Jay Ferguson | Executive Profile | ATLANTA TREND
By Robert Green
In his position as Chief Legal Officer, Jay Ferguson is responsible for managing all legal affairs and for creating and implementing strategic legal initiatives to support business operations for the staffing giant Randstad U.S. His former law firm Partners describe him as a “bulldog” litigator with a keen sense of detail and the ability to handle even the most complicated matters.
Jay Ferguson was born in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and moved with his family to Rome, Georgia at the age of three. He attended local schools and played soccer from the first grade onward, but feels that he derived his most valuable life lesson from his neurosurgeon father. “My father taught me the meaning of hard work. He was such a great example,” says Jay. “There weren’t many neurosurgeons in Rome, which resulted in him having to work long hours. But he never complained about the schedule or the middle of the night calls which required him to report to the hospital to treat patients. I was quite fortunate to observe that sort of uncomplaining work ethic.”
Jay’s resolute determination was first revealed in soccer, which he once considered quitting “after a bad practice,” but held on and was rewarded in his senior year by being named captain of the team. A student leader, he was also President of the Student Council. These activities didn’t distract him from his studies in which Math and English were his favorite subjects. “I enjoyed math so much that it’s somewhat surprising I’m not a tax attorney,” he says, “although I am quite pleased with what I do now…” serving as head of legal for the third largest staffing company in the United States.
After high school, Jay attended the University of Georgia and felt fortunate to be there. “I knew I was lucky,” he says, “only about 60 or 70 percent of the students I went to high school with decided to attend college. I was grateful to have the opportunity.” Majoring in Political Science, his most interesting experience was the “summer abroad” study program he took between his junior and senior years. “I attended school in Innsbruck, Austria and took three classes which were taught Monday through Thursday. My friends and I purchased Eurail passes which allowed us to travel throughout Europe for long weekends, including visits to Barcelona, Vienna, Munich, Venice and Berlin, among others.” He added that “The cultural experiences of the trip were fantastic and I appreciated learning more about the perceptions of the United States – both positive and negative – held by citizens of various countries.”
Graduating in 1994, Jay worked for a month as an intern on Capitol Hill in Washington for Congressman Buddy Darden where he got to see both the House and Senate in session and became very familiar with the history of both bodies. “As an intern, one of our jobs was conducting tours of the Capitol for visiting constituents, so learning its history and the history of the connecting office buildings was enjoyable,” he said. After the internship, he stayed in Washington and worked for several months as an intern for Coca Cola’s Governmental Affairs group before returning to Atlanta. He knew he wanted to work a few years in the private sector before going to law school, which had always been his goal. Jay started with AG Edwards as a trainee in its sales program and became a stockbroker after passing the Series 7 exam. He worked at AG Edwards for a year before moving to the Trust Department of SunTrust where he worked until deciding that it was time to go back to school in 1997.
Jay liked law school, but he treated it like work. “Law school was like a job for me,” he says and the bulldog characteristics probably helped. He did well and especially enjoyed moot court and mock trial competitions. “I found oral arguments exciting and having to think on your feet in front of a panel or judge very stimulating,” he said.
Interestingly, when he left law school and started as an Associate with the Atlanta firm of Troutman Sanders in 2000, the first file he was given was a Randstad matter. Jay was on the Labor and Employment team defending a discrimination case against the staffing company. “We won the case, which was great, but I didn’t realize at the time that it was the beginning of a long, happy relationship with Randstad for me,” he says. One of the early memorable experiences with the firm was conducting his first plaintiff’s deposition. “Randstad had been sued and I deposed the plaintiff in Tennessee. After asking my last question, I went off the record with the plaintiff and his attorney. I told them that they had no case and they were going to spend a lot of time and money on this matter and end up with nothing. They agreed and dismissed the case on the spot. It was gratifying to obtain the right result quickly and I was happy to push them there,” he says.
