporary staffing they place in the area, that total number is boosted to 1,000.

The move also re-establishes a Downtown presence.

Crouch, 46, will be based in Riverplace Tower on the Downtown Southbank. MPS Group had been headquartered in what is now the Wells Fargo Center, then named Modis after an MPS division. When Adecco Group bought MPS, it moved the business to Deerwood South.

While the Adecco Group North America headquarters will be in Deerwood, the executive staff will be based in Riverplace Tower.

Adecco Group North America can trace its Jacksonville roots to businesswoman Delores Kesler, who started a home health care agency 37 years ago from her house that grew into AccuStaff and then MPS Group.

Globally, Adecco provides temporary and permanent staffing services in more than 60 countries and territories and employs more than 31,500 full-time workers. Its global revenue is about $27 billion with about $5 billion generated in the United States.

Crouch is scheduled as the keynote speaker today to the JAXUSA Partnership meeting.

Your global executive committee recently met in Jacksonville. When you show off the hometown to the global headquarters, what does that mean to Jacksonville, and what does that mean to Adecco Group in Jacksonville?

We obviously moved our headquarters from Melville, New York, to Jacksonville. If you look back before we were acquired, nobody over there (in global headquarters) really heard of Jacksonville. They looked at the two locations to select a future location for us. Even before I came back, I think the bias was Jacksonville, based on the employees who are here, the success they’ve had here in Jacksonville.

When I came back, obviously we started to get more of the headquarter-type positions here, so it was a natural fit. We’ve got a lot of our international brands headquartered here.

What all is in Jacksonville under the Adecco brand?

I get asked a lot — who is Adecco and whatever happened to Modis, because everybody is used to Modis being on the skyline for so many years.

(The) Pontoon (division) is headquartered here. It is really quite a coup to have that headquartered here in Jacksonville. Same with Beeline. We’ve taken that and we’ve expanded throughout the globe.

Modis is larger now than it ever has been. Modis’ growth has been tremendous and we’ve taken that and expanded that through the Adecco family as an international IT brand, so Modis is here, Accounting Principals, Parker and Lynch. Really, the majority of our brands are headquartered here. You’ll see some of our leaders who run those brands might not be in Jacksonville, but they spend a significant amount of time here.

Where did you grow up? Did you see yourself doing something like this?

I grew up in Coral Springs and went to high school in Boca Raton and went to the University of Florida.

My dad was a dentist. I was pre-med and that didn’t last very long. Chemistry was not my thing and I didn’t really take much enjoyment from that, so I really had no idea what I’d do.

I decided on business school and found out that Fisher School of Accounting at Florida was one of the best in the nation for accounting.

I jumped into the world of accounting and it just really went from there.

You went on to graduate school immediately or did you work first?

I went immediately to grad school. To get your CPA in the state of Florida, you needed almost the equivalent of a master’s, so I went to North Carolina, Chapel Hill. I really enjoyed that.

When I graduated, I wanted to be anywhere between Orlando and D.C. I didn’t want to go back to South Florida. I knew a lot of fraternity brothers and friends from Jacksonville, and my girlfriend at the time, who became my wife later on, got a job in Jacksonville before I graduated from Chapel Hill. Her career was not long, but it was what got me here.

How did that lead you to Adecco Group?

It’s probably a good lesson in persistence. A good friend of mine, Sean Mann, he ended up being the controller for (MPS predecessor) AccuStaff, that’s who I thought I would work with at Coopers and Lybrand coming out of school. Well, I didn’t get the job. So, you move on.

I started at Arthur Andersen and really enjoyed public accounting. The experience was second to none. I was actually looking to go back to one of the top tier business schools.

I was headed in that direction and then all of a sudden, Sean called over from AccuStaff and said hey, we’re doing some nice things over here, we’re doing a lot of acquisitions, I need somebody to help me.

We had just had our first child and I thought, let me give this a shot one more time in Jacksonville before I leave and boy, it was quite a journey from there. It was great. Better than any experience I could have gotten in an MBA program. I was really stunned and surprised that I could get that type of experience being in Jacksonville, Florida.

You go from there to the top? How do you do that?

That was a long journey. We started over at 6440 Atlantic Blvd. and it was not a palace by any means. It was a very condensed space. My first couple of weeks on the job, I stood next to a copier and my desk was a box of copy paper. It was just a vast amount of opportunity. I wanted to learn everything I could. Starting out, we probably were doing two or three acquisitions a month.

We grew from $100 million in 1994 when they went public to over $3 billion in 1998, and it was a heck of a journey. We were enjoying working six-seven days a week, 12-14 hours a day, traveling around, just growing the company. It was a thrill.

