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Jim Buchanan of Cadient Talent: “Not so positive”

I used to be susceptible to chasing every business opportunity that came along. Some of the people that I have worked with and admire are incredibly focused on being the absolute best in the world at one thing. I think that’s a recipe for success. As a part of our series about business leaders who are […]

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I used to be susceptible to chasing every business opportunity that came along. Some of the people that I have worked with and admire are incredibly focused on being the absolute best in the world at one thing. I think that’s a recipe for success.


As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jim Buchanan.

Jim is the CEO of Cadient Talent. Cadient Talent provides talent acquisition solutions focused on distributed hourly hiring. Cadient was formed in 2019 through a business unit carve-out from a large private software company. Prior to Cadient, Jim spent 15 years in executive management roles in the talent acquisition industry.

Jim co-founded Merlin Technologies, a human capital management company specializing in assessment software and solutions. Under his leadership, the company saw significant growth and was acquired in 2015.

Before Merlin, Jim was CFO of Peopleclick, one of the first companies to offer an applicant tracking system serving a blue-chip customer base — including forty-nine of the Fortune 100 and more than a third of the Fortune 500. Jim earned his bachelor’s degree at Indiana State University and his MBA at Indiana University.

Fun Fact: Though Jim’s basketball skills are what some may call ordinary, Jim worked closely on a class project with Larry Bird, one of the “50 Greatest Players in NBA History”! Then, much later, Jim had the opportunity to work at a company where David Stern, commissioner of the NBA, served as board member.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I’ve been working with talent acquisition software companies for over 15 years. Initially, I didn’t know much about HR but the attraction to the industry for a software guy such as me was the business model. HR software companies were pioneers in the software-as-a-service model. Having worked in businesses that sold perpetual on-premise software licenses for a long time, the SaaS model intriguing. I learned a lot over the years about HR and the value of talent acquisition and haven’t really wanted to do anything else since.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

Our vision at Cadient Talent is to revolutionize the way the world makes hiring decisions. We believe that the use of data and machine learning should play a disruptive and prominent role in the hiring process. Cadient specializes in distributed hourly hiring where local managers make most of the hiring decisions. These people have difficult jobs and a lot of diverse responsibilities including recruiting and hiring. It’s a tough job and an effective decision support system can help them make better hires. Many times, they get way more candidates than they can possibly evaluate. A decision support system based on machine learning can make a huge difference in that environment and provide a great return on investment.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Great question! I’ve made a ton of mistakes but can’t think of any that were funny. Too painful, I guess. I’ll just rely on the quote from the late, great basketball coach John Wooden, “Mistakes come from doing, but so does success.”

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

I’ve been fortunate to work with a lot of great people in my career. The Cadient Talent Chairman, Steve Sasser, is a very good friend of mine and I’ve worked with and learned from him for many years. I also had the pleasure of working with Donald Keough after his Coca-Cola career and while he was the Chairman of Allen & Company, an investment bank in New York. Don was exceptional in every way. I still tell stories about the way he handled certain difficult situations. Pure genius and it was a privilege to learn from him.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

“Not so positive” disruption is going to happen and is sometimes unexpected. The key is to have a plan for disruption and be proactive. No one expected the current pandemic. But some companies were better prepared to react and adapt. Software companies such as us look for opportunities to introduce positive disruption. At Cadient Talent, we want to intentionally disrupt the current state of affairs for distributed hourly hiring. The current system for hourly hiring is broken; many organizations experience annual employee turnover in the high double digits or even triple digit percentages. Hires are often made too quickly with insufficient information. The key lies in the data and machine learning is the way to utilize the key. At Cadient, we have a lot of application data for candidates and post-hire data for employees. Through algorithms and machine learning, we can discover the traits and attributes of successful employees and then try to find the same traits and attributes in new candidates. We’re talking about more than one hundred variables plus additional derived variables and even combinations of variables that can be analyzed in seconds. The human mind just doesn’t have that kind of raw processing capability. We’re not dehumanizing the process but if a hiring manager has hundreds of candidates for one job, they need a recommendation engine to help identify the handful of top candidates and then the hiring manager can make the best hiring decision. Several competitors in our market are working on recruitment process automation. Automation of the recruiting process provides efficiencies but it basically allows a machine to hire the same way that you have previously hired. That’s not a great idea in our market because hiring managers are not making great decisions in many cases. That’s how you institutionalize 100%+ employee turnover. The key is to hire well, not automate what you did previously. What good is it to make a bad hire faster? The only way to hire well is to utilize post-hire data and teach the system to identify candidates who will be good employees. That’s how we provide proactive disruption in a way that will make a meaningful impact on our customers’ business.

Can you share some of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

I’ll go back to Don Keough. He used to tell me that if you can’t be number one or number two in a market, do something else. Easy for him to say, he was the President of Coke! Good advice, though.

I used to be susceptible to chasing every business opportunity that came along. Some of the people that I have worked with and admire are incredibly focused on being the absolute best in the world at one thing. I think that’s a recipe for success.

Lead generation is one of the most important aspects of any business. Can you share some of the strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?

I’ll confess that marketing and lead generation have not been my strengths. Digital marketing has been a little intimidating to me. But lately, I’ve dedicated a lot of time to learning and understanding it better. We have a very identifiable target market in our business. Any company that has a high contingent of hourly workers has widely distributed locations and hires through local managers is in our sweet spot. It’s pretty easy to identify the companies with these characteristics and there are enough of them to have a great business. We use account-based marketing techniques to get to know these companies. We think we have a great message to tell because we can help reduce turnover and improve employee productivity. That’s a significant benefit to the company’s bottom line. We have to make sure we’re telling a consistent story of value to the CEO and C-suite down to the HR Manager.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

To be honest, I don’t think about anything beyond our current mission. We’re having fun with the things we’re doing at Cadient Talent because we truly believe we can make a positive impact on talent acquisition. I love the challenge, the competition and working with people so probably something else someday.

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

I love the book of Proverbs because there is so much wisdom and practical advice contained in it. There are 31 chapters so I try to read a chapter each day and start over each month. It’s interesting that different verses stand out to me over time as I go through life and experience different things.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I’m not even sure who said it to me, but one of the best life lesson quotes I ever received was to just be yourself. I did not grow up in an environment of affluence and I attended state universities. I worked alongside and competed for jobs with Harvard, Stanford and Wharton MBAs who had much more of a blue-blood background than me. I don’t know exactly when it happened but at some point, I stopped comparing myself to other people and just tried to be the best version of me that I can be. I enjoy challenging myself and doing my best and that’s good enough for me. To quote Tony Horton of P90X fame, “Do your best and forget the rest!”

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I feel fortunate because I’m doing a job that I love to do. I haven’t loved every job in my career but eventually, you figure out how to make a living doing something you love. I wish that every person on the planet could experience that feeling of fulfillment in their work and career. Companies who employ people are the ones who generate revenue for us at Cadient Talent. Helping to make them successful in their business is our mission. But there’s another component to our mission and that’s helping to ensure that the people we recommend for jobs in those companies are going to actually like the work and feel fulfilled in performing the job. When we recommend a person for a job, we want it to be great for both the company and the employee. A whole lot of workplace issues go away if we can succeed in that movement.

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