Women in Business Q&A: Joyce Russell, President, Adecco Staffing, USA

01/03/2017 04:55 am ET Updated Jan 04, 2017

Joyce has been with Adecco for more than 25 years and is the most senior-ranking woman in the United States staffing industry today. Joyce is charged with leading the operations team, sales team and divisions for Adecco Staffing, USA. She constantly strives for growth both personally and professionally while remaining focused on developing the best team in the industry and maintaining the strongest client and candidate relationships in the business.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?

I grew up in Pompano Beach, I am a fourth generation Floridian, and my dad was a farmer. Often times, I would accompany him to the farm. I think I learned some of my most important leadership lessons from watching my father and how he worked with and treated people. He helped me realize that people are the most important part of any business, which has helped me tremendously as Adecco’s purpose is built on people!

When I was 15, my first job was selling tomatoes at a farmer’s market to people who would stop to buy fruits fresh from the fields. And when I was in college, I worked in the summer at a women’s clothing store where I sold wedding dresses. From both of those experiences, I learned that oftentimes EQ (emotional intelligence) is more important IQ. The ability to connect with people is so important in a leadership role.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Adecco Staffing USA?

After studying business and marketing at Baylor University, I went to work as a broker in South Florida selling fruits and vegetables to national food and grocery chains. I got married and moved to Charlotte, North Carolina and began my career with Adecco as a branch manager, and I have been here for 29 years! My earlier work experiences helped me immensely as I love connecting great people with great jobs, and I have the opportunity to work closely with our clients. I am grateful to be working in such a dynamic people-centered industry.

When I think about the span of my career, I can’t imagine being anywhere else. From my first year – where I was named “Rookie of the Year” – to now – I have been referred to as the most senior-ranking woman in the United States staffing industry – I am very proud of my tenure. Adecco has been a great partner and motivator.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Adecco Staffing USA?

Since joining Adecco in 1987 I’ve experienced various economic cycles, and I’ve seen significant changes in our industry.

The constant is that I’ve had the honor of working with so many smart people and companies, learning about the challenges they face across geographies and industries, and helping to provide them with solutions. Each day I get to do this is a highlight.

The up and down of economic cycles can be both challenging and invigorating. During a downturn in the economy (the most recent example being the Great Recession of 2007 -2009) there’s more demand for jobs than there is supply. In those times, the challenge is helping everyone as best you can with limited opportunities. I’ve also worked in candidates’ markets, which we’re experiencing now, where we have low unemployment rates so employers compete more aggressively for qualified talent.

Each market brings its own unique challenges that require creativity, patience, and hard work. I am proud to say Adecco is an integral part of many companies’ workforce plans because of our ability to adapt, and we serve as a strategic partner to clients in many exciting industries.

One particular highlight of my career has been helping to launch Adecco’s Way to Work program in the United States. The Way to Work program is a global initiative which highlights issues and challenges facing millions of young job seekers, while providing internship opportunities. Each year, the program hosts a CEO for One Month internship, in which one talented candidate shadows Adecco Group North America CEO, Bob Crouch, myself and other leaders at Adecco to gain first-hand experience running a Fortune 500 company. Last year, I had the pleasure of working with our intern Savannah Graybill, and now I get to watch her work towards attending the next winter Olympics!

What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?

I am a big believer in the power of women in the workforce, which is why I like to give women these three pieces of advice:

Raise your hand and keep it raised. The more you volunteer to take on responsibilities and to help, the more opportunities you will have to grow and improve.

Produce the results. No matter what, you have to perform and be known as someone who always exceeds their goals, and always adds value to the organization.

Positivity no matter what. People will always remember how you made them feel, so make sure you pair your hard work with a positive and inclusive attitude.

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career to date?

You’ve got to surround yourself with a great team. Over the years, I’ve learned it’s all about the “who.” What I mean is, you can have the greatest idea, but without a strong team you won’t be successful.

I view talent as my most important job. I believe it’s the job of a leader to identify, mentor and develop the next generation because you leave a legacy with the people you hire.

When building a team, don’t just focus on the hard skills; soft skills are incredibly important, too. You can train a person on a technical skill, but you can’t always train them on people skills. In addition to hiring for the right skillset, you should also look for people who fit with your company culture, share similar values, communicate well, and have a great work ethic.

I am involved with many talent development projects, but one of my favorite is a book club I run with about 15 female college students from the University of Florida. Together, we read and discuss books that focus on developing them individually as future leaders, decision makers, and contributors. Right now we are reading Presence, by Amy Cuddy.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?

The biggest challenges in my day-to-day work-life balance are finding time to work-out, getting enough sleep, and eating healthy. I’ve been told I’ve got two speeds: high and off. I really care about our business, and therefore it’s really hard for me to unplug because I truly love to work so much.

In my role, I’m constantly on the road and meeting with clients and Adecco colleagues, so finding work-life balance is critical! I have found that planned vacations offer the best chance to recharge my battery.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?

Beyond the obvious wage-gap issue our country is facing, I think one of the biggest issues is the disproportionally low number of women in the top jobs. I very much agree with Sheryl Sandberg’s advice to lean in. We need more women who are confident in their leadership abilities and who demand a seat at the table.

Another difficult struggle is balancing a demanding career with the decision to raise a family. I know first-hand that it’s very tough to “have it all” – there were many nights I rushed out of the office with just enough time to pick up my two boys before their nursery school closed! I was very lucky to have a super supportive husband. When our two boys were young, every month we would coordinate our travel calendars so that one of us was always home with the children.

I also was fortunate to have a strong support system of people I could count on. You need to have that. You can’t do it all and have it all. It’s a very delicate balance.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?

I believe mentorship is extremely important to both professional and personal development. Early in my career, I’ve had the privilege to serve as a mentee to two outstanding former Adecco leaders whom I admire greatly. Through these relationships, I learned the importance of making the tough decisions, always doing the right thing, and investing your time in colleagues to help with their growth and development.

Throughout my career, I always try to pay it forward by mentoring numerous talented individuals.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?

People I admire usually have one or both of my favorite leadership qualities: personal courage and generosity.

I’m lucky to have the opportunity to work with and learn from so many great women, both at Adecco and in my personal life.

Several of my friends are entrepreneurs, and I admire what they have done with their lives and what they’ve created. These women trusted their ideas, followed their passion, and built very viable, successful businesses. When she retires, one of these women plans to give her company to her employees. Talk about personal courage and generosity!

What do you want Adecco Staffing USA to accomplish in the next year?

Our goal is to put more people to work at more great companies and to provide an exceptional experience to our colleagues, associates and clients.

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