HCBE Faculty Articles

Executive Interview: Blazing New Territory in Outplacement: A Conversation with Tom Shea

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Journal of Applied Management and Entrepreneurship



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Thomas H. Shea launched the first corporate outplacement firm with his wife in 1979. He left his job as a personnel manager in a South Florida hospital as they formed Right Associates. It has morphed into one of the original components of Right Management, operating in over fifty countries. The business includes outplacement, executive coaching, leadership training, assessments and engagement services. It is part of the Manpower Group. Mr. Shea is the President of Right Management - Florida/Caribbean. He has appeared on various national and international outlets, while serving as Chairman of the Board for the FSU Center for Human Resource Management and on the Board of Governors for the NSU Huizenga College of Business and Entrepreneurship.

This interview offers a chronological view of the growth of a business in which Tom played the key role. In addition, it reveals a great deal about Tom and his commitment to individual success as a goal for all. It also reflects his concern for the betterment of the community in which he has lived and worked. It tells a very personal story about values and how he always seemed to be at the forefront of change. He also reveals what the workplace of tomorrow will look like and how leaders will be shaping the workplace, perhaps in a way that they never have before.

Author: You've been a major force in HR and in the community for decades and I'm sure your role today is different than when you started Right Management decades ago. So what's it like today and maybe give us a couple of ideas about the past, too?

Tom Shea: Let me just start with the past, so you can put some perspective around the present. Back in 1979, I started the first outplacement firm in Florida, with the idea that companies would pay me to be a coach for those people looking for a new job when they had terminated some of their employees. We were paid only by the former company; the new company wouldn't pay anything. I resigned my job over at Memorial Hospital where I was the Personnel Manager because I wanted to form my own company. In the beginning, my role was really a rainmaker. I went out and convinced company leaders that they should spend money to do this, hire me when they were terminating people. I had to show them why this would be beneficial, not only for the person or people being terminated, but also for the people who were staying in terms of their potential engagement and view of the company. This would also be beneficial in terms of minimizing lawsuits. If someone had a truly justifiable legal case, that's one thing. However, a lot of people go to court because they are upset; they lost their job and they're mad and they're scared. And if I can help them see a window to the future it makes the other problems go away.

I left the hospital to have my own company but really because I wanted to be an outplacement consultant. I thought I'd really be good at helping people find jobs. Then I started doing a little research on outplacement, moved to NYC, and visited a few outplacement firms with my wife, Maureen who was a recruiter for an insurance company. So we'd go into companies and they would do their song and dance. "Oh you should use our outplacement services in your companies in FL." So we got to see the outplacement business from the inside and then I was able to say, "Okay, I can do this here." Basically I said to my wife, "What're we going to do when the money runs out?" and she said "Well, then you'll have to get a real job." Fortunately I haven't had to get a real job yet but to put it simply I did okay in the beginning. I had people coming in and in a few months, maxed out my week. I realized I had no more time to go out and call other companies. So I took over those responsibilities and basically gave over some of the counseling to someone else. I didn't have a master plan, but every time a problem came up I had to figure out how to solve it. Fortunately I think having a Master's degree in mathematics and in teaching math helped me solve problems in business....







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