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At Parkinson|Lee we are committed to continuous improvement, thought leadership and knowledge sharing. Here we share news and insight into the Executive search market and highlight national and international trends affecting both clients and candidates here in our region.

25/03/2024
An Interview with Oliver Laird, NED
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For our latest instalment of “An Interview with…”, we dive into the impressive and diverse career of Oliver Laird, previous CFO of Lookers Plc and experienced Non-Executive Director.

Oliver is clearly someone who continuously pursues learning and professional development. From choosing to take on Interim financial roles to the many NED roles he has held, Oliver has been able to build a truly diverse portfolio of experience in a wide range of organisations.

As Oliver says though, his career is far from over and he is open to new NED positions where he can bring the full wealth of his experience to support the organisation’s success.

 

Please give us an overview of your career in finance leadership and NED experience. What have been the major milestones and achievements for you?

It been a long career so far and I hope I’m not done yet, but I secured my first FD role when I was 29 in a SME food manufacturer. It was a startup and owner-managed. It taught me that the old adage of ‘cash is king’ is absolutely right and that things are an awful lot more challenging for a business if you don’t have it. The role also taught me how important it is to always realise that businesses are about people, and those people rely on management teams not only for leadership but, more importantly, for their livelihoods.

I set up my own company to work as an interim next. I took this step as it had become clear to me that I enjoyed variety and working to specific objectives in the work that I was doing, and the interim space was the ideal place to do this. I had clients in manufacturing, chemicals, the public sector, law, and in financial services.

It was my time as an interim in financial services that sparked my interest in the sector, and led to the majority of my career then being spent in financial services with companies such as Lloyds Banking Group, The Co-Operative, etc. Financial services is a broad church, which makes it an excellent place for anyone seeking to move between organisations whilst building on a consistent core of knowledge.

 

I’m most proud of the work I did as an NED at The British Council in helping that organisation set a new strategic direction to become a more commercial organisation and be self-funding in the face of reduced funding from central government.

 

I’ve worked in general insurance and retail banking, but also in investment accounting and life insurance and held a variety of senior roles in these companies. Each role was very different in terms of the responsibilities, the challenges I faced, and the culture. However, the common theme in these roles (and what I think I’m very good at), was the requirement to fix problems, reinvigorate teams and grow businesses. Each role was great experience, but I think I’m most proud of the rebuilding of the investment accounting function at HBOS and the turn around of CPP plc which saw the reintroduction of dividend payments to shareholders.

After nearly 20 years in FS, I felt it was time for a change, so off to Lookers it was!

 

Can you elaborate on your role as CFO of Lookers Plc and how you contributed to the sale of the company last year? Were there any challenges you faced during the process and how did you overcome them?

Lookers is one of the UK’s leading integrated car retailers, providing customers with a range of services from over 150 sites in the UK. The company had been through a tough time having had its shares suspended and being investigated by the FCA. Together with the executive, I drove the turnaround of the business. During my time as CFO, the business generated profits of over £82m, returned to paying a dividend, and moved from being in debt to having net cash of over £70m.

The business then drew the attention of AAG who subsequently bought the business for £504m. I worked with the CEO to steer the sale process through the Board, shareholders, regulator approval, and negotiations with the buyer. The sale was not an easy one, with the majority shareholder removing its previous approval for the sale part way through the process. In addition, the terms continually switched between an offer and a bid.

 

I’ve worked in general insurance, retail banking, and investment accounting and held a variety of senior roles in these companies. Each role was very different in terms of the responsibilities, the challenges I faced and the culture. However, the common theme was the requirement to fix problems, reinvigorate teams and grow businesses.

 

It was a continual process of discussions with the buyer, advisors, regulators, and the Board to deliver a sale that met the timeliness and legal requirements of the various stakeholders. In the end, we agreed an increased price that met the valuation expectations of shareholders, the Board, and the buyer.

 

You’ve worked across a range of industries, from insurance and retail banking to the automotive sector. How do you apply your financial expertise to assess and advise companies in these different sectors?

I have always worked hard to build strong relationships with colleagues at all levels in the businesses I have worked in. This has enable me to develop a bank of experience that could be applied in several cases. The most important thing is to understand the sources of financial information available within each organisation and how the business units within the organisation utilise them.

I would then work closely with the management team to understand their medium and long term strategic aims. Using these pieces of information, I can asses where those businesses were in their strategic journeys and the key activities needed to progress. Combining this with best practice I’ve seen in other companies has always helped make the progress quicker and more efficient.

