Tag Archives: Stephen Wilce

Momentum Hits Back After Wilce Inquiry Goes Public

At last.  Yesterday saw the public release of the very catchy sounding report “The Circumstances into which Mr Stephen Wilce was employed as Director of the Defence Technology Agency”.

For any of you who have been living under rocks lately, this report is of significant interest to our New Zealand recruitment community because of the role played by Momentum in the sourcing and presenting of Stephen Wilce as a candidate for the role.  Placed by Momentum back in 2005, Stephen Wilce muddled through 5 years in the job before an expose on 60 Minutes last month revealed him to be a fantasist making wild claims of Olympic bobsleigh exploits, representing Wales against the All Blacks and, my favourite, playing guitar on the British folk circuit (is that something you’d actually make up to try and impress someone?!)

How much Momentum charged for their work depends on what website you read, ranging from $25,000 in the Herald to $70,000 in Stuff.

The New Zealand Defence Force realised what an almighty and embarrassing mistake this was and immediately went about the honourable process of seeking to lay blame elsewhere.  So, despite assembling an expert interview panel themselves and deciding to make the appointment, they have been trying to suggest it was all Momentum’s fault for not conducting adequate reference and background checks.  Momentum denied this, saying that it was not their responsibility to conduct reference checks as the NZDF had agreed to do this as the hiring process unfolded.

You might have read my comments on this in earlier blog posts but I have always sided with Momentum on this.  This isn’t due to some form of nepotism or bias towards them but really because I see this as an issue affecting all of us in recruitment, and this is something that could have happened to any other firm out there.  The fact Momentum’s reputation has been severely tested does not just affect Momentum, it affects all of us in recruitment.  People outside our industry are quite happy to tar us all with the same brush, and you will have all experienced this first hand.  They don’t care if your firm isn’t Momentum, they would happily believe that because of these stories, it probably means that all recruitment companies fail to conduct proper background checks.

Let me ask you your impressions of finance companies when you hear about Blue Chip.  Or your impression of used car salesmen when you hear about one dodgy one on Target.  Even your impression of professional footballers when you hear about John Terry…err actually that might be a bad example as they probably are all like that (apart from the saintly Fabregas).

But joking aside, it has been disappointing for me to hear about other recruiters smirking into their flat whites at this controversy, and barracking Momentum from the crowd at the Seek Awards.  Get off your high horse, this attack on Momentum’s reputation isn’t just a pain in the backside for them, it affects all of our reputations out there in the wider business community.

I am particularly glad this report has finally come out because I believe it goes quite a long way (but not the whole way) to exonerating Momentum from blame.  You can download the whole report here but on the whole it is incredibly tedious and I can summarise the main points of interest as follows:

h.            Momentum Consulting Group Ltd (“Momentum”) carried out qualification checks on Mr Wilce in accordance with the then provisions of DFO 16.  Mr Wilce holds the qualifications that he claimed to hold in his curriculum vitae.

i.              Momentum carried out a criminal history check through a subcontractor.

j.             Momentum was obliged, under the contract it entered into with the Crown, to “undertake detailed reference checking” to the standard indicated in its Proposal.

k.            Momentum did undertake referee checks.

l.              The checking undertaken by Momentum met the basic standard then required by DFO 16; enquiries were made of Mr Wilce’s referees and no concerns about his background, integrity or character became apparent.

m.           The checking undertaken by Momentum did not satisfy the higher standard of thoroughness required by its contract with the Crown; adherence to this standard was necessary given the nature of the position.

n.            The NZDF recruitment project team placed an undesirably high level of reliance on Momentum carrying out the proper checks.  The NZDF could not contract out of its responsibility to ensure that adequate checks were conducted prior to appointing Mr Wilce.  Accordingly, the relevant manager, [the then Assistant Chief Development], bears command responsibility for any failings in this regard.

o.            The standard of checking required by DFO 16 at the time was inadequate in the circumstances.

It is with point “m” from this Executive Summary that Bede Ashby, the MD of Momentum, has taken umbrage.  In a press release issued last night he says:

“[Our] proposal recognized that the post of Director of the DTA required high-level reference checks. At no stage in the recruitment process did the NZDF ask us to complete these checks on Mr Wilce.

“If Momentum had been asked to carry out the full reference checks, as the Inquiry agrees was set out in our initial proposal to the NZDF, his claims about his performance in previous jobs would have been tested more rigorously. Although the checks were included in our proposal the client decided to take responsibility for these themselves.

“Variations on the original proposal are common in recruitment processes and this was no different. For example, Momentum completed assessment reports on all 14 members of the long list. This is very unusual but was carried out at the request of the client. The NZDF varied our original proposal by taking responsibility for the reference checks rather than having us complete them as originally proposed. These were among a number of variations agreed with the client during this process and our documents support this.”

