It is safe to say that it is not since the 2008 recession that the employment sector has faced as many rapid changes as during these times of COVID-19. Marcie Pollack-MacMillan — the founder and self-described “President of Chaos” of Toronto’s Marketers on Demand and Executive Talent on Demand of Toronto – remembers 2008 well, and was uniquely well equipped for the pandemic’s overthrow, especially with a financial boost from BMO.
A well-known visionary in the talent placement space, Pollack-MacMillan (and co) is known for providing workers for brands and agencies near home in Toronto as well as remote locations like Miami – certainly an agile gift in a time of reduced budgets, hours, numbers and general HR uncertainty. In a conversation with Mike Bonner, Head of Canadian Business Banking at BMO, Marcie talks about finding her niche, her personal guidelines for talent care, and finding inspiration from her own life for her unique title.
First, can you explain why you call yourself the ‘President of Chaos?’
Everyone has different degrees of chaos in their life, but I have four kids and a dog, we just bought some bunnies, I work full time and there is obviously additional chaos during COVID. So I think everything is just exaggerated now, at all. I try to have some controlled chaos, which I think is key for me.
Take me through your entrepreneurial career. What made you want to carve out a niche for yourself, rather than flow into someone else’s company?
I worked with a competitor for a few years, and I opened their creative and marketing sections. We just didn’t see eye to eye. Many recruiting companies are more generalist, and they simply send [clients] as many summaries as possible. They don’t really have the touchpoints, I think I like to have. I realized that there is a gap between having specialist agencies versus generalists, so it made sense for me to cut out that space to focus only on marketing talent. I also understood what [clients] wanted, as opposed to taking roles for something completely outside my sphere of competence.
What problem did you intend to solve for your customers?
I opened in April 2008, and two weeks later the recession hit. We had to change our business model — intended to be 90 percent constant placements — to get mostly contracted. Unlike COVID, there was no full-time number, but they always had budgets for entrepreneurs. So we started looking to put in contract marketers; people still had to get their message there. Two years later, budgets reopened, so we opened channels for contract and permanent.
How did the pandemic change the nature of on-demand temple work, in your opinion?
The initial panic of customers was to try to find other opportunities for people they had to let go of. A lot of people counted on having one- or two-year contracts, and then all of a sudden, they had to find somewhere else to go — and we had to help them. It was really, really challenging. And then, as things opened up again – and all the panic subsided – many people on CERB didn’t want to work until the pandemic was over. The customers were also really, really particular: manufacturing and consumer goods prospered, so it was hard to mix people from B2B to B2C, and vice versa. A big change is that a lot of people are looking to get back to the office just a few days a week. I probably talk to about 14 people every day, and no one wants to go back full time.
What qualities in yourself make you such a successful entrepreneur?
Listening. I think a lot of recruiters look at the client first and foremost because they are the ones who pay the fee. But without the talent, we wouldn’t have a placement. I think it’s my combination of being able to listen to both sides, and also not put someone in a position they’re hesitant about. The key is to be patient and understanding, and to make every talent feel important.
What have been your proudest and most difficult moments since the beginning of your ventures?
Having repeat customers is probably the proudest of all my moments when someone comes back to you to ask you to build their team. That means we did a really good job, and they love the person we placed. Our relationship with BMO, for example, has been so symbiotic — they’ve been on our side for the past 13 years through recessions and, now, the pandemic — and we loved having them as a lasting customer. Employee retention, for us, is another. People who stay show a lot of respect for the company, and they want to treat it as their own. The biggest challenge is that we have to cut ties with a customer not so long ago — they weren’t very respectful of our time. Obviously that means a lot of lost income, but if they won’t be respectful of us, my recruiters and my talent, then I choose not to work with them.
You are a talented trustee for other companies. What talents are you looking for in your own staff?
I think you can train someone to be the best version of themselves, but I’m looking for personality. We have not always been 100 percent successful with internal employment; we misunderstood. But most of the time it’s about finding someone who fits in well with us. We’re a little crazy, but Linda, my VP, has been with me for 13 years. One of my directors, Mark, has been with us for seven. I also like to hire people I think are smarter than me.
How do you stay inspired? Do you watch certain mentors, read certain publications, etc.?
I’d like to say jogging or something. As I look outside my office, I see my Platoon sitting there with running shoes next to it — and no one uses it except my husband. I’ve been really regimented like that before. Now, I would say that my source of inspiration is my inner staff, and the kind of passion they still bring after all these years.