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CEO Dialogue Series


Bridging the generation gap, and why you’re never too old to learn

7 December 2021 in CEO Dialogue Series

Alain Dehaze, CEO of The Adecco Group, and his young disciple Jordan Topoleski explain to Jean-François Manzoni the vital importance of upskilling in the post-pandemic world....

 As one of the largest providers of talent services on the planet, the Adecco Group has had front row seats to the unprecedented disruption inflicted by the COVID-19 pandemic on the global economy and the way organizations have shifted to survive. 

From the sudden switch to remote working and the near collapse of supply chains to the recruitment needs of the recovery and the soul-searching of workers, CEO Alain Dehaze and his team have had to weather the storm, while also persevering with the necessary transformation of one of the incumbents of the talent industry.  

For Dehaze, while COVID-19 itself posed some exacting questions, it is the resulting amplification of trends that were already writing the future, such as technological innovation, increased uncertainty, the destruction of traditional jobs and the skills crisis that pose the biggest challenges. 

“The big difference is the acceleration of megatrends that COVID-19 brought with it – probably about three to five years in one,” Dehaze told IMD President Jean-François Manzoni during a CEO Dialogue at IMD’s campus in Lausanne. The CEO and the President were joined by 22-year-old American Jordan Topoleski, the global winner of the Adecco Group’s annual CEO for One Month program, who offered insights on the next generation of leadership.   

You have to prove by your values and actions that you merit this job of CEO […] You need to lead, not by power or fear, but by inspiration, conviction, motivation and by engaging the people around you
- Alain Dehaze

“The challenge for companies and individuals, but also governments and countries, is to make sure that the destruction or displacement and creation of jobs is, at least, occurring at the same pace, so that you don’t have people left behind,” he said, noting that, while more than 80 million jobs would be displaced by technology by 2025, more than 90 million jobs would be created. 

This careful management of the transition requires all stakeholders, including government, business and individuals, to take responsibility. 

“The solution is tripartite,” he said. “Not only one stakeholder has to solve this. There are three key stakeholders: the individual, the business and the government. First, the individual, depending on where you live, you have different perceptions about your accountability and responsibility about your upskilling and reskilling.” 

“If you don’t do anything, after 10 years, you are obsolete on the skills side,” he said, citing research that estimates that 40% of the average worker’s workplace-relevant skill set becomes redundant every three years. “It’s very important that you take that into account and reskill yourself.”  

Second, for companies to innovate and remain competitive, Dehaze said talent was crucial. In a global skills drought, that means looking within.  

“You must make sure you have talent, so you need to invest in your workforce,” he said. “You are in charge of the employability of your people. It’s important that you give them the opportunity to acquire skills that will be needed in the marketplace.”  

And third, governments must do more to invest in frameworks that create a “fluid marketplace”, for example by incentivizing lifelong training. 

“They are not doing enough,” he warned, pointing to European governments. “Individuals are not doing enough, business is not doing enough. The vast majority of companies don’t have a clear plan regarding the skills needed on a horizon of 24 to 36 months.” 

“The vast majority of governments have no real plan or framework in place to really mobilize business and individuals to upskill and reskill themselves in order to become more competitive,” he explained. 

Dehaze did however point to positive examples in France, such as the creation of individual training accounts and a regulatory facility to amortize, or gradually write off, corporate investment in training. He also praised recent German efforts to support large-scale workforce transformations, for example, in shifting to more sustainable technologies in the nation’s critical automotive industry.  

“It is important, if we want countries to stay attractive for business, because business is movable and can go where the talent is,” he said.  

Dehaze CEO dialogue
“The challenge for companies and individuals, but also governments and countries, is to make sure that the destruction or displacement and creation of jobs is, at least, occurring at the same pace, so that you don’t have people left behind”
- Alain Dehaze

The great re-evaluation and the search for purpose 

Topoleski, a Harvard University student with experience in the US fintech start-up scene, was the global winner of the Adecco Group’s annual CEO for One Month program (he won in 2020, but COVID-19 restrictions meant he couldn’t take up the role until this year).   

Under the program, young professionals and students apply for the opportunity to shadow national leaders in the organization’s network, before vying for the once-in-a-lifetime chance to work alongside Dehaze for a month.  

Topoleski said the global battle for scarce talent had been further complicated by the changing expectations of, and demands upon, young people entering the marketplace. 

“You are looking at a generation that is entering the workforce in a very tumultuous and chaotic way,” he said. “We have been forced to deal with this uncertainty – the key word is adaptability. We are really looking for autonomy.” 

“We are seeing the world as a more globalized space and, with these changes from COVID-19 and remote work, we are seeing more opportunity. Where our parents and grandparents have seen their careers as linear, we are looking at a more diverse experience. How can we build the right portfolio of experience that makes sense for us?”  

As many companies have realized in recent years, the desire to feel connected to work in a personal way and to be part of a collective, meaningful experience is crucial for upcoming generations of talent.  

“Why are we doing the things that we are doing? What is the impact that we are having?” Topoleski asked. “The companies that are able to answer that question and make us feel our work is impactful and has a big purpose are likely to be the ones we are going to turn to.” 

This question of purpose is not just for the younger generations. While some have labeled the pandemic-inspired attrition in the labour market as the “great resignation”, Dehaze prefers to look at it as a “great re-evaluation”. This has no less significant repercussions for employers. 