So where are we left after all this?  I’m sure it will act as a catalyst to make many of us sharpen up the standard of our reference and background checking even if Bede’s assertion is a fair one in that they did do what was required.  And this is a good thing.  But we also don’t want to get carried away for fear of this happening to us some time in the future.  We are recruitment consultants.  We do not make the final hiring decision for our clients.  Yes we have a duty to assist our clients in making the right decision by providing them with as much accurate information as possible, but ultimately the buck stops with the person making that hiring decision.  As recruiters our skills are best applied in networking, sourcing and attracting the best available talent to a role.  We cannot suddenly become so uptight about background and probity checks that we lose sight of what we really are best at.

My advice would be that if you feel the nature of the role you are recruiting demands a higher level of background checking than the usual 2 or 3 employment reference checks, then put this in a written proposal to the client and offer to undertake whatever they deem necessary.  But then outsource this process to someone that can do it better than you – and charge your client for this service on top of the standard recruitment fee.

Fair enough?


Winners (and losers?) from the 2010 Seek New Zealand Recruitment Awards

Seek’s annual 2010 Recruitment Awards were held at the Hilton in Auckland last Friday night but you’d be hard pressed to know anything about it unless you were actually there.  I’ve been keeping an eye out for a press release all week but there has been nothing on Seek’s actual website or any newsworthy site such as the Herald or Stuff.

One site did decide to pick up the release and publish it out there, so The Whiteboard would like to follow suit and publically list and congratulate this year’s winners:

The winning agencies in each category are:

Adecco Recruitment

Large Generalist Recruiter

1st Call Recruitment

Medium Generalist Recruiter

Select Recruitment & HR

Small Generalist Recruiter

Geneva Health

Large Specialist Recruiter

Parker Bridge

Medium Specialist Recruiter

Synergy Consulting

Small Specialist Recruiter


IT Recruiter


Now I do wish to offer my sincerest congratulations to these winners – and also to Madison and Focus who became Seek Legends for having won the award three times – but is this really the cream of the New Zealand recruitment industry?  I can identify some firms on there that I certainly feel are well up there, but there are others I have never even heard of.

Regular readers of The Whiteboard will have seen some views and opinion on the Seek Awards in my post on August  5th “SARAS – a credible award or just a popularity contest?”  I’m wondering if Seek are starting to come around to the same way of thinking because they certainly haven’t been singing from the rooftops about these latest winners.  Either that or they are purposefully playing it “low-key” after last year when the 2009 Winners and Finalists were announced to the Press roughly 2 hours before the awards actually took place (bit of a faux pas that took a distinct amount of excitement and anticipation out of the evening’s events).

As I wasn’t a finalist this year I wasn’t invited to the awards but luckily I had a mole in there who was sending out Tweets as the winners were announced.  This was actually quite exciting and I got to know the winners straight away without having to suffer all the whooping and hollering.

But it was another Tweet that I saw that I was quite surprised at.  It suggested that Anne-Marie Duff (GM of Seek NZ – well she was then – but it was her last day as she’s going to TVNZ as a Marketing Manager) took a bit of a playful swipe at Momentum during her intro speech and had a cheeky dig about the Stephen Wilce dodgy CV saga.  Apparently the comment was greeted with a second’s pause before the room exploded in great mirth and all-round points scoring against Momentum, all in front of a red-faced Anne-Marie.  I thought that was potentially a bit of an uncool comment as they are no doubt a large client of Seek, so I put out a Tweet of my own (from @JonathanRiceNZ):

“Is it true Anne-Marie from #Seek had a dig at Momentum in her speech at the Seek Awards?  Error of judgement?”

Well talk about opening a can of worms.  I mean I was only asking the question – not making a statement – but I was firmly rapped on the knuckles by Seek so I agreed to send out another Tweet advising my followers that it was untrue and Anne-Marie did not, in fact, say anything or make any reference at all to Momentum.

I was also informed that it was unfair on Anne-Marie as she had left Seek and couldn’t defend herself.  Well I’ve been thinking about this all week and decided that of course she has a chance to defend herself from my question-that-wasn’t-an-allegation-it-was-just-a-question-as-I-wasn’t-actually-there.  She can defend herself here, on The Whiteboard, by making a comment on this very post.

Of course anyone else who was there and also didn’t hear these comments can say so on here as well – and then I will be more than forthcoming with my apologies for having cast any aspersions in Seek’s direction whatsoever!

I have also found out that, all going well, a formal press release will be coming out in the early part of next week about the whole Momentum / Defence Force / Stephen Wilce saga – and I for one will be glad to hear an official statement at last.

Fraudulent CV Saga starts to lack Momentum


Ali Dia arrived at English Premier League Southampton back in November 1996.  He had been signed by the then manager, Graeme Souness, purely on the basis of some hazy video footage and a phone call, purportedly from World Footballer of the Year George Weah, claiming to be the cousin of Ali Dia and recommending him for a place in the team.

