Inside the Personify Acquisition With John Wilson And Ryan Carlfey of WilsonHCG
Get ready for an exhilarating conversation with two powerhouses in the talent acquisition world! We have John Wilson, CEO of WilsonHCG, and Ryan Carlfey, President and CEO of the recently acquired Personify. We’re bringing you behind the scenes of their recent merger, diving into their shared philosophies, and unraveling the vision they have for their collective future. You’re in for a revelation as you discover why they chose to unite their companies and the mutual gains they anticipate from this venture.
As we shift gears, we’re going to explore the technological aspects of running a services business. Hear straight from John and Ryan how technology has reshaped their business operations. John places emphasis on the crucial part leaders of acquired companies play in a successful merger. The Personify acquisition has put a lot of responsibility on Ryan, but the alignment between their organizations will steer them towards success. You do not want to miss this fascinating exploration of business strategy, technology, and human resources in the ever-changing landscape of talent acquisition.
Listening Time: 20 minutes
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Inside the Personify Acquisition With John Wilson And Ryan Carlfey of WilsonHCG
William Tincup: [00:00:00] This is William Tincup, and you’re listening to the Recruiting Daily podcast. Today we have John and Ryan on from WilsonHCG, and Personify. We’re actually going to be digging into the inside the Personify acquisition. John and I have known each other for longer than we probably care to admit publicly.
But I really, I love when RPOs and staffing firms, when they buy technology, when they integrate with technology, and John and I have had this discussion several times of the technology that’s behind the scenes. Like I say, at WilsonHCG, they use so much technology for their clients. And for themselves, etc.
So this is just, I just can’t wait to hear how all this played out. John, why don’t you do us a favor and introduce yourself and Brian, you do that as well.
John Wilson: Yeah, thanks, William. John Wilson CEO of WilsonHCG. Quick background on our company we operate in a lot of countries all over the globe [00:01:00] and we provide large scale outsourcing to clients wanting to get better from a talent perspective.
Ryan Carlfey: And Ryan? Ryan Carfley formerly the president and CEO of Personify, now I lead the life sciences division here at Wilson. 21 years in the recruitment industry started off as a traditional search firm and brought our business into the RPO sector in 2006. So really grateful to be here and great to finally meet you.
William Tincup: A hundred percent, Ned do. When you came into the RPO some things, did y’all. Was it white labeled or a multi not a multi tenant, but a one to many model where you could work with an RPO that had several hundreds or thousands of
Ryan Carlfey: bonnets? So we were really fortunate. When we entered the sector, we came in through what would be one of the largest conglomerates and life sciences in Danaher.
So we incrementally moved across the Danaher platform over the course of our first decade in the sector, which gave us both[00:02:00] enterprise exposure as well as global footprint primarily across North America and Europe. Oh, that’s
William Tincup: cool. I had a friend Charlotte Marshall that, that worked there on the talent acquisition side.
Ryan Carlfey: organization. Yeah.
William Tincup: Great company. Personify what would you say Personify does? We’ll just talk about that
Ryan Carlfey: quickly. We were we are, were enterprise RPO provider, primarily in the life sciences, healthcare, and biotechnology sector. We gave what we would consider our clients unprecedented talent access to some of the most labor deplete sectors really in the world.
When you think about nursing, healthcare bio statisticians, there’s a very, there’s a subset of very specific recruiting that can go off that require you to have the talent network and access to really deliver. And that was primarily where and how we built the business. Oh, I
William Tincup: love it. I love it.
John, what did you see when obviously you’ve been tracking Persona 5 for a while, of course, like you track everything else. What did you see in them and [00:03:00] what did you see in Ryan?
John Wilson: Yeah, I think Ryan and I had known each other five plus years and I was… Initially just intrigued by his desire and the company’s desire to continually get better.
It built a really fantastic business at scale without taking any outside capital, but just built it bootstrapped it, and, we had seen and heard of Their success, as Ryan alluded to, in the life sciences and biotech side, which we think is probably going to be, over the next 10 years, one of the fastest growing industries in the global economy.
For all the reasons on paper, it made sense. And then when we got to know Ryan deeper and understand the culture behind the business it became very exciting for us. And [00:04:00] we were all in about a year before we actually got the deal done.