I never had a goal of being CFO or CEO or anything like that in mind. I just wanted to keep learning and keep working. I liked being part of the team and it just happened naturally.

Did you work with Delores Kesler, who founded the company that grew into AccuStaff and Modis?

Delores and I overlapped about a year and a half when I first joined. Obviously, she was top dog without a doubt and everybody knew it. She was chairman of the board and she liked to be called “chairman,” not “chairwoman.” She definitely was in charge.

The company was formed with four regional staffing companies and thanks to her, it was headquartered here in Jacksonville. Had it not been, we’d probably not be here, so thank you very much, Delores, for that.

She was phenomenal. She had that look when she wanted something done, she’d give you that stare down. I still see her and I hope she’ll join me for my JAX-USA presentation on Dec. 8.

She reached out and had kind words to say when I came back and took the position at Adecco as CEO of North America.

How large is Adecco’s reach in Jacksonville? I know you have the headquarters jobs, but you also provide a lot of the temporary staffing and staffing positions.

We’ll do anywhere from 250 to 300 positions here in Jacksonville across our various lines. We’d like that to be bigger. That’s one of my goals. I want to dominate Jacksonville. It’s our hometown, now it’s the headquarters hometown, so that’s really my mission to get in front of all the companies and partner with all the companies, like we just partnered with Flex-N-Gate.

I was able to talk to (Flex-N-Gate and Jacksonville Jaguars owner) Shad Khan. They’ve got a lot of plants around the country and they use temporary staff. I don’t think they understood how much temporary staffing they used, so we were able to go in and take over a facility that they’re using.  What I did was I took that money to sponsor the Jaguars and poured it right back into Jacksonville, so that was kind of a win-win for both of us.

Talk about your community service activities.

In our company, we try to get all our executives out on boards locally, like I used to chair Dreams Come True. We try to hit as many charities as we can and we try to get our people service days. Maybe 60-70 percent of our folks in Jacksonville have taken a service day and worked in a local community. That’s big for us.

The return we get is really amazing. I wouldn’t have had that softer side to me probably 20 years ago, but when people can get out there together with their employees and work in the community, they enjoy it. They want to do it and they come back and I think it makes them like their job more and like the company they work for more, and you get better results in the long term.

We just rolled that out the early part of this year. I’d love for that to get to 100 percent. I’m glad people are taking advantage of it.

It’s been almost 20 years since you’ve joined MPS. How has the industry changed?

It’s gone through a lot of change. The late 1990s was a great time for the temporary staffing industry. It was a great time for a lot of industries, but for us, it was really pre-Internet, it was pre-offshore movement. It was the ERP movement with enterprise systems being put in place to help with Y2K, so that was probably the banner time in our industry.

Really what has changed since then is you have companies like Beeline, Pontoon, you have a lot more organization around the acquisition of contingent labor, and that’s what we do.

It’s become a lot more professionalized. In the 1990s pre-Internet, recruiters had a database, a Rolodex of resumes. Nobody else had these resumes, nobody else had the contacts, and they were calling hiring managers. It was quite different than today where there’s a lot out there on the Internet.

Can you comment on the top employment trends that Adecco has seen? How can people take advantage of that as they look for jobs or prepare for employment?

You’re seeing a shift right now to even more flexibility than we’ve seen before. I think a lot of the large, traditional companies, large users of IT services or flexible labor in general, they’re trying to figure out ways to be more competitive and really get down to a core employment base.

If you’re an employee, your world is going to change some. You might need to be more flexible, you might need to take a different route.

A lot of young folks starting out probably have a different path than when we started. When we started, it was go get your job, show up, you work till 10 minutes after the boss leaves, you are working hard and that’s how we started back in the day.

Now, you might have to start out in a freelance or a temporary type position and then really work your way in. But I don’t think that’s bad, I think it’s good. It allows companies to be a little bit more aggressive in their hiring.

I think temporary staffing agencies in the U.S. allow companies to be flexible within our country and really give people the opportunity to seek employment here. Whereas a lot of the offshore providers, the outsourcers, who take jobs offshore, we don’t do that. We allow companies to really be flexible and stay with U.S. employees.

How do you see the economy and specifically Jacksonville’s economy?

It’s great. A lot of people want these big, great numbers, we saw in the 1990s, the great numbers we saw coming out of the recession of the early 2000s.  I think this is the new economy. I don’t think we’re going to see these big booms, but at the same time, I don’t think we’re going to see big busts again.

I think our economy is quite strong. You look at GE (Oil & Gas) coming in, you look at our headquarters down here. Jacksonville is a great hidden secret around the country, but I don’t think it’s as hidden as it used to be.

