Head of Biggest Employment Agency : He’s Made a Career of Changing Others’ Careers

Associated Press

When he talks of career changes and rebounding from retirement doldrums, employment agency magnate Robert Snelling expounds with an evangelistic zeal that only experience can generate.

The chairman of Snelling & Snelling Inc., the world’s largest employment agency chain, preaches the gospel that jobs are out there for those who would pursue them. He has just written a new book on jobs and is shooting for 1,000 Snelling franchises within the next two to three years--more than double the 480 current franchisees.

Not bad for a man whose goal was a sales career with DuPont Chemical and retirement at 40. He never made it to DuPont, opting instead to help his parents in their year-old Philadelphia employment service in 1952 after his father’s health deteriorated.

He wasn’t much good at retirement. He retired to Florida at age 39 but was back at the helm 18 months later, convinced that the leisure life was not to his liking.


Changing Careers

Give him an opening and he will list a litany of people who have changed their careers--and thus their lives.

“He who aims at nothing is likely to hit it,” he likes to say.

“When I read or hear about men on street corners or soup kitchen lines, I want to tell them that if they learn to type, they can get a good job,” Snelling said in a recent interview while in Las Vegas to attend a meeting of franchisees. “There is a great need for typists. That doesn’t mean they have to stay typists. They can move on to word processing and other jobs. Right now, there’s a tremendous need for nurses, especially male nurses.”


In his new book, “Jobs! What They Are . . . Where They Are . . . What They Pay!” he outlines several professions that offer the most job-growth potential. They include engineering, finance, health services and technology, marketing, media, communications, sales and the computer industry.

Snelling estimates that 75% of the 20 million new jobs in the next 10 years will be in service-oriented professions.

Franchise Bandwagon

Snelling offices place about 55,000 people a year in jobs ranging from secretaries to company presidents. Many employment companies have followed Snelling & Snelling’s lead and joined the franchise bandwagon. But Snelling says that there is plenty of room for everyone to grow.


“We could double our size and still not tap the surface,” Snelling said. “Just look at the real estate industry. Early in this century, when someone wanted to sell their house, they just pounded a sign in their front yard. Today there are literally 500,000 real estate companies in this country.

“In our whole profession, we have only about 12,000 employment services. And yet more people change jobs every week than sell homes. Government figures show that 7% of the working population changes jobs every month. So we haven’t even touched the tip of the iceberg yet.”

The Snelling franchise network is a far cry from 1951, when Louis and Gwendolyn Snelling started their own employment agency in a downtown Philadelphia office.

Four years later they sold their first franchise in Allentown, Pa.


“Dad wanted to expand but we knew the pitfalls of trying to grow with company-owned operations,” Snelling recalled. “He said we were going to franchise, like Howard Johnson’s was doing. We all looked at him and said ‘What’s that, Dad?’ ”

Robert Snelling hit the road selling and setting up franchises throughout Pennsylvania. In 1964, he took over as company president and by 1969 had taken the company public.

Snelling, 52, set his sights on retiring by age 40. At 39 he did so, leaving the company in the hands of former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Drew Lewis. He traded his Philadelphia office for a 46-foot boat, a plush home on the sixth tee of a Boca Raton, Fla. country club--and a severe case of the retirement blahs.

“After I was there two months I was starting to go crazy,” Snelling recalled. “So I rented an office in a bank building, hired a secretary, warmed up my Dictaphone and got busy again.


“The happiest day of my life was when Drew called and said he was leaving the company to run for governor of Pennsylvania. I jumped up, clicked my heels, and yelled, ‘We’re going home.’ We sold the golf cart with the fringe on top, the boat, the house and headed back for Pennsylvania.