Bill Pollock has spent 70 years in charge of Drake International, the HR and recruitment company he co-founded
Such recruitment practices are now common around the world. Drake has 67 offices in 12 countries, including Canada, the US and Australia, which competes with the likes of ManpowerGroup and Kelly Services. Inc.
Mr Pollock was the youngest of nine children in a blue-collar Winnipeg family battling the Great Depression. His entrepreneurial spirit was forged while he was studying actuarial science on a scholarship at the University of Manitoba. The owner of the lawn mowing business he was working for fled, leaving him unpaid and unemployed in post-World War II Canada. Mr. Pollock asked an acquaintance to stand in as guarantor for the loan, and he set up his own mowing operation.
Mr. Pollock, 92, is the sole proprietor of Drake International and still works seven days a week as chairman. He recently spoke to Businesshala from Monte Carlo, Monaco, where he has been living full-time since June due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. Here are the edited excerpts:
Businesshala: What is a typical day for you?
Mr. Pollock: I always get up at 5:30 in the morning. My normal day is spending a lot of time on my computer dealing with things around the world, which leads to a lot of conference calls throughout the day. It wouldn’t have been much different if I had been sitting in an office in Melbourne or Toronto.
Businesshala: How would you describe your leadership?
Mr. Pollock: It’s a very participatory type of style, involving everyone and putting them on an equal footing so that I don’t be a dictator. I sometimes get too involved in trying to get to the lowest level of the business to engage them and harness their knowledge and enthusiasm. I don’t visit every member of staff, but when I travel around the world, I try to make arrangements where all staff are involved.
Businesshala: How did you get started?
Mr. Pollock: Studying actuarial science because I was very good at maths and I knew that the highest paying job that would come would be in the commerce faculty. But after my lawn-mowing business, I knew I liked marketing more than math, even though I was top of the class, and so I made the switch.
Businesshala: What was the inspiration for your first venture into lawn-mowing?
Mr. Pollock: just to survive. I had to persuade someone I knew was a very wealthy business to guarantee our loans to the bank. We had a second business called Rainbow Lawn Service because if we hadn’t given a client to do lawn-mowing on a regular weekly basis, we would have sent our competitor Rainbow Lawn Service to offer a slightly lower price. For work. It was very successful.
Businesshala: What do you look for in employees?
Mr. Pollock: The first thing we look for is integrity. The second thing we look for are hardworking people who are ready to work hard and commit themselves. And then there’s capacity number three. We don’t want salespeople who are yappers. What happens to the yapers? We try not to have them in the first place. There are many people who have worked with Drake who have gone on to become CEOs of companies elsewhere. Claire Copeland, for example, in Toronto, who was our president of Canadian operations, moved on to one of the largest utility companies in Canada. [Note: Mr. Copeland was chairman of Toronto Hydro]
Businesshala: Is it harder to find inspired talent?
Mr. Pollock: A little, yes. Many people in university nowadays come from families that have enabled them to be quite comfortable. I think 70 years ago people were probably a little more intrigued to work harder, study harder.
Businesshala: Did you have to try something new in the beginning?
Mr. Pollock: In the early days I thought that business was ignoring the talent that was out there with the women. So we grew up in the early 50s with a great reputation for bringing women back into the workforce and making them more prominent. Every head in the office would seriously spin, because they couldn’t imagine a female sales rep walking around an office. We gradually overcame the resistance of the men and slowly they saw that these women could perform well. We overcame it by getting results. My late partner and I were so proud that we made women so prominent in the workforce.
Businesshala: What do you do away from work?
Mr. Pollock: If things were normal here, I’d probably be dancing in sass cafes, even my age. It’s all closed now, so I’m not doing anything.
Businesshala: What keeps you motivated?
Mr. Pollock: I still work seven days a week, working very hard. I have a lot of new things that excite me.
Stuart Condie at [email protected]