In the fast-paced talent solutions world, where bottom lines and metrics often dominate discussions, one company stands out for its unwavering commitment to giving back and making a difference. For the past ten years, a group of dedicated employees from Randstad Canada and colleagues from across the Randstad Group, including Randstad Enterprise’s Randstad RiseSmart and Randstad Sourceright, has been organizing a charity bike ride that has evolved from a small, heartfelt initiative into a symbol of hope, perseverance, and community engagement.
We had the privilege to sit down with the #RandstadRide’s founder, Jean-Francois Vezina, Randstad RiseSmart’s Global Managing Director, and rider for six years Hary Bottka, Managing Director of Randstad Enterprise’s Talent Advisory, to hear about their inspiring journey and the impact it has made on their lives and the lives of others.
a journey inspired by hope
Ten years ago, tragedy struck when a friend and close colleague of JF’s, Myriam Laaouan, was diagnosed with a form of blood cancer. JF and Randstad’s Global Chief Talent Officer and then MD for Randstad Canada, Marc-Etienne Julien, decided to turn their passion for cycling into a means of raising funds for cancer research. The charity bike ride was born, starting with just five riders and another in a support vehicle, on a heartfelt mission to make a difference for their colleague.
However, just before the team embarked on their first charity ride, they got a call to say their colleague had passed. JF explains: “The first year's ride became quite real when Myriam passed three days before we were set to depart. It all changed for us in that minute, and the ride then had quite a different meaning for us.”
Even ahead of this year’s event, there was another reason for JF and Hary to ride on, as JF explains: “We, unfortunately, lost another colleague just a few weeks before this year’s ride. They started working here around the same time as me, and they were very well-known in the company. Unfortunately, they passed to cancer just before the ride began. Their partner decided to join us for the event, and cycled with us in their honor; It was really very moving to see.”
He continues: “Towards the end of the ride a few years ago, another colleague came up to me and shared how much the ride meant to him, as his wife had overcome cancer, but he now does the ride in support of her every year. Seeing that an event like this touches people in different ways and can help not only in funding research but also in dealing with various emotions is also what this is about.”
evolution of a charity ride
Over the past decade, the#RandstadRide has grown exponentially, with more riders joining the cause each year from across Randstad and from multiple countries. From its humble beginnings, the event now boasts a full organization committee and a team of enthusiastic volunteers who manage every aspect of logistics and rider support across a combined 24,000 road miles. And, on top of this, there is now a virtual cycle that takes place over a week, that this year saw 16,000 miles hit.
The route for 2023 took riders from the south shore of Montreal to Quebec City, passing through small towns and scenic landscapes. Highlights included the realization of accomplishment for first-time riders and the emotional stop at Trois-Rivieres, JF's hometown. Previous years have seen Montreal to Boston, and even one year witnessed a Montreal to New York effort that will likely not be repeated due to its complexity and the dangers of Manhattan traffic.
For Hary and several others like him, the Ride was a catalyst for returning to the saddle after work and family commitments had prevented him from riding for several years. “I’m now cycling most days again, but the first event was no joke. We typically do 400 miles across four days, with the split roughly 100 miles per day.”
This year's event posed unique challenges, with several riders joining the Ride with a limited training program. It’s an all-abilities cycle, but Hary recommends a training program that begins some seven months or more in advance: “This is now a permanent fixture in most of our diaries, so we aim to be doing at least 100 miles per week to build the endurance and limit fatigue. We’ve had some people do it without much prep, and they are quite sore early on!”
JF remains the only rider to have completed all ten rides. Still, a busy 2023 leading the RiseSmart business limited his training, meaning he rode with a few different groups, not just at the sharp end, which gave him a chance to help those new to the ride, as he fondly recalls: “I rode with different pelotons throughout the ride, on the second day I was with a lot of first-time riders, and got to help some of them through. It is pretty rewarding to see people improve throughout the four days.”
From coaching and supporting first-time riders to pulling together as a group on the return journey, the "little ducklings" peloton showcased the power of teamwork and determination. “The team's camaraderie and collaboration during the ride were remarkable,” recalled JF, who we believe took on the role of ‘Papa Duck.’
pedaling change: a decade of achievement
The charity aspect of the bike ride is obviously of major importance due to the cause, but it also continues to fundraise and support the American and Canadian Cancer Societies. Over the years, the event has raised over $1.5 million for cancer research, making a significant impact on the fight against cancer. The virtual element of the ride takes place in association with Randstad Germany, which rides for the German Children's Cancer Foundation.
It’s clear, speaking to several of the team that the ride holds a special place in the hearts of many participants for different reasons. From honoring lost loved ones to celebrating survivors, the event provides an emotional outlet for dealing with various feelings and experiences related to cancer.
The #Randstadride’s most significant achievements lie not only in the funds raised but also in the growing awareness and impact it has had on the community and the teams at Randstad. It has symbolized perseverance and resilience, rallying people around a cause greater than themselves.
The Randstad Ride has left an indelible mark on the company's culture, fostering a sense of pride and purpose among employees. It serves as a constant reminder that the company cares and supports causes that matter to its team. And, Randstad’s relationship with bicycles dates back to 1960, when our founder, Frits Goldschmeding, took his first temp worker to her placement on the back of his bike, ensuring she knew exactly where to go and arrived on time. Randstad celebrates World Bicycle Day each year and, at a group level, has commitments worldwide.
Looking forward, the Randstad Ride team aspires to continue growing the ride's impact, involving more executives from the company, and even expanding the event internationally. The event already receives external sponsorship from Salesforce, Air Canada, AMN Healthcare and Bullhorn. JF and his fellow riders hope to inspire other companies and groups to find their "why, " rally their communities for meaningful causes, and join them on the ride in 2024. And, there’s a desire for multiple routes to encourage those unable to tackle the full 400 miles to get involved and raise money too.
“I think Randstad has been incredibly supportive and helpful here,” adds Hary. “We’ve now got executive sponsorship, and everyone is super committed. You have to be as it’s a big event with 60 people moving from point A to B. While it’s not the Tour de France, the level of planning and cost required now is significant, and we need more volunteers to make it happen.” Brooke Cromar, the Executive Director, Randstad Foundation & Corporate Social Responsibility Lead in Canada is the mastermind behind the scenes who organizes the ride every year, and it is her work that makes the logistics happen regardless of challenge.
The Randstad employees involved in the Ride typically use their ‘Randstad with Heart’ volunteering days, which allow employees to volunteer for two days each year for a charity of their choice—another example of how Randstad employees can contribute to something bigger in society.
Evidently, the ride is much more than a physical journey—it's a testament to the power of purpose and unity. Over the past ten years, this extraordinary initiative has not only raised millions of funds for cancer research but has also touched countless lives, giving hope to those in need and making a lasting impact on the company's culture and beyond. As the wheels keep turning, there's no doubt that this remarkable journey will continue to inspire others and create a brighter, more compassionate world.