This was something we definitely wanted to have as part of our platform going forward. So with
William Tincup: RPO2RPO, you’re filling a gap, because obviously you’ve done some work in life sciences, I would assume, over, over the years at one point probably got pulled into some gig or whatever, but this is a specialization.
So you, I can see where, on, again, on paper, this makes sense, because there are experts, specialists at this. Y’all know, you both, y’all been in the RPO world long enough to know that every RPO kind of does things a little differently especially behind the veil and sometimes even like contracts and things like that, so how did you and you’re probably still working through some of this but how do you reconcile like something that Personified does really well that maybe Wilson doesn’t do as well, or vice versa?
John Wilson: Yeah, I think that’s always the hardest part about integration is you you, [00:05:00] when you’re the acquirer, you typically spend most of your time looking at what the company you’re acquiring is doing. And what it does is it opens up the time where you need to look internally as well at the things that, we could be doing better.
And what we found unique is there’s ways that they deliver especially in the life sciences and healthcare side, that are unique and drive results that were superior to what I’ve seen in this space. Part of the reason why Ryan was leading the whole thing and is now leading the healthcare and life sciences portion of our global business is to utilize that, those expertise to drive further growth and value to our clients.
William Tincup: I love it. Ryan, what did you see in the acquisition? Growing a bootstrap company not easy done it more than I care to admit. And there’s, it’s nice. I’ve raised money and also had that pain [00:06:00] as well, but what did you see in the acquisition?
Ryan Carlfey: So I think there’s a couple things John mentioned that jump out at you right away.
John and I had been in pretty close communication over the better part of the last five years. And so when you think about basic philosophies on business and the way you treat people, the way you treat your customers, I was already acutely aware. Of what Wilson HCG was going to look like primarily as we all looked under the hood.
And some of those foundational items, I think, were critical in our decision to come together. But when I think about what Wilson brought to the table by way of global footprint in addition to they were quickly moving up as it related to the size and scope of where we saw them as an enterprise provider.
And so it felt like a very logical next step to be able to make a significant amount of noise in this space to team up with what is, what I would consider to [00:07:00] be the best delivery platform in the business and giving our customers access to that platform was something that we thought would bring an immediate boost to all parties and we’ve been right about that.
William Tincup: Yeah, I’ve always, I’ve been a big fan of of Wilson HTG since I met John a hundred years ago, and I think it was in St. Pete, John, that we had lunch, but it might have been in Tampa and he, because at the time RPO I think Terry and The Right Thing were selling it like per, 2, 500, 1, 800 per hire, whatever the bid was.
And John’s bid at lunch was like, I want to sell it as like a luxury service. So I want to go on the other side of the market and wrap team around it, wrap all kinds of vision around it and make sure to take care of the customers and charge more. And I just, it was so different than everything that I had heard in the space and all the other RPOs that I had interacted with.
I just fell in love with the idea. And then he pulled it off.[00:08:00] It’s interesting now, right? That, now you’re working in a situation where, A, you’re already global before, but you, in even a more global situation, but you’ve got financial backing, which, when you’re, for those that are listening, when you’re self funded and bootstrapped, things can get interesting from time to time, depending on the, how the market’s going.
But. It’s actually nice to have some backing. So what’s that like for you?
Ryan Carlfey: I think it comes with a tremendous amount of responsibility, to be honest. We feel very fortunate to be a part of Wilson and 3i. And I think that comes with a responsibility to deliver back at a high level.
I, I don’t know that I’ve ever woken up at least post acquisition. Feeling okay, we’ve now got the backing to, we can take that. I can relax, but I will tell you that the amount of risk that you can take with a group like Wilson involved, it’s far different than when you’re bootstrapped, right?
I think the ability to expand [00:09:00] and to rapidly expand, I think is something that came with this merger for us. And we’re really fortunate. There, there comes a threshold in RPO. When you’re a stand alone, bootstrapped provider, that you, there is work that you would have to pass on.
We no longer have that barrier to entry anymore. And that is super exciting.
