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Observations from a Talent Acquisition Leader

John Delpino is Senior Director of Executive Recruiting for the World's Largest Employer

 
John Delpino Talent Acquisition Channel Interview on TotalPicture RadioJohn Delpino

For over 20 years, John Delpino was Director of Executive Staffing at PepsiCo in Purchase, New York. Then... he moved to Bentonville, Arkansas.

"If you look at the Fortune 500, there are about 100 or 120 [senior HR] people who were trained, at some point in their career, at PepsiCo. No other company can come close, not even GE," says Hal Johnson, a managing partner for Korn/Ferry International who has recruited top HR talent for and from Purchase, N.Y.-based PepsiCo over the years." Human Resource Executive

John Delpino is Senior Director of Executive Recruiting at Walmart. Prior to joining Walmart in 2009, John spent 20-plus years as director of Executive Staffing at PepsiCo. Welcome to a Talent Acquisition Channel podcast on TotalPicture Radio, with Peter Clayton reporting. I met John at the recent IACPR Global Conference in Philadelphia and, as a true legend in HR and recruiting, asked him to share some of his wisdom with us today.

"Some of our best recruiting is done when we literally don't have an open position... Aspire to be a chef not a short-order cook." John Delpino

John Delpino IACPR Interview. TotalPicture Radio

Reimagining, reinventing, meeting today's talent challenges. Welcome to Philadelphia and the International Association for Corporate and Professional Recruitment Spring Global Conference 2013. This is Peter Clayton reporting. TotalPicture Radio's official coverage here at the IACPR conference is brought to you in partnership with Riviera Advisors, a premier global human resources consulting firm specialized in helping organizations develop stronger internal recruiting and staffing capabilities. Visit rivieraadvisors.com for a wealth of resources focused on corporate talent acquisition issues and solutions.

John Delpino is Senior Director of Executive Recruiting at Wal-Mart. Prior to joining Wal-Mart in 2009, John spent 20+ years as Director of Executive Staffing at PepsiCo.

Welcome to a talent acquisition channel podcast on TotalPicture Radio. This is Peter Clayton reporting. I met John at the recent IACPR global conference and as a true legend in HR and recruiting, asked him to share some of his wisdom with us today. John, welcome to TotalPicture Radio.

John: Thanks. It's good to be here, Peter.

Peter: I want to quote from an article that appeared in Human Resource Executive several years ago titled Products at Pepsi. If you look at the Fortune 500 there are about 100 or 120 senior HR people who were trained at some point at their career at PepsiCo. No other company can come close; not even GE says Hal Johnson a managing partner for Korn/Ferry International who has recruited top HR talent for and from Purchase, New York based PepsiCo over the years. John, what was it about Pepsi that produced so many rock stars in HR and recruiting?

John: Peter, it really all started with a guy named Mike Feiner who was the head of HR at Pepsi when I joined them in 1988, relocating from the Frito-Lay division. Michael is a real visionary who effectively demonstrated the strategic value of HR being a key member of the executive leadership team. He set the bar for high standards for quality of hire. His many disciples became the keepers of the flame and for those of us that were around in the late 80s and early 90s, we refer to it as Camelot. You have a business standpoint where we were minting money on the business side, we were taking share from Coke, life was good.

We hired the best talent of the top ILR campuses, as well as experienced folks from people who had great programs like GE, GTE, Ingersoll Rand, and Xerox and put them pretty roughly through field and subsequently headquarters roles. It was during those finishing school assignments at headquarters where we evaluated their influencing skills and capabilities against increasingly complex and more sophisticated problems as well as senior client groups.

Peter: It sounds to me like even way back then in the 80s the C-suite recognized the real value and the strategic value that recruiting and HR could bring to the organization.

John: It's interesting that you mention that, Peter, because I helped this gentleman write the article and did most of the backup on who was where and it was funny, he was only interested in people that were in HR at that time, late 80s-early 90s, that were still in HR. He didn't care about people that went on to become a COO or a CEO or the Vice Chairman at Gateway. So he was very, very purist about his interest.

Peter: That's interesting to hear because obviously a lot of these people then did transfer into different roles within the organization.

John: Oh, yeah, yeah. Some stayed in the organization, some left but went on to be the Vice Chairman of Gateway, the CEO of KFC, the COO of Pizza Hut just to name a few. These are Fortune 500 companies.

Peter: Right. Exactly. Speaking about the article here's another quote from HR Executive:

Make no mistake; shared memories of the PepsiCo HR experience are anything but warm and fuzzy. Quite the opposite, in fact. Legend and personal accounts tell the story of an environment that was, at times, harsh if not downright brutal. "There's no lifeguard at the PepsiCo pool," was one popular expression at the time.

John from your perspective, is this an accurate assessment of what was going on then?

