Adecco, with its thriving intrapreneurial culture, was a pioneer in the temporary-employment sector. To maintain its leading position in a rapidly evolving labor market, the group has broadened its range of activities.

fondateur Interecco

In the post-war period, unemployment is low. The challenge is to find talented people. At the beginning of the 1960s, the temporary-employment sector is growing but is still in its infancy (around 30,000 temp workers and fewer than 200 agencies in 1962). Philippe Foriel-Destezet (H.58) sees growth potential in companies’ need for flexibility, and in 1964 he launches Interecco, basing the operation in Lyon. The company, renamed Ecco in 1971, grows rapidly, benefiting from new regulations for the temporary-employment sector and the economic upheaval resulting from the 1973 oil crisis. On its 20th birthday, Ecco is recognized as France’s leader in temporary-employment services.

Philippe Foriel-Destezet (H.58) founds Interecco, a temporary-employment agency, in Lyon. He manages the company until 1996, when he becomes the co-president of Adecco, serving until 2005.The January 3 Law regulates – and finally legalizes – temporary employment. It stipulates that temporary jobs should have a set limit and should not replace permanent jobs, and it forbids having both types of jobs at the same time.The oil embargo and subsequent economic crisis affects the labor market: unemployment increases while companies seek more flexibility. More and more businesses turn to temporary-employment services.

A pioneering era

agence Ecco

The company puts the focus on people. Philippe Foriel-Destezet encourages his employees to be “intrapreneurial” and to care about outcomes. Along with Philippe Beauviala (H. 65), his right-hand man, he promotes decentralization and giving people responsibility at every level, an approach that attracts young talents. “I joined Adecco’s international division in 1984,” recalls Livio Manzini (H.83). “After a training period in Lyon, I moved to our London subsidiary, which was having problems. When the head of that company left, I asked to oversee its turnaround. Philippe-Foriel Destezet trusted me, even though I was only 23 years old.”  Ten years later, Livio launches two joint ventures with Ecco in Turkey, one focusing on temporary employment and the other on security services. “Once again, Philippe Foriel-Destezet gave me full autonomy.” Even though the company’s main activities are in France, it expands its international presence throughout the 1980s.

The merger of Ecco and Adia in 1996 produces the sector’s global leader.

With a brand-new diploma in social law, Jean de Wailly (MBA.96) joins the company as an intern, works in London through the International Volunteers in Business program, and then suggests establishing an Ecco branch in Austria. “First I had to prove myself as district manager in France. Two years later, I tried again, and Philippe Beauviala told me, “OK. In that case, quit your job, and we’ll pay you to do a four-month study of the market. If that works, great. If not, too bad for you.” And it worked. Everything in our business was still new back then, and it was fantastic!” Livio and Jean praise how managers did their jobs in those days. On visits to branches, they never missed an opportunity to go with their salespeople to meet clients.

For its 10th anniversary, Ecco opens its 150th agency in France. Three years later, it takes its first steps toward going global by entering the American and British markets.At 20, Ecco is ranked France’s number one temporary-employment agency. The company, which now has 350 agencies and 113,000 temporary workers, even opens a branch in Japan.At 30, Ecco is ranked number two worldwide in temporary-employment services, with 635 agencies, 80,000 clients and 255,000 temp workers. Even though the French market is still the company’s priority, Ecco is active on three continents.

Merger and diversification

Singapour Ecco

At the beginning of the 1990s, when massive unemployment is clearly here to stay, 70% of the companies hiring temporary workers are in the industrial and construction sectors. Ecco has a 22% share of the market in France, which accounts for 80% of the company’s activities, and achieves double-digit growth. Its 1996 merger with the Swiss enterprise Adia gives birth to the global leader in its sector, outpacing the American group Manpower. And the strategy evolves. The new group, Adecco, divests itself of its security and cleaning subsidiaries, which account for 14% of its turnover, to concentrate on human resources. To keep pace with the labor market’s evolution (digitalization, increasing numbers of freelance workers), Adecco begins in 2000 to acquire several companies specializing in professional support, placement, and executive recruitment. The group aims to be involved in every aspect of business flexibility.

Adecco groupe
1996The merger of Ecco and Adia, a Swiss firm headed by Klaus Jacobs, produces Adecco, the new global leader in human-resources services. Present in 36 countries, the group’s 2,400 agencies place 250,000 people in jobs every day.
2000When it acquires Olsten Staffing (New York), Adecco becomes number 1 in temporary-employment services in the United States, with 11.6 billion euros in turnover. The group is now twice as large as Manpower in the U.S. company’s home market.
2005The social cohesion law authorizes temporary-employment agencies to place people directly in jobs with fixed-term or open-ended contracts. By becoming employment agencies, these companies expand their portfolio of services.

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The temporary employment contract is created. The concept: a temporary-employment agency hires a person on the basis of an open-ended contract, assigns the person work, and pays the minimum wage in intermediate periods. A perfect example of “flexisecurity”.

In France, the Borloo social-cohesion law adopted in 2005 contributes to ending the monopoly previously held by the National Employment Agency (ANPE). Temporary-employment companies are now authorized to propose jobs with fixed-term and open-ended contracts. At the same time, Adecco goes increasingly digital: online recruitment with Vettery; connecting freelancers and large business groups with Yoos (developed in partnership with Microsoft); a platform for temporary jobs in high-demand sectors (restaurants, events…) via the Adia app, created with Infosys. “Temporary jobs account for 70% of the group’s revenues, but this is decreasing,” explains Serge Shine (H.04), Adecco’s head of Strategic Markets Professional Recruitment. He adds, “Over the past 20 years, Adecco has adopted a holistic perspective on the labor market, acquiring an ecosystem of brands that allow it to offer a range of recruitment and skills-development support.” The pandemic, which has hit some sectors harder than others, has significantly increased demand for training and retraining. A new labor market to develop?

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