Boston — Antony Berry has built a permanent force in the temporary-help business. Less than six years ago, he wasn't in the business at all. Today, the British entrepreneur heads up the world's largest employment services group - with 1,900 branches in 33 countries.
It began when Mr. Berry bought Blue Arrow, an obscure, money-losing British job agency in July 1982. He noticed a lack of competition among his supposed competitors. He observed weak management among them. And he saw a demand for temporary employees from all kinds of businesses that had pared down their work forces after the 1981 recession.
It was an ideal situation to prosper in, and prosper Berry did. He continued to expand, buying Brook Street, a leading British employment agency, in November 1985. And he ventured to the United States last September, buying out Manpower Inc. That acquisition put Berry on the top of the job-finding heap, with $1.2 billion in revenues last year.
``He's always focusing on the objective, and the objective in this particular case was to become the largest full-service employment group in the world, providing the highest-quality service,'' says William Markey Jr., who runs Berry's American companies, with the exception of Manpower. ``The overriding thing, I think, is Tony Berry has a very clear vision of where he wants to go.''
``I would say he's the consummate entrepreneur,'' adds Mitchell Fromstein, president of Manpower. ``There's a very high degree of mutual respect.''
During a recent interview here, Berry is at his most enthusiastic when talking business. Words tumble out as he talks about his world of work.
He describes the '81 recession as a watershed. In its wake, ``temping'' took on a new image, he says. The picture of a temp as a secretary was no longer valid. The new array of placements led major US agencies, such as Manpower, Kelly, and Adia, to introduce training programs, especially for computer-related skills. ``I think it's going to become the main fulcrum of the business over the next five to 10 years,'' Berry says.
In the new environment, short-term placements were blossoming all over - for accountants, lawyers, word processors, supermarket drivers, construction workers.
As Berry describes it, ``People began to think, `Hang on a minute. We're not going to get caught by the same mistake of having vast armies of personnel working for us and having to fire them again.' ...
``That led into a boom in our industry. And I think we are a good measure of an upturn in any degree. Because temporary help tends to boom, the phone starts to ring all the time, as there's a good period coming.
``And let me say to you: I cannot see a recession, certainly in the next nine months, in this country, because our figures and our demand for temporary help show us that it's on the upward spiral still.''
So is Berry's career. But it was not always so.
The son of an electrician, he worked in the management of three British companies. He was fired from his last job at an industrial-cleaning company, apparently because of a difference of opinion over how much stock he was issuing in his position as financial director.
Berry struck out on his own and soon acquired Blue Arrow. He cites three lessons from his managerial experience.
``One is that managers like the authority to manage. They like to be able to get on and do their job. And if you give people their head to manage, they usually do it well, and actually grow in stature, and that's what you need, good management in any company.
``Secondly, if they are doing a good job, they should be rewarded, and I'm a great believer in incentivizing people. This motivation, incentivization, all goes together, because people like to be rewarded for their efforts. Mostly money, but sometimes with the freedom to do the job and a pat on the back.
``The third thing ... is that most people, whoever they are, whatever role they've got, like to know where they stand financially in the business. So financial reporting and financial controls are very important - not to put the pressure on people, but to give people an idea of where they are. ...
``That made me think, `Well, if I want to put a guy in charge of a business, he's going to have the authority to run that business.' Off he comes to me for decisions - fine, if he wants to - otherwise he takes decisions himself.''
Mr. Fromstein says Berry has let Manpower stay autonomous. ``He stays completely out of it,'' Fromstein says.
Berry adds, ``I tend to think that Americans are better at running American businesses, and Japanese are better at running Japanese businesses.''
As another result of reduced staffs since the last recession, American employment agencies will have to follow the British in offering both permanent and temporary placement services within a single company, Berry says.
``The whole personnel program and personnel department of companies will disappear over the next 10 to 15 years,'' he says. ``There won't be large personnel departments, because companies can't afford to carry their overhead to recruit personnel when they can place those services with other organizations.''
He sums up the potential of the permanent-placement industry in characteristic staccato fashion: ``Massive, massive business. Highly profitable.''
As he spoke, Berry's wife and children were vacationing in Florida. Back in England, Berry says, he spends Saturdays watching Tottenham Hotspur, his old soccer club, of which he is part owner. And he also plays sports with his children.
``I have two children. ... The boy's a good golfer and the girl's a good tennis player, and so we play golf and tennis together. The boy's 16 and the girl's 11.''
The single-minded Berry adds, ``Most of the rest of the time, even social events, is usually somehow connected with work at the moment.''