“We see people re-evaluating the life they are driving and the purpose of their life,” he said, highlighting that half of the vacancies that the Adecco Group is working to fill for clients in the US have the option of remote work, up from a maximum of 10 percent before the pandemic.  

“Do I need to stay in a big city or can I move to a second or third tier city for a much better quality of life for my family at lower cost and work in a remote way?” he asked. “If my employer is not allowing that type of remote work, then I move from one employer to another […] They know if they want to be attractive, they need to give autonomy.”  

As the Adecco Group progresses with the challenge of reshaping as an incumbent to become an agile, one-stop partner for the lifelong talent journey, Dehaze believes success lies in using innovation to leverage the group’s existing expertise and networks, rather than reinventing the wheel. 

“We are, more and more, amplifying the work of our people through technology, through AI and leveraging data,” he said. “Some services are able to be automated. Some others are very complex. If you take temporary staffing, this is a very complex work to automate and even more to internationalize because every single country has its own labor regulations.”  

“We are convinced that, as a global leader and an incumbent in this field, we have a competitive advantage, especially with the data and knowledge of the domain and the customer network,” he said.   

Feeling on top of the world: Alain Dehaze and Jordan Topoleski
Feeling on top of the world: Alain Dehaze and Jordan Topoleski
Where our parents and grandparents have seen their careers as linear, we are looking at a more diverse experience. How can we build the right portfolio of experience that makes sense for us?
- Jordan Topoleski

Learning to lead, leading to learn 

The CEO for One Month program, which attracts more than 200,000 applications each year, is not just about offering a select group of young leaders the chance to gain unique work experience and improve their employability.  

It not only provides the Group a different avenue to live its purpose – “to make the future work for everyone” – but also allows it to connect with hundreds of thousands of future employees, either for itself or its more than 100,000 clients, at a time when the labor market is becoming ever more fragmented and talent is harder to reach. For Dehaze, it also offers a window of diverse wisdom into the perspective of a different generation of talent.  

“I am getting reverse mentoring from Jordan for one month,” he said. “I am also asking each CEO for One Month to produce an ‘astonishment report’, so that I can learn with their eyes and ears how they have seen us and what we could improve.” 

For Topoleski, the experience has broadened his understanding of what it takes to be a leader of a large company. 

“I was coming off a role with a start-up and looking for new opportunities,” he said. “I was really interested in seeing what the blueprint of operation was for a Fortune 500 company and how that was different to a start-up and, second, how digital and innovation are run in such a large environment – how can you keep an entrepreneurial spirit in the company?” 


The importance of emotional intelligence 

Forbes recently described Dehaze as an example of a different breed of CEO: less domineering and egotistical than the stereotypical business leader. For both the Belgian national and his CEO for One Month, this more emotionally intelligent approach is crucial in today’s world. 

“You have to prove by your values and actions that you merit this job of CEO […] You need to lead, not by power or fear, but by inspiration, conviction, motivation and by engaging the people around you,” Dehaze said. “You can’t inspire, motivate and engage people around you if you don’t connect and interact with those people.” 

One of the hallmarks of this approach is to make himself accessible to a wide range of people in the group, despite the challenges that it might pose in terms of time management, and to trust in the input of his leadership team and take a step back to gain perspective when the going gets tough. 

“This accessibility allows you to go faster and deeper into authentic things,” he explained. “You are not working on false information or assumptions. It also gives big opportunities to check assumptions very rapidly by being in contact with people in the field.” 

“When it is really hard, and I have had specific private and professional situations where it has been extremely hard, I benchmark the current situation with what I have had in the past,” he said. “Then I see that it’s not great, but it could be worse – then it gives me energy, especially also the team gives me energy.” 

Topoleski said the leaders of the future must adapt a more “emotionally deft” approach, which relies more on soft skills such as communication, to navigate the challenges of a highly dynamic and varied environment. 

“You have to be able to wear a lot of hats and to be aware of the audience,” he said. “It’s not a one-size-fits-all bucket – EQ is becoming the most important skill of the future. I’ve seen why that’s so important because every business is a people business.” 

This year’s CEO for One Month was impressed by Dehaze’s commitment to his own learning journey.  

“You can never stop learning,” he said. “It was very interesting to see Alain, at a very different stage of his career than me, how important it is that the acceleration of learning continues to stay the same throughout your career.” 


Alain Dehaze

CEO, The Adecco Group since 2015

  • Earned a degree in commercial engineering from ICHEC Brussels Management School before taking positions at Henkel and ISS. 
  • Joined the workforce solutions sector in 2000, when he was appointed Managing Director of Creyf’s Interim in Belgium. His path took him to the CEO position at Solvus, COO of USG People – when the latter took over Solvus – and CEO of the Dutch staffing services company Humares between 2007 and 2009. 
  • Dehaze joined the Adecco Group in 2009 as Member of the Executive Committee, responsible first for Northern Europe, then for the group’s largest market France before taking on the CEO position in September 2015. 
  • Member of the International Labour Organization Global Commission on the Future of Work. 

Jordan Topoleski

Global CEO for One Month, The Adecco Group

  • Pursuing a degree in Technology and Innovation at Harvard University, with research interests in financial services and developmental economics with additional papers in user experience design and global poverty alleviation. 
  • Co-founder and COO, GameFi, the first mobile strategy game that helps users save money and make smarter financial decisions. 
  • Developed integrated tech solutions for venture-backed start-ups as Managing Parner of Inverted Agency, 2018-2021. 

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