'We want every job ad in the world'
Indeed's new chief executive Chris Hyams tells Michael Cogley of his unusual route to the top and his love of Dublin and its seafood
Two decades ago Austin, Texas, was a "sleepy town" in middle America. It was far from a place one would associate with cutting-edge technological research, let alone a hub for some of the biggest names in the tech industry. And yet, today, in the middle of the city sits Silicon Hills. Austin may be the home of Indeed, the world's biggest job-search engine, but Dublin, or more specifically Silicon Docks, is its European home. And Chis Hyams, chief executive of Indeed, believes there are plenty of similarities between the two locations.
"We've seen all of these other big companies grow here in the same time and it has been really remarkable to see the growth of this city. Dublin has reminded us a lot of Austin, where we live. They're both extraordinarily high growth, which has good and bad that comes along with it."
The former special education teacher has just announced a further 600 jobs in the Irish capital, which will eventually bring its headcount to in excess of 1,600. It is quite a journey from 2012 when only three staff members were employed here. "It's not that Dublin was unknown but now it is clearly the centre of European business for so many big companies," says Hyams, who was appointed to the top job in February.
The bad he speaks about are the teething pains that Dublin, like many cities before it, have suffered from during intense growth periods. Housing and transport infrastructure are well-documented ailments here.
"There has been a big shift this century where companies are now moving to where the talent is, as opposed to before where people would have to move to where the work is," he says.
"That means that everywhere we go there is a lot of competition and anywhere there is competition there's challenges for housing and traffic and all of those things. Obviously it's a big deal here, but it's not unique. We've noticed it pretty much everywhere we have an office."
Indeed now has 29 offices in 14 countries. It's owned by Japanese giant Recruit Holdings, which touts annual revenues of 1.84 trillion yen. Indeed's Irish arm reported turnover of €345.7m in 2017, according to its most recent results.
The company has two offices in Dublin, one in Capital Dock and another on St Stephen's Green. Its premises on the Green will be very familiar to Luas users who see the company's logo through the ground-floor windows. However, its future in that office is unclear.
"About two-thirds of our staff are on the Green, and a third are based here in Capital Dock," Hyams says.
"We've much more building work to be finished in the docks and we're planning to move all of our staff over here. This is definitely our future home, we've a long-term lease here and having started out in the docklands originally it's great to come back."
The company's aggressive growth both in Ireland and abroad is in line with meeting its mission: to get every job in the world advertised on Indeed.
Such a world-dominating goal would usually be associated with a hyper-ambitious leader. And yet, Hyams says he's not ambitious, at least not in the usual sense.
"I had no expectations and when people ask what were my career goals, I will be totally honest: I have no ambition from a traditional sense of wanting to get to some place or some role or title. My ambition has always been to do something that is useful, which is why I went into teaching," he says.
"My first work out of college was teaching in public high school in the north east of the US, teaching special education."
He admits that he had a "non-linear" path to the head of a billion-dollar business and modestly concedes that a lot of it had to do with luck.
Hyams followed his wife to Los Angeles in the '90s where she attended grad school while he played as a musician full-time for three years.
"In LA there are some really hallowed places there and I got to play the Roxy and the Troubadour and some of these places that I grew up going to as a kid," he says.
"It's a very, very challenging way to make a living and one of the things I saw was that there were so, so many people that were much more talented than me that had a tough time making a career out of it. I gave myself three years and at the end of those three years I decided it was time to start something new."
That next move was to Houston, Texas, where his wife secured a job at Rice University. Hyams made great use of the "free classes for the spouses of staff members" perk. He achieved an undergraduate degree and masters in computer science in 1993 "before it was a cool or lucrative thing to do". His studies began just two years after he got his first email address. "It was something that was intellectually interesting and in how my brain works I saw it as something I could see doing for the rest of my life," he says.
"I worked as an engineer and then got sideways pulled into leadership opportunities. Really, I didn't want to be a manager, I just wanted to write code. But I found my experience of working with people turned out to be valuable so the connection of the bits and bytes and the humans was sadly not as frequently available as you might think."
After six years with his own startup, which was eventually wound up, Hyams made the move to Indeed as its head of product.
"We had about 200 people in 2010, and I think success is 90pc luck and timing and I think the founders of Indeed will tell you that." In his position Hyams is able to view employment trends at a very granular level. Take, for example, after Brexit.
"In the period immediately following Brexit what we did see was that London used to be the number one destination for searches outside of a home country to another location in the EU. Immediately following the Brexit vote that shifted to Ireland," Hyams said.
"There was a huge amount of interest from other EU companies who used to be looking towards the UK, but were now looking towards Ireland. Companies are paying close attention, but nobody knows what's going to happen right now but we feel confident about the Irish economy."
Hyams' perspective of the working world is also of interest given the immense change that it has undergone and is due to go through in the coming years. Among the biggest disruptions is automation. "I'm a big personal believer in a liberal arts undergraduate, I think it's really important to understand that world and how to read, write and communicate," Hyams says. "In technology it's not possible to be successful if you can't communicate well."
He said that there was a "huge focus" in the US on universities preparing students for a specific job and that it was really hard to do as the job may not even exist yet. "I think it's impossible to think that coding will not be part of everyone's curriculum in 10 year's time. Anyone who uses Excel codes, you don't need to be a software developer to be thinking in terms of programming. It's an essential skill, but I think so is reading literature and studying history," he says.
"I'm not going to try and predict the future, but I can tell you that the history of technology is that the word 'luddite' comes from when the loom was first invented and the people who made their living as weavers raised up and burned factories and destroyed these looms because they thought they were going to kill there jobs. There are more people working in textiles today than there were handweaving."
He said that while it doesn't mean the future will continue that way, "every technological disruption has led to basically a kind of work that was required less skill and less knowledge going away and creating a huge amount of more work".
However, Hyams does recognise that the disruption will hurt people along the way, while pointing to the imminent introduction of autonomous trucks and the effect that will have on the some four million people in the US that rely on driving for their income.
"We have a unique obligation in the global market to help minimise that disruption, but it's hard to predict. I personally am on the side of humans, so I'm not one of those ones who think we're going to see structural unemployment and certain humans just aren't going to be useful. I'm an optimist," he says.
Hyams is back and forth to Dublin. Since coming here first he has witnessed the city emerge from a recession and enjoy impressive growth. During his visits he has enjoyed several tourist destinations, not least the Wild Atlantic Way. He also has his own favourite restaurant in Dublin, which he booked two weeks in advance of his arrival. "I always like to mention my favourite restaurant in town, it's the Winding Stair," he says, speaking highly of its smoked fish plate.
"The food here, I'll tell you that's something that people outside don't know. No one told us before we came here how good the food is here. The food here is remarkable."
Dublin may not have been a sleepy town when Hyam landed here first, but it has gone some way to planting itself as the tech hub of Europe over the last decade.
The one-time drummer believes that the city isn't finished yet, admitting that he would be "surprised" if there were not more Indeed job announcements in the future.
Sunday Indo Business