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Janus Henderson CEO: "Blunt" graduate recruitment needs to change

In CEO terms, Andrew Formica, the 46-year-old chief of $330bn active manager Janus Henderson, is something of a spring chicken. It was therefore a shock to be called a “dinosaur” in a public forum by one of his 21-year-old employees.

In fairness, the employee in question was referring to the digital approach of the company, rather than Formica himself, but it made an impression. “We probably were dinosaurs,” he says. “Millennials want to have a voice, and they’re not afraid to use it – even if that means calling your new employer a dinosaur in front of the CEO. It’s quite refreshing.”

Formica is on a mission to shake-up the way that financial services, and asset management in particular, is perceived by 20-somethings starting out. The recruitment process is too “blunt”, he says, and a focus on academics and internships inevitably mean that Oxbridge and other top graduates end up getting hired.

“In the past few years, most graduates we hired came from Oxbridge,” he says. “This year, not one came from those universities, two had biology degrees, one was from China and doesn’t speak much English and three of the six were women.”

Janus Henderson is not lacking applicants. Last year, 1,200 people applied for six roles on its graduate programme – suggesting a less than 1% chance of success. With such a stack of CVs on their desks, how do Janus Henderson’s recruiters ensure they don’t just cream off the applicants with the best academics and experience?

Formica says that they’re trying to focus on the “character” of the individual, rather than simply looking at achievements on their CVs, and Janus Henderson invites them to tell their “story” during the application process.

“We hired one guy who nursed his dying mother during her cancer treatment while studying and didn’t feel he could go back to university to finish his studies,” he says. “That level of integrity and emotional awareness would never come through over an application form. The old methods are too blunt.”

Formica has just signed up to CEO for a Day, an initiative set up by headhunters Odgers Berndston which attracted Standard Chartered boss Bill Winters last year. It allows one students to shadow a chief executive for 24-hours, and is an attempt to connect with Millennials and dispel some myths about the financial sector. Formica says he wants to learn what 20-somethings want from an employer, and what will stop them leaving for careers elsewhere, as well as "breaking down taboos about pre-conceived ideas about the industry".

Sophie Peacock, a maths student at Durham University who has completed insight days at Barclays and J.P. Morgan and also worked at IBM, will be spending the day with Formica.

She says that financial services organisations have “very reputable graduate programmes” and the training they provide is appealing to students who want a solid base for their career - even if they move on to another vocation later. She's currently still deciding whether to try and break into finance, or attempt to a secure a technology role after graduating.

This encapsulates two of the main issues facing financial services organisations trying to attract and retain top graduates. Firstly, many view it as a stepping-stone into another career, and then it’s also often a binary choice between finance and technology entry-level jobs.

For an industry trying to attract 20-somethings, it doesn’t help that many of the icons of asset management are over 70 – Janus Henderson’s Bill Gross is 73, Jack Bogle, CEO of passive investment giant Vanguard, is 88 and Warren Buffett is 87. 33-year-old Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and 46-year-old serial entrepreneur Elon Musk seem like more obvious inspirational figures.

But Formica says that preconceptions about finance being a boring refuge for fusty quantitative types seeking a big pay-day are as erroneous tech’s reputation as a sexy industry offering interesting, innovative jobs.

“You’re not going to get rich before you’re 25 working in the financial sector. We want to be seen as a place for a long-term sustainable career,” he says. “The average tenure for technology firms at the junior level is two years – they’re not getting this right.”

Formica says that he tends to shy away from making broad brush assumptions about what Millennials want from an employer. But, he says, financial services organisations need to be more vocal about offering opportunities for travel, solid career progression and should also be more open-minded about flexible working.

“Ultimately, Millennials want to be listened to. 20-odd years ago when I started out, it was a very hierarchical environment and when someone above you told you to do something, you’d say ‘yes, sir',” he says. “Young people now have a greater sense of importance about getting their voice heard. They are much more vocal about sharing their views and challenging those in authority. We need to be open to that.”

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Image: Getty Images

AUTHORPaul Clarke

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