Robin Richards

Robin Richards

Chairman and CEO | CareerArc

Industry
HR Technology

Location
Los Angeles


Featured In
CSQ Q3 2019, Visionary 

Robin Richards: How This Human Resources Entrepreneur Sees COVID-19 Impacting Hiring, Furloughs, and Business Process after the Crisis

Robin Richards, CEO, chairman, and co-founder of CareerArc, has spent the last several decades as an onward-looking entrepreneur, seeking out underserved needs, uncovering unnoticed opportunities, finding the right matches between markets and the masses. He launched Lexi International in the 1980s for next to nothing, turning it into the largest B2B tele-services and database management company in the United States by mid-1991 and eventually selling it to a private equity buyer for $34M. That was the beginning of a pattern he’d repeat many times as his career synced with the commercial arrival of the internet. He leaned hard into the tech upheaval of entertainment through tickets.com and mp3.com, forever changed the way public institutions send essential notifications to the people they serve through the NTI Group Inc. (now Blackboard Connect), and democratized the paths into first jobs and next jobs via interships.com and CareerArc.

What are your biggest business concerns surrounding COVID-19? 

Near-term, I’m concerned about the impact of this pandemic on my employees. People are the heart of our company. It’s a stressful time for them personally in addition to changes in the way they work and new projects and priorities as we support our customers and respond to the crisis, but I’ve been pleased with how well they’re weathering this storm. We’ve also had to adapt our go-to-market approach to reflect the times. CareerArc is in a unique situation where we serve companies that are recruiting as well as those that are transitioning employees, so our challenge is how best to support HR professionals as they navigate changes and uncertainty during these unprecedented times. 

On the recruiting side, we have customers in essential industries like healthcare, grocery, and delivery services that are significantly ramping up their hiring activities, and we have clients in other areas who are scaling back hiring right now. They have one thing in common—all companies, regardless of industry, are reevaluating and shifting their recruiting strategies right now. With the financial impact of this pandemic on companies, we’re also seeing more employers turning to furloughs, layoffs, and outplacement services to help give their employees a softer landing as they look for their next opportunity. 

At a macro level, I’m also concerned about the lingering impact on the economy, employment, and the survival of small businesses and those in hard-hit industries. As a serial entrepreneur, I’m always rooting for people to succeed.

What is your current business strategy for dealing with the situation? 

I’m always focused on two things, and that hasn’t changed: caring for our people and making sure our business not only continues during this crisis, but thrives. 

As a leader, it’s my job to be a calm and reassuring presence for my employees to help us navigate this tricky time. My goal is always to be compassionate, clear, and proactive. Frequent communication via email, phone, video conferencing, and instant messaging is essential, and messaging matters. We’re staying positive and being transparent as to how we’re handling it as a business. We’re also providing resources to help employees manage their anxiety and other emotions as we understand that this pandemic has a significant impact on their personal lives in addition to their professional lives. For example, toward the end of March, we had an executive coach conduct a 45-minute online session with our employees to discuss tools and techniques for managing our emotions during tough times, how to mitigate fear, how to focus and work productively from home, and how best to serve our clients who are also experiencing a wide range of emotions and challenges during this time.

Executives are paid to make tough decisions that are designed to create stability for the greater good. We must have the strength to do so because the vast majority of the team relies on our strength.

In terms of the business itself, adaptability and proactivity are key to enabling us to thrive despite the difficult circumstances. We revisited the 2020 plans and programs we set before the pandemic in all departments—product and engineering, sales, marketing, client success, operations—and we adjusted those plans to adapt to the current reality. What was relevant and true last year or last month or even yesterday may not be relevant tomorrow. We’re moving very quickly to meet the changes in the market, and I’ve been extremely impressed at the level of cross-departmental collaboration I’ve seen across the entire company. For example, we have two major product lines with separate teams. While they are always in touch with each other, they are working more closely on joint programs than they ever have before, even despite the challenge of working remotely. And we’re cross-training team members on other products. The teams are coming together to help each other even outside their core focus areas and to collaborate on new projects. Being flexible, inventive, and open-minded are essential right now, and I’m proud of how my team is rising to this challenge. 

We’re also being as proactive as possible in cutting non-essential spending to provide stability for our company and our employees. Are there tools or licenses we no longer need? Processes we can streamline to save cost? Programs that are less effective than we’d like where we can and should cut costs? Executives are paid to make tough decisions that are designed to create stability for the greater good. We must have the strength to do so because the vast majority of the team relies on our strength. 

How do you think things will look in your industry a year from now? 

Long-term, I see a lot of positive changes for us as an industry, a nation, and a world. I see more and more acts of kindness every day. Gestures as simple as tipping a little more for delivery to look out for your fellow humans. I’m hopeful that this togetherness, kindness, and camaraderie will continue well beyond the stay-at-home phase of the pandemic we’re going through now.

I’ve also been impressed by the ingenuity of many businesses in adapting to the current climate—distilleries making hand sanitizers, fashion houses sewing masks, restaurants offering meals to healthcare workers, retail stores offering contactless pickup, and whole companies shifting their business models online. There has been a lot of creative problem-solving. From a business standpoint, some of the changes we’re making now will make us more productive, more efficient, and more effective well beyond the scope of this crisis.

The way we work will also change. For example, even more companies will embrace remote work as a normal option and will continue to move processes online and invest in online technologies. HR will be called on to play an even stronger, more strategic role in crisis management and workforce planning. 

What have you learned from other difficult times in the past? 

Having been in the emergency notification and disaster preparedness space with Blackboard Connect (formerly The NTI Group), a mass communication company, I’ve seen all sorts of examples of how companies get it wrong. Usually, the ones who get it wrong don’t communicate early or often enough. They aren’t transparent about what they’re doing or the true circumstances of the business. Sometimes they’re not even honest with themselves about the reality of the situation. They are often rigid and sometimes self-serving. None of those things will help the business or its employees push through.

Crisis management is tricky because there are more questions than answers and no real guidebook. As leaders, we need to set the example. What our teams and companies need now more than ever is for us to be calm, compassionate, flexible, decisive, and—above all—empathetic. 

CareerArc Chairman and CEO Robin Richards.

Safe–and entertained–at Home: What business leaders are doing with their downtime 

 

Morning routine?
I start the day exactly the same way as when I was going into the office: I get up, shower, get dressed as if I’m heading in, have coffee and a doughnut, then I start working.

Currently binging?
Right now, I’m binging Schitt’s Creek. I’m also playing competitive Jeopardy! every night with my wife (which is not turning out in my favor!).

Currently reading?
I’m reading everything I can find digitally on coronavirus. My escape is every art magazine I can get my hands on, online, and offline

What are you doing to spend quality time with those you’re sheltering with?
I’m sheltering in place with my wife only. We’re taking walks every day, something I don’t normally do.

What are you doing to stay healthy mentally and physically?
To stay fit physically, I’m walking. Mentally, I’m doing FaceTime with my grandchildren two to three times per day (as opposed to once every other day).

Where are you dreaming of visiting once things are back to normal?
I’m dreaming of going to any resort and any restaurant and just being glad I can.