Public Speaker, Writer, Consultant and Former President and COO of Monster Worldwide
I first met Jim Treacy last year through a trusted client and friend Vikki Ziegler. Within the first 20 minutes of knowing Jim we became fast friends. Jim was forthright, intelligent, and warm. He had a humility that didn’t fit the man’s accomplishments. He had reverence for our team at Silverback, and assured us, that he was there as a student of social media. He then articulated his vision for his business partner. I hung on every word for the next two hours. I cherish moments like that. When I meet someone that’s whip smart, and with that much business experience, I shut up and listen. I too had lived through the DOT com boom of the late 90’s and early 2000’s. But I hadn’t experienced half of what Jim had. As Jim and I spoke we realized that we shared mutual acquaintances. We bonded on our shared similar assessments of their personalities. I knew I liked Jim immediately.
It’s been my goal for my success features to include individuals that have seen more than monetary success. Those who could add a different assessment of the success they’ve seen in their lifetime. After seeing astronomical monetary success, Jim faced jail time and almost lost it all. While it’s easy to sit back and ponder how we would handle ourselves in a similar situation, I can’t help but think that it would break many. After meeting Jim, I can tell you that it has only made him stronger. He has a clear vision for his future. A strong moral compass, and an infinite thirst to keep growing, learning, and connecting. That’s the type of success I’m looking for. That’s the kind of success I hope finds you as you read this. Jim’s Q/A is a riveting look into the excesses, and successes of the DOT com world. Enjoy this one, it’s a gem.
Chris Dessi: You were the President and COO of one of the most wildly successful DOT com’s of all time. How did you get there? What was your path to internet stardom? Tell us about that journey.
Jim Treacy: It was 1994. I was 36 years old. To date, I had a highly-successful career – corporate officer since age 28, decent money, people under me – a veteran player in a headline-making hostile takeover and likewise for a billion dollar debt restructure. One day a headhunter called me up about a CFO position at a cash-strapped, advertising agency backwater called TMP Worldwide (today called Monster Worldwide). The position was beneath my accomplishment but I was feeling under-appreciated and bored where I was, so I took the meeting. They offered me the job immediately. I politely turned them down.
Months later, the entrepreneur, more riverboat gambler, who owned the bulk of TMP, called me up and invited me to dinner. During the meal he pitched me the CEO position, with equity ownership, of the company’s fledgling, money-losing, Recruitment Advertising division. The proposal was to team-up and do a classic debt-financed roll-up. He’d buy them; I’d fold them in. I accepted the challenge and, in just two years time, we turned that small unit into the world’s largest Recruitment Advertising agency.
During that frenetic build, I was introduced to the Internet. I had no idea what it was. Serendipity occurred during a late-1994, California, budget meeting. An acquisition we were folding-in showed me an in-development website, Career Taxi. It took an hour of some very patient explanation and demonstration for me to understand the huge opportunity being presented: If we could convince all the clients in my division to place their job ads on an Internet site we owned, rather than place them in printed newspaper help-wanted sections, we could go from being an ad agency to a publisher. Meaning instead of making fifteen cents on every client ad dollar (the other 85 cents went to the newspaper) we could keep it all. As they say, a no-brainer. I tripled their development budget, on the spot. Then, once back in New York, I spent the next several months, with help from others, getting the big boss (Mister Roll-Up) to understand the concept. When he finally got it, he bought up nascent career-sites The Monster Board and Online Career Center — both for a song — before 1995 was out.
The rest is history. Right time, right place and a huge existing client base to introduce our wholly-owned websites to — vision, execution, a bit of luck, etc. Over the next few years we went public, moved those clients online and melded our various career-sites into one big powerhouse, Monster.com. It became the number one, global, Internet career portal by a wide margin. Our eclectic management team, for a time, got to be Wall Street darlings. Most impressively, of the hundreds, maybe even thousands, of commercial websites launched during the late-90’s on into the great Dot Com crash of March 2000, Monster was one of the few significant, stand-alone, Internet businesses, alive and well out the other side of the meltdown (2002). Along with Amazon, Yahoo, eBay, Match, Priceline…keep going if you can. I don’t think you’ll get to much more than ten examples. I’d note we were added to the S&P500 Index during the crash, May 2001.
Chris Dessi: I speak with many successful executives that question the value of college. What do you say to those detractors of education? You did your undergraduate work at Siena and you have a MBA from St. John’s. Can you point to a time when you felt you HAD to have an MBA? How much has your MBA contributed to your success?
Jim Treacy: A college education is neither an obligation or a right. Not everyone is cut out for college. If you like and have the skills to work with your hands there is a lot to be said for controlling your own destiny as a plumber, electrician, mechanic, etc. — always in demand, no college debt burden. Also, I’d argue a Navy or Air Force technician, for those high-powered war ships or planes, is a great base to build a lucrative, post-miltary career off of. Plus you got paid and saw the world, while becoming an in-demand tech expert.