John: Undoubtedly Peter you're referring to the muscle building years, which were a very tough but necessary part of PepsiCo's evolution. So if we hired 10 folks, at the end of a year or two years, two or three would get promoted, and some of them would decide they didn't like the heat in the kitchen and others that didn't get promoted would leave. That was a really critical time of the growth of the organization, but as they over time built a critical base of bench strengths and the culture changed it became a very, very different place.

Peter: One of the things that's so interesting about PepsiCo is the culture of that organization and that you have a true competitor in Coke.

John: Yes.

Peter: Yeah. That makes that relationship sort of different from what exists in many corporations when they don't have that one true competitor that they're going to market against.

John: Yeah, we'd wake up every day thinking about if we could take a linear foot of space in a supermarket or poke them in the eye with advertising, that's a pretty good day. Yeah, Roger Enrico was once alleged to have said that if Coke didn't exist we'd have to create somebody to hate. But I think at the end of the day there was a mutual respect for the other guys. We wore blue, they wore red.

Peter: Right. Exactly. John, what did you learn at PepsiCo that's relevant today regarding talent acquisition that you can share with our audience?

John: Some things don't change, Peter. The importance of developing long-term relationships or in today's notion you'd call it CRM, I think having an unyielding standard on quality because like all the recruiters, we really like to live vicariously through the success of others that we helped guide into the organization. I would say what we call today the candidate experience I used to call it the courtship approach, because that has a far different connotation than a recruiting process might conjure up. But at the end of the day, whether a person did or did not succeed in getting the position, they were all consumers or customers. So ensuring the experience was as good on the backend as it was on the frontend was really critical.

Peter: Yeah, absolutely and like we heard at the IACPR conference recently that a number of, even the senior people who were part of some of these panel discussions were talking about the fact that once they got placed in a job they never heard from the recruiter again. Right?

John: It's important what we call service after the sale.

Peter: Yeah, exactly. What's the biggest change you've seen over your career in recruiting?

John: I think far and away probably going back into the late 90s was really technology. It serves as a real leveler of the playing field in large part providing many of the recruiters with much of the same access as our search partners.

Peter: In doing the research on this interview I went on your LinkedIn profile and one of your former associates at PepsiCo wrote this recommendation on your profile.

John is clearly one of the best staffing professionals in the United States. He has superb assessment skills and has a great bias for action. He has trained many HR professionals as well as line managers on the art and science of selecting talent.

Is recruiting great talent both an art and a science?

John: Peter, without a doubt and I try to instill that in over 50 recruiting managers who work for me at Pepsi and there's a quote that I'll use, it dates me a bit. It's phrase from Alvin Toffler's 1970 futurist book called Future Shock where he had a caution which was beware of high tech, low touch. I've asked people about this in a more recent audience and they said what was it email or the fax machine? No, it was ATMs. It was the advent of ATMs overtaking and replacing the friendly and ubiquitous bank tellers. Today's caution is to not let the science and technology forego the art of the deal.

To me, it's imperative to remember that there is another human being involved making critical decisions regarding their career, their family, their livelihood, which requires meaningful dialogue to understand their core needs and motivations and to engage in authentic and empathetic manner with their best interests in mind that things are not easily transmitted electronically nor discernible on a LinkedIn profile.

Peter: John, I have to ask you this question. How were you lured to Bentonville, Arkansas and Wal-Mart out of Purchase, New York?

John: That's a great story so after 23 years at Pepsi I had the opportunity to capitalize on a early retirement window, and I felt full well that I'd be working for a Manhattan based search firm. I was schlepping in and out of the city from Richfield, Connecticut on a pretty routine basis, and I was at the point where I was fielding several offers when I got the call. The call was from Fred Ley who is Senior VP of Global Talent Acquisition at Wal-Mart. Fred happened to be the same person who rehired me at Frito-Lay in 1986 and he asked me if I was relocatable and I said yeah, we're not kind of wedded to Fairfield. He said how about to Bentonville, Arkansas; and I said well I've never been.

Long story short, we made a trip down here, we're transitioned down and today after almost 4 years, I'm enjoying the pure satisfaction of globally recruiting executives to Wal-Mart and we affectionately refer to northwest Arkansas as suburban without the urban.

Peter: From what I understand, you have a pretty great museum there now.

John: Crystal Bridges is phenomenal. This past weekend we were over there because they've got a Norman Rockwell exhibit that was pretty spectacular. There was an article in Southern Living that I got a link to that the headline was Is Bentonville the New Cultural Mecca of the South? A lot of places in the Midwest and perhaps Northeast that are in decline, this place is on its way up.

Peter: I'm assuming the cultures are really quite different between PepsiCo and Wal-Mart but is the process of recruiting executives basically the same?