I think the word’s out.

What do you think it was about Jacksonville that drew Adecco’s North American headquarters here? What pull did you have, this being your home?

I think I had an equal amount of pull with the rest of the folks on my team. It was tough. We had to hire 170 people and get them in place and convert a back office here at headquarters in six months.

The big question was, if you looked at it from Zurich, can you do it in Jacksonville? Are the people there? Do you have the talent in Jacksonville? The people on my team were like absolutely, we can do it. We definitely have the talent.

I think what’s really interesting, there’s more of a sense of community here than I think in a lot of different places. It’s really neat to see us pull this group together, all these new employees. We’re a little smaller market, but people came together. It really allowed us to finish on time, under budget and do an excellent job.

How would you describe your leadership style?

I’d say I’m very direct. I don’t like to be stuck in meetings all day debating facts. It’s like, let’s move forward, let’s be transparent, what’s on your mind, where are we headed, why’s this going to work, why’s this not going to work.

It’s transparent, honest, not afraid to say when I made a mistake, I don’t mind that at all. I just don’t want to make too many of them. I don’t mind people pointing out that we have to move in a different direction, that’s fine.

It’s let’s move forward, let’s pick a direction and let’s move. Let’s not sit around and wait.

It seems to be quite successful.

Some days I wonder, but I think it’s gone OK. It’s the way I like to work, so it works for me.

You’re based in Downtown Jacksonville and that’s a big area of focus by the mayor’s office and the JAX Chamber. Do you have any advice or observations about what might be needed to revitalize downtown?

I moved to Jacksonville in 1992. I remember going to interview lunches at the (Jacksonville) Landing and I thought that was a pretty impressive piece of real estate.

You look at it now and you probably wouldn’t take somebody there for an interview lunch. You’d avoid it. I think the Landing is key. We’ve got to do something there. Something needs to change.

If you look at the space we have around Downtown Jacksonville — you look at what’s going on around Riverside, that revitalization, the Fidelity companies have come in and put their building there and you look across the street and you have The Fresh Market and you have a lot of (apartments) being developed.

I think Downtown is tough. I don’t have the right answer for it. I think you’re going to see development come toward Downtown. It’s going to take a lot longer than everybody snapping their fingers. But if I know Shad Khan, he’s looking at the Shipyards and doing something there. The more we can do around it, the more it will naturally lift Downtown.

You have five children. Will you share a little bit about your family?

I have five kids. Whenever anyone tells me they have five kids, I forget I have five and I’m stunned by it. It’s a lot of kids, but great kids. My oldest son plays golf at the University of Florida, just won his first college tournament, that was big for him. A daughter just went to Florida, she’s a freshman. I have a daughter at Bolles here, she’s a junior, and then two guys are in sixth grade and eighth grade. It’s a handful. My wife, Jennifer, takes care of that. She had her one-year career that brought us here.

What was that career?

Marketing, Naegele Outdoor Advertising. She loved it, but then she took to having children as her career and she’s done a great job of it. Good kids.

You have a great career and you have a big family. How do you make that all work?

In trying to piece it all together, you always want to be perfect. You’re trying to be perfect in your job, you’re trying to be perfect with your kids and unfortunately you end up spending a lot more time working than you do with your kids at times.

I try to take the time I can have with my children and just have fun, just do as well as I can and they’ll probably hear that and laugh because I ride them pretty hard at different times.

When we were purchased by Adecco, I left the company and had a two-year hiatus, did some consulting. I took that as an opportunity to do things that I never did before.

I was able to take my son out and caddy for him while he was trying to get a scholarship, and he did get one to Florida so that was kind of a thrill. It was just a great blessing to be able to take some time off with them, so I took advantage of it and got back to work.

What do you do for fun?

I try to play golf well, which is a struggle sometimes, but playing golf and going to kids’ sporting events, I love it. When I am in town, I definitely make sure it’s a priority to go to those games, and I couldn’t be happier sitting in the stands watching them.

What else would you like to share?

I’d like to thank all of our employees in Jacksonville. We’ve got a great company.

I think Jacksonville is on the rise. Jacksonville is such a great place, so I hope the secret gets out a little bit more, but not too much because I kind of like it the way it is.

***

First Coast Success: Bob Crouch

The Daily Record interviewed Crouch for “First Coast Success,” a regular segment on the award-winning 89.9 FM flagship First Coast Connect program, hosted by Melissa Ross. These are edited excerpts from the interview.

The interview is scheduled for broadcast this morning and will replay at 8 p.m. on the WJCT Arts Channel or online at wjctondemand.org.

[email protected]

@MathisKb

(904) 356-2466

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