Business Review sat down with Stefano Colli-Lanzi, the CEO of Gi Group Holding, a Milanese start-up turned industry leader that recently celebrated 25 years, during which it became one of the largest human resources companies worldwide. Among the subjects explored with the CEO were the challenges faced by the Group in recent years, the labour market and its evolution, the prospects for 2023 regarding the labour force, and what plans the Group has for 2023.
- How did you develop the “More than work” concept and how do you provide concrete support to your candidates?
“More than Work” means that while work is at our core, as a Company we are and do much more than that: we are a purpose-led Company that believes in “Sustainable Work.” This means achieving living and working conditions that support people so they can find and stay at work throughout their active lives, without compromising the ability of future generations to enter or remain in the workforce. We are also strong believers in fostering an enjoyable working environment for our people and for the Clients we work with; we want to change people’s lives by giving them opportunities and at the same time we do our best to positively influence the labour market.
More than Work encapsulates how we are not simply built around work – we do much more than just finding people jobs. Through our dynamic, global HR Ecosystem, we accompany our candidates throughout their working lives, finding them the right kind of job that matches their skill set, ensuring their work continuity, as well as supporting their career development, by ensuring they are up to date with the required skills. Finally, we help them sustain their employability should they lose their jobs. It’s in our DNA to have people as our top priority, and this translates to all our Business Lines – to have the Candidates at their centre.
- What future plans do you have for your employees, customers, and business?
Furthermore, we are a people-centred Company: our 8,000 employees work every day for this purpose, that is per se a source of gratification: we want to change people’s lives, including our own. Their development and well-being are our priority.
Today, candidates have become the most important “clients”: attracting, retaining and developing internal people are all crucial for companies. Therefore, employment agencies become essential not only for search and selection, but also for candidate attraction and retention, orientation, accommodation, education, training and development, career counselling.
- What is the medium to long-term forecasts and plans regarding the company’s activity?
25 years ago, Gi Group Holding only operated in Italy and now we are a global multi-brand HR ecosystem leader with a presence in over 34 countries around the world, being one of the largest players in the industry. In terms of our business’ forecast, we have a strategy to continue to grow, both organically and through acquisitions. For the latter, the most recent ones include Encore personnel in the UK, Eupro Holding in Switzerland and Liechtenstein, CVO recruitment and Simplika in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and The Bridge Social in Latin America.
Indeed, acquisitions provide us the opportunity to quickly scale up and bring onboard market leaders. Our budget for new acquisitions will be around €70 million annually for the next two years. Through both organic growth and acquisitions, the objective is to hit the milestone of €6 billion in revenues by 2024. On the offer side, we will increasingly focus on verticalisation, diversification of solutions and progressive improvement of margins.
I am proud of where we stand in terms of Global HR Industry rankings, at 15th largest globally (5th among privately owned Companies) and 8th in Europe (2nd among privately owned), and hope to continue to grow as we make an impact on people’s lives. Indeed, our work will continue to be supported through our purpose of the promotion of “Sustainable Work”.
- What worries you, for the next period, in the field/sector in which you operate?
The world of work is changing, amplified by the repercussions of the pandemic, inflation, and the recent war in Ukraine. I am concerned by the skill mismatch, which affects all the countries where we operate. Along with training and reskilling, international mobility will be – and in some countries already is – the key to overcoming talent shortage, a critical issue which we will be facing for the next 20-30 years.
- How did you decide to enter the HR market? How was Gi Group Holding born?
Gi Group Holding born 25 years ago, in 1998, when new Labour regulations in Italy offered an opportunity to enter the HR world. We launched the first Italian private staffing company.
When I started my entrepreneurial story with Générale Industrielle there were 10 of us as partners.
Since then, the company has evolved massively, becoming what we are today: a global leader and company present in 34 countries with more than 8,000 employees. Our people, our most fundamental asset.
The 2022 total turnover was €3.6 billion – of which €1.7 billion, more than half, was generated outside of Italy. While temporary staffing was the starting point for Générale Industrielle in 1998, it is now just one piece of the global ecosystem of HR services we provide.
- How, when and why did you decide to enter Romanian market?
Gi Group Holding was born in Italy to fulfil the needs of a brand-new market, and we had the opportunity to begin our business journey at the same time as others. Back then, most other markets, including the United States and Japan, were already more mature than the Italian one. Therefore, the market entry of our business in Romania and Eastern Europe looked like a great growth opportunity.
The decision to expand our business into Romania coincided with the expansion of the Group into Poland, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, and the Balkans. Today, thanks to this foresighted strategy, we are among the top three players in the Eastern European market.
As part of our growth strategy, we seized the opportunity to make our skills available in less mature markets as the first areas where we could invest and play in the same league as our competitors.
Romania was one of the most interesting countries, given the number of people and the peculiarities of the labour market. Our aim was, and still is, to bring quality to the market and a cultural evolution of work, and Romania seemed to have a market that could benefit from our skills. We are pleased to have received positive feedback from both people and companies, and we have been appreciated for what we have done to contribute to a much-needed evolution of the job market. At the beginning we worked hard to gain trust and appreciation, and it was a satisfying challenge. Then, there was an increase of market awareness about the need for employment agencies who would respect the regulations and the country where they were carrying out their business operations. This mindset shift was impressive and amazing to witness.
Today, even in Romania, the main issue is linked to people: on one hand we must be very effective at avoiding people loss and try to counteract the talent shortage; on the other hand, we are also encouraging international mobility, because the lack of workers is a widespread issue in this country. Our contribution has therefore evolved over time and constantly adapted to suit the needs of the market.
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of the business environment in Romania? How is Gi Group’s business on the Romanian market compared to other markets, considering the recent economic context?
In 2021, Romania’s economy was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to a contraction of GDP by 3.9% compared to the previous year. In terms of labour market, Romania, when compared to other markets we operate in, has a skilled workforce, especially in areas such as IT, engineering and manufacturing. However, the market also faces challenges with labour shortages in some industries, such as healthcare, hospitality and construction.
Overall, with a mixed business environment, the economic context in Romania remains challenging. However, since we have accessed the Romanian market, we have identified, compared to other European markets, a series of opportunities that can capitalize on the skilled workforce as well as the country’s strategic location in the heart of Europe. Gi Group Holding, like other businesses that operate in Romania, has adapted to the changing economic context and together with a well-trained team, we have implemented strategies to address the challenges generated by both the pandemic and other factors.
Although at the beginning it was a – with bureaucracy and strict regulations being the main obstacles in business development – we pursued a strategic approach that focused, first of all, on the development of the company’s services and, later, on investments in new projects. The vast experience gained from our activity in other markets helped us to look from another perspective, to find solutions and to adapt to the requirements, so that we could evolve and, most importantly, become what we are today – a reliable partner for our customers. And this can also be seen in the company’s results, which exceeded expectations last year. We are talking here about an increase of at least 50% compared to 2021, which, in the existing context, gives us the conviction that Gi Group is a reliable company for Romanian clients as well.