Doug Bugie - Full Throttle

Friday, December 19, 2008

From globe-trotting franchise rep to the heady world of American politics, Doug Bugie doesn't believe in half-measures as Jim Tanfeld discovers.

I f Dragons' Den favourite and recruitment guru James Caan calls you a Goliath in his autobiography then you can consider yourself well-respected within the industry.

Yet despite his old friend's biblical assertion about the champion of the Philistines, Doug Bugie, chief executive of Antal International Network, gives new meaning to the saying larger-than-life.

In a booming American voice, full of good cheer and sincerity, 55-year-old Doug enters the room.

He doesn't sit at frst, instead pacing purposefully and hurling nuggets of wisdom around, frstly on how recruiters should be targeting SMEs rather than the same old usual suspects.

"These guys get called relentlessly as everybody is going after the same person waiting for the scraps," he says.

"You have got to go after the companies that no-one has heard of at the moment, go out there and get your fair share." Formative days Doug studied politics and comparative religious studies at college: "That's what got me interested in how people can think so differently; that's what made me want to see the world.

"I had this zest for travel but at the same time I really wanted to get into politics but I had no money." After winning a sales contest Doug went into selling franchises across the world.

He says: "I must have visited Japan about 20 times. I was on the road constantly, it was fantastic." Then the world's largest tool company came knocking and at the age of just 27 Doug became its head of international operations.

"That was fantastic man! You should have seen the size of this offce, it was huge. I mean this company was big, really big, selling 24,000 shovels a day! And that's just shovels!" "After a while I became president of a trading company and we did things like irrigate the Nile Delta and electrify the Fiji Islands using vegetable oil." At 31 Doug then went to Plymouth, Ohio, to help turn around the fortunes of yet another company: "The unions hated me they were all thinking ‘what the hell is this guy doing here?'.

"There was sugar in my fuel tank as well but I won them over in the end and turned things around." Recruitment calls Attracted by his 50-country experience Doug was contacted by Alan Schonberg, CEO of US recruitment giants MRI and was asked to help the company expand overseas by selling franchises.

"Back then in America you would be put on minimum wage, it was all about the commission. Some of the guys recruiting back then were from Earth, the others I'm not so sure about," he joked.

"You had to sell, otherwise you would not earn.

"When I came to London I could not believe the industry, I was blown away as to how big it was, I mean 40-50 pages of recruitment ads in the Sunday Times! "The industry was crazy in the US, there was no training, but here in the mid 80s you could have everything I was amazed.

"It made me realise that America knew absolutely nothing about the way it was done here." Doug was introduced to James Caan, in his mid 20s at the time, who was setting up one of the frst rec2rec companies Alexander Mann and Doug tried to get James to sell to MRI: "He just couldn't see what good selling to MRI would do, so the deal didn't happen." Doug added: "In 1992 I decided I wanted to run for US Congress.

"It was crazy, on the Monday I quit my job with MRI and on the Tuesday I was announcing my candidacy on TV.

"It was the start of a six-month adventure. I came close, real close, but my opponents who won in the end had outspent me by about 20-to-1 on their campaigns." Yes we Caan With $1,500 left in his pocket following his brush with Congress Doug moved to England where James Caan set him up with his own international recruitment franchising operation and Humana was formed.

In his recent autobiography The Real Deal James Caan: My Story from Brick Lane to Dragons' Den the entrepreneur waxes lyrical about his soon-to-be business sparring partner: It was like David asking Goliath to come to London and give up a lucrative corporate career in the process. But obviously something I had said had interested him and Doug came over. We spent a week together looking at Alexander Mann and seeing if it had a model that could be franchised. The more we looked at it, the more Doug saw the opportunity and by the end of the week it was clear he was getting excited about it......'Doug, I want to own the brand and I think you're the best person in the world to run it'.

I couldn't quite believe that Mr America was going to swap his massively well-paid job and his sleek corporate HQ to come and work above a hi-f shop: I knew then that he really believed he could do it....The guy was and is brilliant.

Doug remembers the frst days too: "You should have seen this offce on the Tottenham Court Road, it was a complete dump.

"You could hear clients on the stairs, people who had heard about this new operation I was running, and most of them were saying ‘Oh no this can't be the right address' and turning around; I had to run down the stairs calling them back.

"But we ground it out and it was turning around good money so we sold it to MRI's parent company in 1999." Doug suggests it was not the best decision he has made, feeling compelled to speak candidly about the decision he adds: "James did not want to sell, and as this is an open and honest interview, I think I regret selling it. It was the wrong thing to do at the time.

"When I sold it had 800 offces, it was growing, but you can't look back but it was a mistake. It should be a world-dominating business now but it's not." Selling wealth Doug then got hired at Norman Broadbent and met his own recruitment idol in Miles Broadbent and says it was an honour to be asked to be part of his team.

Having taken talent with him Doug recalls: "Miles was laughing because he couldn't believe the energy. He also couldn't believe that so many people in one room would want to become senior headhunters.

"It was seriously taking in water but that's why they had got me in there, it needed to be repositioned, so I brought in people who wanted to win and wanted to achieve.

"It still remains the proudest thing I have ever done, we did it, and in the process had replaced two-thirds of the workforce with guys who wanted to be successful and wanted to make a proft." It was then he joined Antal and says: "I needed a break as I had been well out of my zone and these guys were on their way up." "I think we can become the biggest mid-range supplier in the world; I'm thinking 200-300 offces.

"What I love about Antal is the way everything is shared and the sharing culture here really works as about 30 per cent of business is done through sharing with other offces.

"I think 20 people have been made multi-millionaires through this process and I just love seeing this. That's the absolute essence of franchising.

"What is it they say? Cast your bread upon the waters for thou shalt fnd it after many days.

"I sell this business all over the world and what we are doing is making people ennobled. We have done something fundamentally important to that person's life. And what we do goes further than that, it has a huge mpact on society.

"What I do is sell people the opportunity and give them the support so that they can walk 10 feet tall." This is clearly an echo of his original studies in religion and all of this invaluable recruitment franchising talk from a man who says he has only placed one person, in 1986! And while Goliath was felled with a single stone it would surely take an awful lot more to remove this giant of recruitment from his purpose.

And not just happy with ‘changing society' Doug wants to run for Congress again. n

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