Ali Dia was indeed a Sengalese footballer but he had certainly never played for Paris St Germain or his country, as was suggested in the phone call.  Nevertheless Graeme Souness was bewitched, stars in his eyes, and lined the player up to have a run out in a reserve match friendly against Arsenal.  However, due to a waterlogged pitch, that match was called off, and Ali Dia found himself on the bench for a first team match against Leeds that weekend.  After about 30 minutes he was substituted on for the injured Matthew Le Tissier.

He was abysmal.

He lasted 53 minutes before being substituted off again…and he was never heard of again.  Le Tissier recalled the story in a TV interview many years later and said:

“[He] was unbelievable. He ran around the pitch like Bambi on ice, it was very, very embarrassing to watch.”


Souness had been the subject of a hoax.  The phone call from “George Weah” had actually been from a student friend of Ali Dia’s and, although he had played at the lower levels in France and Germany, he was nowhere near the level required to perform in the elite Premier League.

This week we have heard how Momentum Consulting have been involved in their very own Ali Dia hoax with the story of Stephen Wilce, placed by Momentum in the role of chief defence force scientist, breaking after an expose of fraudulent CV claims on the current affairs programme 60 Minutes.  Wilce’s claims of armed combat experience and British Olympian sledging exploits were exposed as lies.  He resigned from his post, which he had held for 5 years, the very next day.

Now obviously this is a trifle embarrassing for Momentum, it’s not a great look, but let’s be honest about this – nearly any recruitment company out there would have acted in exactly the same way.  For what is our role as recruiters?  I believe the chief and primary role is to identify, source, attract and present talent to our clients – but ultimately the final hiring decision has to come down to the client themselves and they have to take the brunt of responsibility for poor hires.  This is the kind of role that any recruitment consultant would be unlikely to have real expert, deep, intimate understanding and knowledge of.  Of course you can take a detailed job brief, do some research, and put together some sourcing strategies, but ultimately it is to be expected that the Three-Man Panel of Experts that Momentum put forward their short-list to should be the ones held accountable for failing to identify Wilce’s lies and inaccuracies.

Yet all week long we have heard Momentum being attacked in the media about their involvement in this, almost as if it is entirely their fault.  The chief antagonist has been that walking tabloid Paul Henry on his Breakfast programme.  He had John Key in on Monday – all he wanted to do was attack the recruitment agency – and John Key rightly deflected his ire towards the investigation that is underway for he knows that the deficiencies of Defence and Intelligence Service are going to come out way ahead of any mistakes made by Momentum.  Yet the next day Paul Henry had James Sutherland in from Resume Check – again he insisted on turning the focus on the recruiter – even ridiculously suggesting they be removed from recruiting roles for the new Super City.

In many ways this is to be expected.  People like Paul Henry make a living through sensationalism and he will often deploy the “shock jock” approach to news reporting to boost viewing figures among his scandal-hungry followers.

But what has really annoyed me is some of the smirking, holier-than-though, sycophancy on evidence by other recruiters.  I know tall poppy syndrome is alive and kicking in New Zealand but don’t you people realise that any public attack on Momentum is, as far as the rest of the non-recruitment world is concerned, an attack on the entire recruitment industry as a whole?  They don’t differentiate.  The behaviour of one recruitment firm is a blueprint for the behaviour of the whole industry as far as they are concerned.  If you hear of a car salesman selling a lemon on Target one night, does it just affect your views towards that car dealership, or the industry as a whole?

Earlier in the week I assumed that the level of criticism must be because Momentum had done absolutely no background checks at all, not even reference checks.  And whilst I thought that was not ideal, I was able to recall many occurrences where clients of mine have told me that they will do the reference checks themselves, so I haven’t done them.  I have even worked next to recruiters who have completed empty reference checks consisting of nothing but a full-stop, just so they can get the paperwork through the CRM system and get the invoicing sent out on time.

You know this happens out there.

But in this case I thought, well it’s Defence, if they told me that they would do the background checks then that, to me, would make a lot of sense and I would happily leave them to it.  So what will be really interesting to hear is who was actually responsible for conducting employment reference checks and probity checks?  Momentum or Defence?

I must say I have been surprised by the lack of comment from Momentum, apart from this response from MD Bede Ashby.  Are they adopting a dignified silence?  I for one am eagerly awaiting clarification on all of this because the longer it goes on, the worse it will be for the reputation of us as an entire recruitment industry, not just Momentum.

The final word has to go to Graeme Souness who released Ali Dia from his contract after just 2 weeks at the club (note the speedy response – how bad a candidate can Stephen Wilce really have been if he lasted 5 years in the job?)  “I don’t feel I have been duped in the slightest,” explained Souness afterwards.  “That’s just the way the world is these days.”