In the fall of 2003, Jay left Troutman Sanders with two other attorneys to start the Labor and Employment practice for the Atlanta office of Duane Morris, a distinguished national law firm founded in Philadelphia. The work for Randstad came with them, and Jay was the only Associate, which meant that he was trusted with work normally reserved for more senior attorneys. “I was given senior work and that definitely allowed me to acquire valuable experience at a young age,” he says. At the firm, Jay handled many other matters outside of Labor and Employment litigation.
Also representing CORT Furniture and the security firm Cognisa, Jay was enjoying his work at Duane Morris and was made a Partner in December of 2008. He wasn’t anticipating the decision he would have to make in 2009. Early that year, Randstad asked him to join the company as General Counsel of Randstad General Staffing. Unsurprisingly, accepting was a hard decision for Jay. “On the one hand, I had just made Partner with a firm I liked very much. On the other hand, I knew Randstad was a wonderful company,” he says. He joined Randstad in June of 2009.
When Jay joined Randstad, he had been working as one of their outside attorneys for approximately nine years and thought he knew everything about the company. “But I soon found,” he said, “that there was a lot about the day-to-day business that I needed to learn.” He had also joined at a time when the staffing business in general was suffering. In fact, the industry was at the lowest point in years. In the staffing business, Jay says, one of the most important indexes to watch is the “penetration rate,” or the percentage of all US jobs that are filled by temporary workers. When he joined, the penetration rate was near an all-time low of 1.3%. Fortunately, things gradually improved to the point that the penetration rate is now near an all-time high, at 1.97%. The highest ever penetration rate for staffing was 2.03% during the dotcom bubble. “Business is quite stable now,” says Jay, “and many economists predict that we could very well see the penetration rate reach a new all-time high in the next 12 months.” This is great news for the overall economy: it is well known among economists that the staffing industry must do well before regular job growth begins to expand substantially.
Randstad is the second largest staffing company in the world with over 100,000 people working for it at client sites just in the U.S. alone. With U.S. headquarters in Atlanta, the company fills every conceivable position imaginable – industrial workers and IT professionals, as well as doctors, accountants and engineers through its 900 branch and client-dedicated locations. “If there is a company that needs workforce flexibility, we can provide it,” says Jay. In 2011, Randstad purchased SFN Group, formerly Spherion, which doubled the size of its U.S. business. Randstad Holding nv, based in Amsterdam, generates total revenue of approximately $22 billion per year. At $4.5 billion, Randstad North America is the largest revenue unit of the company.
In 2012, Jay’s responsibilities increased significantly when he was made Chief Legal Officer and given authority over both Randstad General Staffing and Randstad Professionals. Fourteen attorneys and four paralegals work in his department and he also has a large amount of outside counsel work to supervise. As a manager, Jay tries to set a good example of hard work – much as his father did for him – and fully expects those working for him to follow suit. “I do expect the legal advice to be pragmatic and concise,” he says.
Jay has been appointed to the Randstad Legal Advisory Committee, which is a worldwide group that meets four times a year to discuss and set policy for the entire company. The meetings are usually held in Amsterdam, but sometimes in Paris or London. The committee focuses on issues affecting Randstad in the 40 countries in which it operates, including issues such as respect for human rights, data privacy, competition compliance and contract negotiations.
What Jay is most proud of at Randstad is the relationship that he has fostered between senior management and the legal department. “Our relationship is such that advice is sought before strategic initiatives are implemented. The legal department has established a mission and vision statement indicating that the attorneys will be ‘on the team, in the meeting, and in the room’ when important business issues are debated,” he says. Although he reports to the CFO, the nature of his work requires frequent interaction with the CEO and other officers of the company, and “the variety of issues keeps the position extremely interesting,” he says.
Since 2011, Jay has served on the Advisory Committee of the Atlanta Legal Aid Society, and he has also served as a youth soccer coach. He and his wife Missy have three kids; Jack, 14, Eliza, 6 and Blair, age 4.
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