 

You’ve also worked for companies of ranging sizes. Are there any similarities between the challenges that face a startup like rradar legal and the challenges faced by major corporations like HSBC?

There are definitely things that you see in all organisations, its just that they are more or less pronounced depending on the stage of maturity of each. All of them understand the importance of MI, but deciding which the key ones are and how to source them is a constant issue. On top on that, the other big challenge is sourcing and retaining quality individuals.

 

The key to leadership in the boardroom is for all participants to respect the views of others, maintain professionalism at all times, and allow for an element of fun in the work we do.

Outside of finance, what drew you to becoming an NED? And has your financial expertise helped in these roles?

I wanted to become an NED to utilise my experience to support management teams in other organisations. I was especially keen to work in ‘not for profit’ entities and companies focussed on serving specific groups or communities. As you might expect, my financial background has seen me serve on a number of audit committee as a NED and help strengthen financial control and reporting.

 

Can you share a specific instance where your input as an NED has a significant impact on the strategic direction or performance of an organisation?

It’s difficult for an individual to say when and how they’ve had a significant impact on something. That’s something I think others should decide in the main. However, I can say that I’m most proud of the work I did as an NED at The British Council in helping that organisation set a new strategic direction to become a more commercial organisation and to be self-funding in the face of reduced funding from central government.

 

What criteria do you consider when evaluating potential NED roles, and how do you determine if an organisation is a good fit for your skills and expertise?

When it comes to NED roles, I tend to be sector agnostic. Working in the diverse sectors that I have has been a great learning experience and helped my continued professional development. However, organisation-wise, I look for: a strong people culture, decisive and clear decision making, and clarity of purpose for its customers/communities.

 

I wanted to become an NED to utilise my experience to support management teams in other organisations. I was especially keen to work in ‘not for profit’ entities and companies focussed on serving specific groups or communities.

How do you approach leadership in the boardroom, especially when dealing with diverse opinions and interests among board members?

The key to leadership in the boardroom in my view is for all participants to respect the views of others, maintain professionalism at all times, and allow for an element of fun in the work we do. Those things form the foundation of a healthy Board and allow for focussed discussions on the wide variety of topics that Boards will deal with. It’s important to allow for disagreements (as long as professionalism is maintained) and avoid group think. This will lead to more effective, cohesive decision-making.

 

If you enjoyed this interview, you may enjoy others from our “An Interview With…” series:

28/02/2024
Free eBook: AI in the Boardroom
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As technology evolves at an unprecedented pace, understanding the implications of AI has become imperative for business leaders. Our new eBook discusses how the technology can and is impacting those at the very top.

 

Download your FREE copy now.

 

AI in the Boardroom delves into the relationship key C-Suite leaders may have with AI, including the possible rise of a CAIO (Chief AI Officer). The guide also goes on to discuss the biggest concerns around AI usage, expert predictions on upcoming AI regulations, and how leaders can create an effective AI implementation strategy for their business.

 

“It’s clear to us that AI represents a pivotal moment in business operations and, as with all pivotal moments, effective leadership is key.” Says Lee Bhandal, our Managing Partner. “AI has the power to completely transform the way we do business. Companies who want to take advantage of all the benefits AI has to offer, and who don’t want to get left behind, will need decisive, informed leadership to navigate this change.”

 

To create this guide, we drew on our contacts with Digital and Technology leaders to deliver expert insight and predictions on AI usage.

 

One surprising finding is that a small percentage of c-suite leaders believe AI should play the role of decision-maker in the boardroom, as opposed to just advisor or assistant. Additionally, readers will learn what industry experts predict to be the biggest stumbling blocks for business leaders, as well as what we should expect to in see in evolving AI regulations.

 

C-suite leaders will gain valuable insights from the eBook on how AI might impact their roles, how to address concerns related to AI implementation, and how to effectively plan an AI strategy for their businesses that ensures buy-in from their team.

 

AI in the Boardroom is available to download now.

30/01/2024
Why It’s Time to Prioritise Leadership Development in 2024
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When we asked our followers in a recent survey about their top priority for 2024, a resounding 47% responded with “Leadership Development.” This overwhelming response reflects how quickly the business landscape is changing these days. Covid taught us all that adaptability is key, the AI revolution is underway, and consumers are demanding innovation in all areas.

 

CEOs and business leaders need to ensure their team is ready. Executives must not be allowed to neglect their professional development simply because they’ve reached the highest rung on their career ladder. More than skills development, CEOs must consider how the very framework of their leadership team can be improved, through succession planning and fostering diversity.