William Tincup: Yeah. And both of y’all are competitive. So now, what I like about that is it is, it seems culturally, it seems like a… Like a really nice fit, John, and I know that you spoke about it at the very beginning, that y’all have got to know each other, understand each other, worked out any type of chemistry stuff just just through that time team to team, outside of the two of you, obviously, y’all both have pretty large teams, What is that, what is the the integration of the teams been like?
John Wilson: Yeah, I think that was something that really drew us to Personify. Post knowing Brian we’ve been he does a little executive service function of the business that [00:10:00] really fit well into ours and fill the gap. The way that they were going to market from a sales perspective It fit very well.
So it, in a lot of ways when I look back at the similarities of where Personify was when we were that size those similarities almost are scary. It… It takes a little bit to, with infrastructure and a bigger business those processes start to come in play to make sure we’re leaving room for the entrepreneurial spirit to get the business where it is and and making sure that we can continue on with with the growth cycle that Personify’s been on.
William Tincup: Is there, how long is, when did we officially close?
John Wilson: I think it was the official close was, Ryan, was it the first week of February or the first week of June?
Ryan Carlfey: January 5th, yep.
William Tincup: So we’re six months in ish. Ryan, is there anything that you’ve been[00:11:00] I don’t know if I shocked, that’s not the right word, but just surprised, as you kind of tool around and get to meet people, meet new customers and prospects and meet some of the, more of the Wilson people, is there anything that’s been surprising, in a good way or a bad way, whatever, just anything that’s surprised you?
Ryan Carlfey: I think that the differentials in tech stack at Wilson were was incredible. I had no idea the tools and certainly the advent of Claro was something that I was completely unaware of. And the way that they leveraged those tools into their delivery model I don’t know that I was surprised as much as I was impressed.
I think that when you think about the caliber of people that are here you really get a general sense for, we were always, Wilson’s always been, and had been, an adequate rabbit to chase in the market. But when you look under the hood, you quickly understand why. Kim Pope is probably the best in the business.
As it relates to, to, to delivery. And as an operational leader, one of the [00:12:00] very best I’ve ever run, I’ve run to, and to see these services delivered at scale like they do. I don’t wanna say I was surprised, but I was impressed. Like I said.
William Tincup: It’s to me I think John and I, oh, this is a hundred years ago now, but we were talking about ATSs.
And I think he said told me at the time, he either number one, number two, number three, like one of the larger ISIMs customers. I’m like, what? He goes, yeah, we have a, we ISIMs license. I’m like, really? I was shocked that, cause I just didn’t know. Cause you know, when you’re not in an RPO. Again, for folks that are listening, you have no idea how the sausage is made, you just don’t know, they’re using their own technology, they’re using their clients technology, they’re, like, all of that stuff I’m glad you brought up the technology part, because it’s the Claro edition of acquisition was wonderful.
It’s just a great addition because you just got great analytic data and Michael’s also a good person as well. John what’s what do you say about [00:13:00] your tech stack? What’s because again, people don’t know what goes on behind the veil.
John Wilson: Yeah I think that Claro Everything we’ve done up to, from a technology perspective, I think Claro has the potential to make the biggest impact. It’s something that we use every single day internally. Our clients are ecstatic to have it, and the market receives it very well. It was interesting, though, after we did the deal, we took a…
We didn’t sell Claro for six to nine months. We’ve done the user experience. And trying to build what we want Claro to be in two to three years. And I believe it’s going to be, game changing in the way that companies look at their data. They analyze it and they make decisions when they’re looking forward.
And I think you and I have discussed in the past, most HR and talent data is always looking backwards. [00:14:00] And getting the ability to start looking forward, making decisions whether that be setting compensation bands or being able to set your headcount numbers for the year, those type of things that Claro is able to produce is really remarkable and we’re really excited to get that out as its own product now and in the future.
William Tincup: With both of y’all, I wanted to ask you just the running of a services firm that also has a heck of a lot of technology. You might even call yourselves technology firms now with a little bit of service. I’m not sure how you want to approach that, but what’s it like? Because, when you first started RPO, or staffing firm, Or, MSP, it’s services, you’re doing a whole lot of services, and yes, you’re using technology to find people and to do all the other stuff but it is mostly a services business.