John: First of all I'll tell you Peter, the cultures are quite different, yes. And actually I think the process is easier at Wal-Mart. I work for Fred Ley and Fred over the last 8 years has done some pretty heavy lifting convincing an organization that was almost an exclusively promote from within organization to not solely rely on promotion from within in the executive ranks. While today we're still at probably 70% plus, it's done so in many cases with a snapshot into what the external market has to bear. We also have senior leaders quite willing to hire in advance of the need. They just have a best athlete on the bench and at the ready. So I'd argue that some of our best recruiting is done when we literally don't have an open position.

Peter: That's really interesting. So you're in a culture now that really looks at recruiters more as consultants than just order fillers?

John: Yeah, it's the old analogy of that I like to train my guys; you don't go into hiring authority with five résumés and ask him who he wants to see. You go in and tell him here's the three I'm bringing in. So you have to get that level of confidence and capability and confidence with the line managers to do such things.

Peter: John, what's changed in your ability and your approach to sourcing and recruiting top talent today?

John: I think I mentioned before Wal-Mart has a voracious appetite to know who the best and the brightest folks are out there and whether it's over the near term or the short term, it's developing those relationships of people that we want on our team and how do we induce the leadership team to be part that process, whether it's Mike Duke going out once a quarter with Fred Ley and having lunch or breakfast with various people that we just want to get to know.

Peter: I want to return for a second, you brought up the candidate experience earlier and obviously there's a lot of conversation today in HR and recruiting about that topic and Jeremy Eskenazki moderated a session at IACPR on the topic of the candidate experience as it relates specifically to the candidate experiences of executives in career transition I was surprised to hear as with all candidates it's not all that great. So how would you rate the candidate experience at the world's largest employer?

John: Actually and I say this humbly, I think it's pretty good and the reason I say that is we have in many cases an unknown geography and so we're like the Avis; we've got to try a little harder to make sure that people have an above average experience. So it's very, very hands on. I spend the day walking candidates from place to place and we get them out on area tours and those kind of things.

Having said that, there's always some room for improvement. I think where the challenges lie more readily, and this is perhaps pervasive across my colleagues, at the professional level it's that constant battle of trying to balance the high req loads that may not avail as much time to squire candidates through the process as you would like. On the executive level, the volumes are lower, the touch is higher.

Peter: What is the average time to fill an executive at Bentonville?

John: An executive, I'd say 90 to 120 days.

Peter: That's pretty fast these days from what I've heard.

John: We have a challenge that things move pretty quick around here and if you're not willing to in 60 days, all of a sudden the internal person can start looking a lot better. Our challenge is to try and get in front of that.

Peter: John, what was some of your takeaways from the recent IACPR conference?

John: I've been involved for the last 25 years at this point and Ed Walsh the former head of PepsiCo being one of the founding members of it, we've been very active over the years, and I first and foremost find that it's a terrific networking forum amongst peers. This particular year I felt the agenda was very rich and diverse. Two areas that I particularly enjoyed, not that I didn't enjoy all of them, but Soren Kaplan's talk about his book Leapfrogging, the implications for innovations. I've already turned on our innovations onto the book. I also to your point, enjoyed the Jeremy's session. He's always a great panel leader and facilitator. I think the sessions in many cases are somewhat validating when you realize you're not suffering in silence but actually dealing with comparable issues as many of your peers.

Peter: One last question for you John; what's the best advice you ever received regarding talent acquisition?

John: I'd have to say there's two. The first one is don't ever settle. Much of our jobs I referred to earlier with the 60 day window, it's to prevent the hiring manager from shooting low and making a suboptimal decision because the outcome is generally not good for any of the parties involved.

The second thing is - and I'll give full attribution of this quote from a colleague and friend Rusty Roof who's a true luminary in the talent acquisition space. The quote was "aspire to be a chef, not a short order cook." If you think about it for a second, a short order cook is in the moment. Long range planning is the length of their arm. Two eggs over easy, rye toast. A chef is creative, imaginative, innovative, proactive, always looking around the corner for new and emerging trends. The sort of things that differentiate a good recruiter from a great recruiter.

Peter: I think that's a great quote. John, thank you very much for taking time to speak with us today here on TotalPicture Radio.

John: Delighted Peter. Thanks for your time.

Peter: John Delpino is Senior Director of Executive Recruiting at Wal-Mart.

You've been listening to the official IACPR Spring Global Conference 2013 podcast series produced by TotalPicture Radio in association with Riviera Advisors. You'll find a complete transcript of this interview in the Talent Acquisition channel at totalpicture.com and a complete library of in-depth interviews featuring talent acquisition and HR leaders in the newsroom and events link on rivieraadvisors.com. Take a moment to visit Riviera Advisors and learn what makes them different. And please connect with Riviera Advisors and TotalPicture Radio on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.

This is Peter Clayton, thanks for tuning in.

Peter Clayton

About Peter Clayton

Peter Clayton, Producer/Host, is an award-winning producer/director of radio, television, documentary, video, interactive and Web-based media who has created breakthrough media for a wide array of Fortune 100 clients.

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