 

4 Big Business Trends Driving Leadership Development

Before building any kind of development strategy, leaders should conduct a skills gap analysis on their team. This process should consider which skills and qualities are needed for optimal business operations now, as well as which skills and qualities will become necessary in the future.

 

Here are our predictions for the biggest trends affecting businesses in 2024, and where leaders need to brush up their knowledge as a result…

 

1. AI Everywhere

AI Tech is fast becoming standard within business plans. There are now very few businesses that don’t use AI in some form. However, skill at operational level is not always matched with knowledge by business leaders. In order to make the most effective use of AI, there must be confident leadership at the helm to guide your AI strategy.

 

2. The Human Touch

It may seem counter-intuitive, but as AI presence increases, the human element also becomes more important. Businesses and leaders who can leverage their emotional intelligence will be better positioned to differentiate themselves from those that rely on automation.

 

3. Sustainable Business

Consumer demand means that businesses are becoming more and more sustainable in order to remain competitive. It’s not just consumers though, green solutions often lead to increased profits. Leaders need to keep up with green policies and beware of greenwashing – consumers want the real thing, not a PR stunt.

 

4. Diversity & Inclusion

Research is proving time and again that a diverse company is a profitable, innovative company. Training on unconscious bias is non-negotiable for business leaders of the future. Plus, extra care must be taken that AI doesn’t exacerbate any existing biases.

 

Is your leadership team equipped with the skills necessary to navigate these trends successfully?

 

4 Big Business Trends Driving Leadership Development in 2024

What Does Professional Development Look Like at the C-Suite Level?

When approaching skills development, one of the main things leaders can do to ensure success is to look beyond traditional education models. Learning should not be a sporadic or isolated endeavour, limited to stand-alone seminars and workshops. This kind of thinking is a common obstacle to professional development as it requires effort, time, money and is not tied into your company’s unique way of working.

 

Instead, learning should be seamlessly integrated into the fabric of daily operations, intricately tied to the achievement of overall business goals. Recognising that adaptability is an ongoing requirement, businesses must foster a culture of continuous learning and improvement.

 

Consider incorporating mentoring, peer coaching, and encouraging regular feedback and self-reflection into your leadership development strategy. The more these practices become an integral part of the daily routine and are aligned with broader business objectives, the more likely they are to yield lasting results.

 

C-Suite Mentoring

Future-proofing Your Leadership Team with Succession Planning

Another common mistake made in development strategies is to focus solely on the current executives. Leaders should consider upskilling and reskilling team members just below the C-suite, too. This strengthens the leadership pipeline and guards against potential management gaps if and when an executive decides to leave. A well-prepared and capable bench ensures the continuity of leadership and stability within the organisation.

Developing Diversity

Finally, any discussion on leadership development must also include a conversation on diversity and inclusion. Research from Forbes indicates that diverse teams deliver 60% better results, and in 67% of cases, they make better decisions. McKinsey & Co further found that companies with a more diverse workforce tend to perform better financially. Thus, leadership development initiatives should include efforts build a C-suite that represents a range of experiences and points of view. By doing so, businesses not only foster a more inclusive culture but also position themselves for greater success and innovation.

 

A Diverse Board of Directors

 

In conclusion, as we step into 2024, the call for leadership development within the C-suite has never been more pronounced. It is not merely a trend but a strategic imperative for businesses aiming to thrive in an era of constant change. By systematically addressing skills expansion, succession planning, and diversity within the leadership team, businesses can forge a path to sustained success and resilience. After all, investing in the growth and development of C-suite leaders is an investment in the future prosperity of the entire organisation.

19/12/2023
Challenges Every New CEO Faces and How to Overcome Them
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Taking over the helm of CEO is a monumental task. Fortunately, it’s a task that has been well documented thanks to existing CEOs who have shared their experiences. So, we can learn from those who have gone before us.

 

With so many changes to get used to in your new role, there are a few challenges that are almost universal. And one solution that is guaranteed to help with all of them. Keep reading to discover what that solution is.

 

Internal vs External

 

It’s worth mentioning that the experiences between internally promoted CEOs and externally hired CEOs can vary significantly. However, neither option reduces the number of challenges you will come across.

 

Internally promoted CEOs benefit from an extended handover period with the outgoing CEO, and already have a strong understanding of the business, how it’s run, and the team within it.

 

However, that familiarity can also be their downfall as it may be harder to make a clean transition from their previous role.

 

Internally Promoted vs Externally Hired CEOs: Pros and Cons. Pros for Internally Hired CEOs: Extended handover from outgoing CEO, existing understanding of the business, Existing relationships with the team. Cons of Internal Promoted CEOS: Harder to make a clean transistion. Pros of an Externallly Hired CEO: Structured onboarding process, Fresh outlook on the business, Possible previous experience in a CEO role. Cons of being an externally hired CEO: Learning about the new business, industry, and team.

