Manpower’s Michael Van Handel

The CFO at a business with 4,400 offices in 73 countries, Van Handel seems the ideal person to comment on the looming ''war on talent'' and its global implications.

If companies got better at those things, would that be bad news for Manpower?

No, there will always be a need for companies to flex on staffing in others ways, to move skills in and out quickly as needs change. The model has really changed on how companies staff: they are very lean these days and typically don’t have enough resources to staff a new project, to cover for people who leave, or to respond to any sort of increase in demand. They now tap external sources for that in order to stay nimble, even if it’s just on an interim basis.

And these days Manpower is more likely to tap its own external sources — external to the United States, that is?

The extent of our global operations means that we’re on the ground in all emerging labor markets, so we know where the most cost-effective labor can be found, and now technology allows us to access it very effectively. We have a recruiting engine that most companies can’t match, so if a company needs financial analysts and we know we have good people in, say, India, we can put them on the assignment. In a sense we provide a way for companies to offshore.

At the same time, Manpower has come far upstream in terms of the kinds of workers it supplies to companies.

Ten years ago, in the case of finance, we supplied bookkeepers. Today we supply tax accountants, controllers, even CFOs. We expect a similar trend to take hold in other professions, including IT, engineering, and sales.

How do you meet your own demand for such people?

One way is with our Internet-based training. We offer more than 4,000 courses in many languages so we can constantly “upskill” workers and put them on new assignments. That’s going to be increasingly important.

After joining Manpower in 1989, you went on to hold just about every job in the finance function at the company.

I started out as the director of internal audit, which was a fantastic experience because I got to really understand the business from the ground up. From there I took charge of the international accounting groups, overseeing consolidation and external financial reporting for 27,000 employees in 73 countries. Later, I was treasurer and chief accounting officer. So when the CFO job opened up, I was a good fit.

Manpower’s share price has long been seen as a proxy for where the U.S. job market is headed. What’s the latest?

It’s been moving up for a little more than a year, and it’s accelerated in the last four months, from the upper $50s to the mid $70s.

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