On the frontline: Jim Fredholm, Adecco CFO

Jim Fredholm has not even started his new job as chief financial officer at troubled employment agency Adecco and already the doomsayers believe he is in for a tough ride.

The fresh-faced 51-year-old takes over his new post on June 1, but he could soon be showing signs of his age. Downbeat analysts are predicting hard times ahead for Adecco – despite the change in personnel they remain sceptical about a reversal in the company’s fortunes.

‘The fact the position of chief financial officer has been filled is positive,’ says Zurich Cantonal Bank’s Rolf Kunz. ‘But Adecco is paralysed by recent events.’

These recent events are the same as those that have faced global business for the last few years – trouble with the books. The world’s largest employment agency has twice delayed the publication of its 2003 results, claiming that an independent audit of the books will have to be carried out first.

Fredholm’s appointment is part of a strategy by Adecco to restore some credibility after problems with its accounts. It is a strategy that is by no means bound to succeed.

Headquartered in Zurich, accounting irregularities were uncovered in one of Adecco’s North American outposts last January. ‘Local misappropriations’ were also uncovered in other countries forming part of the Adecco family, though the company would not say where.

Heads rolled and shares plummeted as the story broke – 35% on the day when the results were first postponed.

That the publication of its results has had to be postponed a second time has certainly done nothing to inspire confidence. And no date has yet been set for publication.

Fredholm will step right into this mess. He takes over from Felix Weber, who resigned after the bookkeeping errors were first revealed at the beginning of the year.

It is clear why the company has appointed him. ‘We believe his strong background in accounting, finance and controls acquired in several large global service companies will be invaluable in helping us to emerge from recent events a stronger company,’ says Jerome Caille, Adecco’s CEO.

Certainly, Fredholm has the pedigree. After gaining a degree in business, accounting and finance, he started working life as a certified public accountant in the US with, then, Ernst & Whinney.

From his native US, he embarked on a successful career that has taken him across the globe. He was made European controller at Datapoint and was appointed to similar jobs in companies in the US, UK and Germany.

Between 1987 and 1997, he occupied several senior financial positions while working in London. Among the companies he worked for were Grand Metropolitan and Somerfield. It was in 1997 that he moved to the air freight company, Danzas, based in Switzerland, where he stayed for five years as chief financial officer.

In the past 24 months, his role has changed because of the company’s acquisition by Deutsche Post. In 2002, he was made managing director of a project called STAR, which sought to integrate the various parts of the Deutsche Post company.

STAR has been credited with contributing £283m worth of earnings to the company through ‘organisational improvements’ and ‘successful restructuring of purchasing activities’.

Much of the credit for this will no doubt go to Fredholm, and certainly would have attracted Adecco.

But he will need skill and luck to restore faith in the company.

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