 

Moreover, externally hired CEOs usually have a strong, detailed onboarding process, yet internal candidates are assumed to have all that they need to know. There’s no reason why internal candidates can’t have the same structured treatment.

 

On the other hand, External hires still have lots to learn about their new industry, sector, and company culture. They bring incredibly valuable insight with them, but they must balance this with patience and curiosity to learn about the new business.

 

As you can see, both come with their own set of positives and negatives, but the following challenges can apply to both internal and external CEOs alike….

 

Fighting Pre-Conceptions

 

Whatever their journey, all CEOs will face preconceived notions on what kind of leader they are going to be. Internal candidates because their team have known and worked with them for many years. Even externally hired CEOs will face assumptions based on their professional CV.

 

For example, people may assume that the CEO who comes from a finance background will prioritise financial matters, without giving equal attention to other departments.

 

First Day as CEO

 

It is therefore vital for any new CEO to nip such preconceptions in the bud. In order to counterbalance any natural leaning to your native department, you might actually want to focus on other departments in your first few months.

 

Regardless, a CEO should make a concerted effort to understand operational areas that they are not already familiar with. You should already have an understanding of your own area of expertise, and, presumably, you will already have allies there too. So, take the time to lay strong foundations in other areas until you have the correct balance.

 

Operating at the right pace

 

Another challenge new CEOs can face is to do with patience. It can be easy to unleash all the plans you’ve been sitting on, waiting for your chance at the top job. Research by Havard Business Review found that many new CEOs were already thinking about their legacies when they took on the role. This fascination with making a mark on the company can lead to rash decisions that are not actually in line with long-term company goals.

 

In some situations, bold action is necessary. However, those situations are rare. Changing too much too quickly can result in burnt-out staff, disenfranchised senior leadership, and a weak overarching goal.

 

Planning Your First Months as CEO

 

Instead, CEOs should spend their first year building a solid working relationship with the board and the wider team. In return, the board should provide early, structured feedback on how the new CEO is doing, so that they can calibrate the pace of change to a speed that everybody can maintain.

 

Operating at the right altitude

 

Pace isn’t the only thing new CEOs need to worry about. They also need to figure out the right amount of distance between themselves and everyday business proceedings. This is a challenge that many new CEOs will not anticipate, and yet it may be the most difficult to overcome.

 

CEOs will soon realise that it’s impossible to manage a company when you’re too close to day-to-day operations. A CEO cannot monitor everything all at once. In order to see the whole battlefield, the captain must sit back and assess the bigger picture.

 

Thankfully, this is where their senior leadership team can help to bridge the gap. As executive demands grow, you may be shocked to see just how much responsibility you must let go of.

 

Becoming CEO

 

It might help to maintain an employee mindset. All CEOs must remember they are but a cog in the machine. A vital cog, of course! But a cog nonetheless – only one part of the whole. You have your responsibilities as CEO, and you should be able to rely on those around you to address their responsibilities.

 

Gaining Buy-in

 

A common mistake that new CEOs make is to assume that they have finally reached the position of ultimate power. In reality though, they are still part of a team, and they still have the board of directors to report to.

 

CEOs need to be careful when making big decisions, especially early on, to ensure that they have the backing of their team. Without it, meaningful change is unlikely to occur. Instead, the CEO risks alienating their team and making life a lot harder for everyone involved.

 

Plunging a stake in the ground might be necessary to demonstrate who is in charge and to send a message around your expectations for the company. However, issuing a direct order, with no buy-in from the senior team, isn’t usually the best way to go.

 

Board of Directors

 

For example, new CEOs could share their vision with the board of directors and senior leadership team at a dedicated workshop. Deliver your ideas and be open to feedback. This lets your team know that you value their input before you stride forward with any big plans. Plus, people are more likely to get on board with ideas they’ve had some involvement in.

 

Transparency is also key. Clear communications must be upheld on both sides; to staff and to the board of directors. This way, everyone knows what to expect and will not be taken aback.

 

Finally, CEOs must recognise that decision-making isn’t actually the biggest part of their job. In a truly successful team, most decisions should already be made lower down the chain because leaders are trusted and empowered to make choices in line with your goals. If decisions are reaching you that you regularly disagree with, there needs to be better communication on your vision for the business.

