SmartRecruiters CEO, Jerome Ternynck

SmartRecruiters founder and CEO Jerome Ternynck is a true industry veteran, who's forgotten more about the business than most of you will ever know. Anyway, he just wrote a book called "Hiring Success," which helps CEOs navigate recruitment, and the boys thought enough of it to bring the old dog on the podcast for a little chat. 


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Intro:

Hide your kids, lock the doors. You're listening to HR's most dangerous podcast. Chad Sowash and Joel Cheesman are here to punch the recruiting industry right where it hurts. Complete with breaking news, brash opinion and loads of snark. Buckle up boys and girls, it's time for the Chad and Cheese podcast.

Joel:

It's another episode of the Chad and Cheese podcast. I am your cohost, Joel Cheesman, joined as always by Chad Sowash.

Chad:

Hello.

Joel:

Today we are honored to welcome Jerome Ternynck to the show, CEO, founder of SmartRecruiters. And we'll get into this, Mr. Ted. But previously to that, Jerome man, we've known you for a long time. Welcome to the show. I can't believe it's been this long since you've been on, but you're pimping a new book, which was the reason to come on the show, but we're going to cover a broad level of topics. How are things in your world? How are things with the company? How's the COVID situation where you are?

Jerome:

Everything's good. I'm happy to be on the show. I can't believe I had to write a book to get invited, but so it is.

Chad:

Let's just make this clear, Jerome. Your PR people came to us and said, "Jerome wants to come on".

Jerome:

Oh my God, it's even worse.

Chad:

And we said fine, we'll put Jerome on the show, but he's got to talk about Mr. Ted. But seriously, seriously, we're really happy to have you on. And how remote was your workforce before this? Because obviously it's incredibly remote now. How remote was it before and what's the impact been? Was it easy to make that change? Was it not easy? Tell us a little bit about that.

Jerome:

The workforce was distributed not completely remote. We have about 300 people at SmartRecruiters across five offices and about half US, half Europe. So we were all distributed. So that was easy to manage. We actually did have quite a few folks in the office and it's very surprising how little people miss the office. They actually don't care. And so we've been able to transition over, everybody has your laptop and we just carried on business as usual. And we haven't seen any service disruption per se.

Jerome:

But actually we are, I think this is opening up a lot of opportunities for how we organize as a company and what does the future of work look like for us, obviously for our customers. From an organizational standpoint, it's actually a very interesting thing.

Chad:

Okay, well, we'll get into the future stuff, but I want to dig into your deep, dark past, sir. That's right. So you graduated from Saint Sierra as a valedictorian and accepted an offer to join the paratroops elite forces as a Lieutenant, which I found was incredibly interesting.

Joel:

Impressive.

Chad:

It says that you led troops, soldiers. Overall, it sounded like you were doing basic training. Were you in basic training, were you actually executive officer? Tell me a little bit about that. This to me is interesting because on my side, I'm sure you know, I was also a drill Sergeant in the US army.

Jerome:

Yeah. Bootcamps was my job. So as a lieutenant I would take new recruits, mandatory draft in France at the time. So every two months we would get a couple of buses full of young kids with long hair and hopes and fears and within the next 60 days we would turn them into soldiers, ready to do whatever they needed for the good of the country and the good of their team. And that's a very interesting experience for me leading people through that transformation, pushing the limits of my own leadership and kind of pushing the limits of what hardship, camaraderie, teamwork can actually create when you really put people through a difficult situation and let them emerge as one, as a team. And the army is obviously a very strong environment for that.

Chad:

Yeah, so how did that experience shape you? I know from my personal experience, it did a lot to actually shape me, good, bad or indifferent, just ask Joel, but how did it shape you and how did it prepare you for corporate life or did it?

Jerome:

Yeah, it certainly did. I would say it gave me three things. First, and it's very topical, but it made me aware of my white privilege. I grew up a white guy in a nice neighborhood with cool parents and I never questioned why this was like this, right? It was just normal. But going into the army and finding myself doing boot camps here, especially the paratroops in France is like a semi disciplinary environment. So they would send their older kids that like had criminal records or had difficulty in youth. And so that really kind of gave me a very, very different perspective that I guess I needed heavily at the time.

Jerome:

Second, it actually taught me that your limits, your personal limits, are a lot further than where you think they are. That living on the edge of your personal limits is where the fun starts and you can really push yourself and push people to way, way, way, way beyond what they think they can, they are capable of, which is interesting. And then the third one is that it gave me confidence in my leadership and confidence in my decisions and say, okay, if I want to lead people through difficult times, I actually can do that.

Joel:

Yeah. So from there, you become a recruiter at some point, correct? And then in 2000 you start Mr. Ted and in your book, it says, don't ask me how I got the name Mr. Ted. So I won't ask you about the name.

Chad:

Ask him!

Joel:

But talk about the environment, the genesis of the idea, sort of paint a picture for those who were not around in 2000 like we were.

Jerome:

So actually, after the army, I started my recruitment agency. I moved to Prague in the Czech Republic. This was '92, just after the Berlin Wall fell. And I wanted to create a company, I was like, well, I'm an entrepreneur, I'll try something, right? I didn't speak Czech at the time at all. And I just was going around and asking people like, what can you do in this country? And they're like, yeah, you can do anything, man. This is an entirely new system and you can do anything you want, but gee, it's hard to find good people. And I said, huh, this is actually an idea. I could do a recruitment agency.

Jerome:

And so I did, I mean, I had $2,000 of student savings in my pockets so I wasn't going to go into the telecoms industry anytime soon anyways. So I started a recruitment agency and that worked well and we expanded that agency to several countries. And we ended up having like 200 plus people in the company. And then the internet came and Monster arrived and I'm like, gee, this is going to change the way people hire. If you can apply on the web, this is crazy. We're going to need to track these people.

Jerome:

And so I did what every other ATS entrepreneur at the time did because that's the time when Teleo and Brass Ring and ICM's were all founded at the same time. I went on and I raised some money from Accenture and others and we built a software to track applicants. Like we effectively automated the file cabinet if you will, right? Because that was the opportunity.

Joel:

Yeah. So you mentioned Monster, you talk in the book about meeting Jeff Taylor, the founder of the company. Talk about that.

Chad:

That's a trip.

Jerome:

Yeah, that is a trip there. The one memory I had was him standing on stage and talking to a 200 plus search consultant that had just been acquired by TMP, TMP having got acquired Monster a couple of months before. That was when Andy McKelvey was in an acquisition spree of acquiring businesses here. And he looked at all these search consultants and he said, "Recruiters, they've looked at the future and they prefer the past." Okay, you're that kind of guy, okay.

Chad:

Yes.

Jerome:

Yes.

Chad:

Yeah, no. That's definitely Jeff, there's no question. You've been in the industry for so long. How do you continue to be passionate about an industry that crawls toward progress instead of walks or runs?

Jerome:

It's very simple. The problem hasn't been solved.