Now, if you decide you are college material be warned that it is an expensive privilege, not a right. There are many ways to finance it, none easy. So if you want and/or need the degree be a grown-up and have a realistic plan on how to make it happen for yourself.
With those disclaimers out of the way, you asked the “value” question. Hopefully your readers can forgive a sports analogy. LeBron James came out of high school ready to storm the NBA but he’s an extreme aberration. There are very few high school basketball players prepared, mentally or physically, to go straight into the NBA, Ditto for football/NFL and baseball/MLB. Most all these guys must continue developing and proving themselves at the college or minor league level before even having a shot to make it in the big money, win now, professional leagues. No one coddles you in the pros – perform or you’re out & quickly forgotten. I don’t see preparing for Corporate America much differently. It’s also an extremely competitive world.
So if you’re asking in the Peter Thiel “college is often a waste of time” sense, I wholeheartedly disagree! Thiel is way brighter than me, his book “Zero to One” has a lot of good stuff in it and I respect his libertarian bent but I firmly believe college is an invaluable experience for many.
Yes Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, etc. never completed college but, like LeBron, they’re “freaks of nature”. Guess what? 99.9% of us aren’t that. College provides a nurturing environment — both inside and outside of the classroom — to grow and develop as a complete person, academically and socially; a chance to learn and make “harmless” mistakes, in a fully supportive environment, read community. America’s global leadership, as well as the vast number of international students that flock to our college and university admission doors attests to that value.
Regarding my MBA: I had a great deal of fun in my undergraduate time at Siena; particularly outside the classroom. As my senior year began the job market stunk, my grades weren’t much better and I hated my major as career. That’s when I decided a Masters Degree was in order. The value of my MBA was it got me to a major I enjoyed and could happily build a career on, gave me some post-college time to get my “serious” hat back on and opened doors for positions that required such. Glad I did it.
Chris Dessi: You lived through the wild west of the internet. Of all the characters you’ve come across – who pops into your mind as a person that you knew was going to be a success? Why? What talent/attribute did they have?
Jim Treacy: Two come-to-mind, at different junctures, for generally the same reasons, from roughly the same position in the room when I noticed them.
The First: I was Treasure Americas for the WPP Group, finishing up the last complicated piece of a long-running billion dollar debt restructure – a $250 million asset securitization – including instituting a mutually acceptable, daily-reporting structure for said lenders. We were working with a team from Prudential Securities. In large group meetings I tend to give short shrift to all the pontificating. Instead, I study the work product presented and who actually did that work. During this process a young kid on Prudential’s team stood out. He was smart as a whip, appropriately but not overly deferential to rank, fast and accurate on the work product. I thought, “He’ll do well.” Years later, as an Internet analyst at CIBC Oppenheimer, he made a headline-making bullish call on Amazon’s stock price, in the face of much media skepticism. He was proved right in just three weeks. Today he’s the Co-Founder/CEO/Editor-In-Chief of Business Insider, Henry Blodget.
The Second: I was the EVP/Finance & Strategy at Monster Worldwide. Morgan Stanley led our 1996 IPO and 1997 Follow-On offering. Thus, I was in seemingly endless meetings with groups of Morgan Stanley employees. Once, after such a meeting, I witnessed a young fellow get a terse “to-do” listing from Morgan’s brilliant and driven, Internet analyst, at that time, Mary Meeker. I thought, “This poor kid won’t sleep tonight.” I ambled over and made a crack about the treatment, adding if anything on his list was TMP-related never hesitate to call me for assistance. His immediate response was as mature and as thought out as any I’d ever heard. He smiled, thanked me and said something along the lines of, “Oh, Mary’s all-right. She’s under a lot of pressure to be perfect all the time. This is my two years in the army and having this on my resume will open doors.” In 1998, he was hired away, by Amazon, to head their Investor Relations efforts. Today, he’s Amazon’s SVP Kindle Content. You may, or may not, have heard of him but I guarantee everyone in the publishing world knows who he is. And, after 17 years at Amazon, my guess, he’s also a very wealthy guy, Russ Grandinetti.
Chris Dessi: How do you define success?
Jim Treacy: If you enjoy the people you are surrounded by and are 100% at ease looking into a mirror.
Chris Dessi: For many of my readers public speaking is a great fear. But you do it so well, and often (television etc). How do you do to prepare for public speaking? Have you been trained, or does it just come naturally?
Jim Treacy: I’ve never had, or was much interested in, formal public speaking training. So, I guess it’s natural. When I choose to speak it’s on topics that I’m passionate about, as well as experienced and knowledgeable in. I try to know a bit about the audience, in advance. This allows pre-thought on how best to engage them. No matter the situation, I speak my mind, sugar-coat nothing and let the chips fall where they may. My tone and message are the same whether I’m talking one-on-one, to an auditorium full of people or in front of a camera. Total comfort in my beliefs, nary a worry if they please or pain.