Now you wake up years later, you’ve got all this technology behind the scenes, but all this technology that you’re also investing in, [00:15:00] how does that change kind of the way you look at running a services business? Because technology, at least historically… Technology businesses and services business are run differently.
The kind of the DNA is a little bit different, right? Ryan, I want to get your take first and then John,
Ryan Carlfey: your second. I think that there is no question that as everyone looks at where the business is headed, non tech enabled providers were probably going to become extinct over time. I think that’s a fact.
The level of sophistication and what’s actually behind what’s going on. I think there can be a lot of smoke and mirrors and a lot of the providers and the way they’re bundled, which was what made Wilson so exciting for us because Claro is a product that they own. It’s not one that’s bundled in, in, with, in, with additional services.
And for us just evaluating where Wilson was in their technology lifecycle and the fact that they had ownership [00:16:00] over the products that they’re delivering, to me, was a game changer.
William Tincup: Yeah. And John, do you take?
John Wilson: I, William, I think one thing with with the Clara acquisition, and I made this clear to Michael, and And others internally, as well as our board, is that services businesses usually ruin tech businesses.
And so it was very, we’ve separated our tech function from the services side of the business for probably the last five or six years. And when we brought it on Claro, it was really important that we kept it as a technology company. And what happens is that it has to be a give and take, where services say this is what we need from technology, but technology also can go to services and say, hey, we can do this now, or we need to put this in.
And so we try to have it much more as a give and take and back and forth versus a org charted command and control when you look at the [00:17:00] differences between services, businesses, and technology companies.
William Tincup: Love it. What success for, I want to get both of y’all’s takes on this, and I’ll give you a preface of kind of the way I’ve looked at acquisitions, more on the technology side of things than services side is I usually go about two, three years later after the acquisition, and I look at the company that acquired their ability to keep talent, keep customers, and keep revenue.
If they can do those things, then yeah, it’s probably a pretty good acquisition. You look at like when SAP bought SuccessFactors they lost Lars inside of 18 months. That was horrible. And when SuccessFactors bought Jobs to Web, they lost their bird within a year.
So it’s okay, for me, those again, both great companies just, I didn’t view this, the acquisition as. As fulfilled as it could have been because they didn’t keep the talent. And again, I don’t know about the [00:18:00] tech of the the the customers, but what’s, what are you both? Cause you both are looking through different lenses, but maybe at the same thing.
What are y’all viewing success? What is success or how are you going to define success over the next coming months or years, et cetera? John, why don’t you go first? Salida.
John Wilson: Sure. I think as much as we’ve talked about technology on this podcast, at the end of the day, it’s still a people business.
Relationships are what drives it. So I think your point is very valid. Looking back on… The acquisitions we’ve done in the past and the focus on making sure we’re retaining, engaging, and challenging the leaders of those acquired companies, because, when, again, like the SAP and SuccessFactors, for example, they at least had a, technology was the biggest piece of their business.
And For us, it’s people and relationships, and so it’s extremely critical that we keep those. So success for us in two or three [00:19:00] years is that we have one of the biggest life sciences portfolios in the industry, if not the biggest. And we’re making our employees extremely happy.
And that goes for the people sitting in Raleigh or the people in Tampa or the people in… Wherever in the world. I think we’re on the right path.
William Tincup: Love it. Ryan, what about you? What’s your view of success?
Ryan Carlfey: Yeah, I think what John mentioned is it relates to fully integrating into the Wilson culture, product portfolio suite of technology.
That’s table stakes. And then I think our ability to exponentially grow what is a very solid base of life sciences, I think that’s primarily. From my seat today where I would view success. But I can tell you that some of the things that were baked into this pre acquisition will make this a success.
And that’s just the alignment between the two organizations that was already there pre acquisition. I
William Tincup: love it. Guys, I wish you all the success in the world. First of all, I just absolutely love John and Wilson [00:20:00] ACG. Ryan, by connection, I now love you. I’ll take it. I’m in your corner if you ever need anything, and thank you so much for coming on the podcast.
Ryan Carlfey: Thanks, William. Be well.
John Wilson: Thank you so much for having us.
William Tincup: Absolutely. And thanks for everyone listening. Until next time.
William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.