Chris Dessi: I have two young daughters. What advice can you give them that if I share this with them in 10 years you think will translate to their success?
Jim Treacy: Failure is not a sin; failing due to lack of preparation or effort is. Whatever you want in life, whatever challenge you take on, give it everything you’ve got. If you know you couldn’t have prepared any harder, given an ounce more energy in the drive to the goal, you’ll be fine. In fact, that maximum effort, more often than not, will generate success. On the odd occasion where you truly prepared, gave top effort and still failed I guarantee a valuable life lesson will reveal itself. It’ll sting but, if you embrace it, you’ll become smarter and stronger for the next challenge.
Chris Dessi: You’re pretty candid about your time in jail. How long did it take for you to be so comfortable with sharing that time of your life with people?
Jim Treacy: Instantly, I did zero wrong. The whole thing was a career-enhancing farce for a few despicable prosecutors and a scrapbooking judge. I’ve talked and written at length about it. Sadly, America’s justice system has turned into a massive, wealth-creating industry. An ugly one where prosecutors act with impunity, eye on million-dollar law partnerships or high political office; pampered, lifetime-appointed judges rule to political agendas; and prisons are valued as blue collar job creators that also line many a politician’s pocket.The Economist ran a very insightful, October 2014, cover story on the whole systemic mess
Chris Dessi: Did you have a mentor when you first started out? Do you think mentorship is important for all executives?
Jim Treacy: I can name people who assisted me all along the way. The list is long. If, as a person, you don’t merit colleague assistance your career will be in flames.
Regarding a classic mentor/mentee relationship, that occurred in my second employment stop, The Ogilvy Group. I was fortunate that the Chairman/CEO, Bill Phillips, saw something in me. For whatever reason he made sure I had a variety of opportunities to stretch myself. I appreciatively latched on to each one. In my experience a natural, not forced, mentor match is extremely helpful to an executive’s development.
Chris Dessi: When did you first think of yourself as a success?
Jim Treacy: One of my grandfathers was a longshoreman on the docks of the Westside of New York City — Hells Kitchen. The day I showed him my Ogilvy business card that said “Vice President ” he smiled ear-to-ear, grabbed it and quietly stuck it in his wallet.
Chris Dessi: Who has been your greatest positive influence on your life?
Jim Treacy: There’s a few ways to take that question. My parents for a stable, supportive environment to grow up in. My wife and kids who keep me grounded. Or from study: Jesus Christ for “do unto others,” Abe Lincoln for having the courage to work with a Team of Rivals and George Patton for the merits of audacity in battle.
Chris Dessi: You have an active social media ecosystem, and your a blog contributor for the Huffington Post (Business Insider contributor, as well) . What do you say to executives who think that they don’t have time to be involved in building their personal brand online?
Jim Treacy: If you don’t define yourself somebody else will do it for you. Also, if you’ve had some success it’s nice to share it; be part of the conversation.
Chris Dessi: What do you think is the one characteristic that all of the successful people you know share?
Jim Treacy: Energy. They make things happen. No sitting around with expectations of a handout or perceived entitlement.
Chris Dessi: What advice do you have for Mark Zuckerberg if any?
Jim Treacy: I had the pleasure of sitting next to Mark at a 2006 luncheon. I wrote an article about it. He’s a nice and very successful fellow, playing at an IQ level way above mine, thus needing no advice from me. But forced to offer some, it would be, “Keep going, you’re absolutely killing it! From a very happy, longterm shareholder.”
Chris Dessi: For someone who has seen great monetary success – what do you think is the most dangerous thing about that type of success?
Jim Treacy: Sometimes those with a great deal of money equate that with what they perceive to be their own brilliance or superiority. Pure nonsense. I know a lot of classless dummies with coin and many classy people with not much. Circumstance, luck, what you value, etc. all play a role.
Chris Dessi: How important are habits and routine to your success? What is your Rhythm? What time do you go to bed? Do you exercise? Do you meditate?
Jim Treacy: Very. Type A, all the way. Typically, by 11PM. Most everyday, a five to seven mile run. While I get a lot of reflection in during my daily run, I do not meditate in the traditional sense. However, when at our LBI home, I am known to sit on the beach, cooler at hand, and silently watch the waves break for hours on end.
Chris Dessi: How has your home life affected your career success? Were your parents strict? Do you have brothers and sisters? If so, how have they affected you and your drive to succeed?
Jim Treacy: The people in my life have always been hugely supportive of me. I very much appreciate, and sometimes wonder, how they tolerate me. When “I’m on/in the game” I can be insanely competitive, opinionated, cocksure, driven, laser-focused…a little nuts, frankly. Fortunately, the things that turn me “on” I keep to a short list.
I wouldn’t refer to my parents, whom thankfully are still around, as “strict.” I’d use the word, “disciplined”. They are both salt-of-the-earth, blue-collar, dyed-in-the wool, patriotic Americans, as well as devout Roman Catholics. They set an excellent example and provided great opportunity.
I have two sisters, both younger. One has a Ph. D. in Mathematics and is a highly-successful educator. The other is a Manager, Cloud Enablement & Engagement at IBM. Proud of them both. The “disciplined” construction worker and homemaker did alright rearing their flock of three.
Chris Dessi: You’re a very active Board Member, advisor and investor in many companies. What advice do you give to young entrepreneurs who are looking to get funded?
Jim Treacy: Distraction is doom! Entrepreneurs are ideas people. Often they just keep having them, never staying focused long enough to see one through to full fruition. I try to explain, “You’ve got this great concept, defined its success, the money-crowd is interested, now you have to focus and execute on that alone.” Money flows to rapid results; drifting execution gets impoverished.
Chris Dessi: I know you as a humble person, but I need you to brag a little here. What has been your greatest career success to date? Tell us about it.
Jim Treacy: I firmly believe that nothing great is accomplished alone. Having said that, I was an integral part of Monster’s success. Wall Street seems to have validated that. The day I quit the company, August 6, 2002, its stock price plunged a jaw-dropping 30%. One Internet analyst wrote, in a widely-distributed report, that I was “the glue that held Monster together.” Modesty should forbid but he may have been right. LinkedIn launched in 2003 and, in relatively short order, dislodged Monster from its leadership position in the online career sector, bringing on its inglorious banishment from the S&P500 Index.
Chris Dessi: Will you ever write your memoirs about the wild days of the DOTcom boom?
Jim Treacy: Will a bold publisher — or producer — with vision appear? Already outlined, 100 hours of taping complete, rich characters, names names, historic events; crazy ride. Contract to Best Seller in six months. Ten year Netflix series &/or full length movie a breeze.
Chris Dessi: My daughters know that I hate witches – what’s one thing that scares the hell out of you?
Jim Treacy: “Smile for the camera.” I get self-conscience posing for pictures. A pariah in this “selfie-world.”
Chris Dessi: Best day of your life
Jim Treacy: June 15, 2011, roughly 7:00AM: Processed out of the crater called Morgantown Federal Correctional Institute — liberty restored, in college ball-playing shape, having hurdled Uncle Sam‘s senseless mind-game; blue sky, beautiful wife beaming across the parking lot, my Uncle Pete holding a cup of real coffee aloft, my kids and home just a half-day drive away, George Harrison’s “Here Comes the Sun” running through my brain…
Chris Dessi: Worst day of your life?
Jim Treacy: No contest, “9/11.” I was downtown with roughly 120 Monster employees. Terrible scene, stays with you. As many did, I lost some friends and acquaintances that day. NYFD Chaplain, Fr. Father Mychal Judge, OFM, being one – from my Siena College days; wonderful soul! (Authors Note: The photo below is of Jim on September 11th – When the planes hit on 9/11 Jim was at the Embassy Suites – a short block from the North Tower – giving a talk to 120 Monster employees, from around the globe, in a leadership seminar. They headed up the West side along the Hudson — below is a photo — taken by a Goldman Sachs analyst who was with Jim for the talk. The photo is right after Jim was having a roll call taken to ensure everyone from Monster is accounted for — see the woman with her hand up, as in here).
Chris Dessi: You have access to a time machine, but you can never come back to present day. Where do you go in time?
Jim Treacy: As a a big fan of just insurrection, two events pop-up. From my non-violent side, the Last Supper. I would have had a few questions. From my combative side, the Continental Congress. I would have been all in.
Chris Dessi: What advice would you give to the 16 yr old Jim?
Jim Treacy: Be 100% true to your true self, 100% of the time and all will come well!
Jim was President and Chief Operating Officer of Monster Worldwide. He joined Monster’s predecessor, TMP Worldwide (a 27 year-old, cash-strapped, private entity), during 1994, as Chief Executive Officer of its smallest division. In 1995, Jim played an integral part in identifying and rolling-up the nascent websites that would morph intoMonster.com. During this time he formulated and executed the cross-selling strategy known as “Feed the Monster”, which ultimately established Monster.com as the leading global Internet career portal and validated the online recruitment industry as a credible, vital and growing segment of the global economy. Learn more about Jim here and follow him on Twitter here.
Hey there, thanks for reading! My name is Chris Dessi. I’m the founder and CEO of Silverback Social. I’m also the founder of the Westchester Digital Summit, and the author of Your World is Exploding: How Social Media is Changing Everything and How You Need to Change With It.
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