The Challenges Every New CEO Faces: Fighting Pre-Conceptions, Operating At The Right Speed, Operating At The Right Altitude, and Gaining Buy-In

 

The Ultimate Solution: Building the Right Team

 

Throughout this article, we’ve given solutions for each challenge. But the one solution that can help with all these challenges is to surround yourself with the right people in your team.

 

Our contact, Charles Hartwell, CEO of Eville & Jones, said this is the main thing he wishes he’d known when he became CEO. “Ensure you surround yourself with the best team you can, “ he says, “If there are gaps, then filling those gaps should be your number 1 priority.”

 

Your team is your most valuable asset as a CEO. They are the one’s who’ll keep you up to date on all business activities – from operational difficulties to employee mood. As Mark Cotter, Ex-CEO of Baird Group says, “Make sure you have the right team around you quickly. It is critical they are aligned with your vision and that your trust them.” He also adds the importance of including a mentor in your team planning, “I was told it would be lonely as CEO and it’s very true. Having an external mentor to use as a sound board is very helpful.”

 

Your team will also make up for any knowledge gaps of your own. There’s no shame in admitting you don’t know everything, that would be impossible! So, it’s important to create a diverse board, full of subject matter experts for the areas you are less confident in. Recognising your weaknesses is a must if you want to put the needs of the business before your own.

 

We’ve worked with many new CEOs. If you’d like to find out more about the challenges new CEOs face, or how your organisation can help to counter these challenges, give us a call today.

08/11/2023
Marketing’s Voice on the Board: What the C-Suite Needs to Understand About Marketing
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Surveys and studies have highlighted a lack of understanding, trust, and appreciation for modern marketing within the C-suite.

 

Nine out of ten CEOs believe that the role of marketing is well-defined, yet only half of CEO-CMO pairings agreed on this. Furthermore, when it comes to understanding modern marketing, only about 50% of CEOs feel comfortable with it, while a staggering 66% of CMOs believe that CEOs do not comprehend modern marketing. This disconnect, paired with a lack of marketing experience among Fortune 250 CEOs (only 10% have marketing backgrounds), demonstrates an underestimation of marketing’s potential to drive growth, despite the rapid evolution of marketing capabilities.

 

Moreover, a study by Fournaise reveals that more than 75% of CEOs don’t fully trust their current CMOs, and a similar percentage of CMOs express dissatisfaction with their positions. These trust issues have contributed to CMOs being perceived as less influential in the C-suite when compared to other executive positions.

 

How can a Marketing Director promote the value of marketing under these conditions?

 

The Marketing Trap: Marketing’s Limited Scope

The head of marketing can often find themselves in a challenging predicament. Given that marketing is intuitive to most people, it often becomes a constant recipient of one-off requests from various departments. Yet, most non-marketers perspective is limited to the more visible parts of marketing, like advertising, with little to no appreciation for the full breadth of a marketing campaign.

 

Consequently, marketers are hired for their strategic thinking and creativity, but their role often becomes focused on executing existing sales and growth plans, with CEOs who want quick, easily quantifiable results. This trap prevents them from bringing the full cohort of their capabilities to the table.

 

The Full Breadth of Marketing Responsibilities: Customer advocate, user experience insights, shaping brand story, customer engagement strategies, competitor/market intelligence, driving market growth, innovating service offering, driving revenue growth.

 

When the board focusses too much on short-term outcomes, they fail to grasp the intricate nature of lead conversion and pipeline generation. These processes rely on a broad array of marketing elements. For instance, awareness is a crucial element in this mix. Without creating awareness, the target audience remains unengaged, and this can impede the generation and conversion of leads required for business growth.

 

It would be a mistake to underestimate marketing’s value in long-term business strategy.

 

Inter-Board Relations

A successful marketing lead doesn’t operate in isolation. To maximise their impact, marketers need to establish critical relationships with other C-suite members.

 

The Interconnections between CMO and other C-Suite Roles

 

CEO: A strong bond with the CEO is essential to ensure alignment on business objectives. When the CEO and CMO are on the same page, it becomes easier to drive the company forward cohesively.

CIO: Collaboration with the Chief Information Officer is essential for data-driven decision making. With an insight into business performance and customer behaviour, the CMO can make strategic decisions to support the areas that need it.

CTO: The CMO, acting as a customer advocate, can provide valuable insights on user experience and the tech that can improve customer engagement at all points of contact. They can also keep track of the latest innovations across the market to ensure the business stays ahead of the game.

CFO: It is essential that the value of marketing spend is fully understood. A strong relationship with the CFO means that CMOs can support their strategy with the necessary funding and the CFO can see exactly how marketing is making a tangible contribution to company goals.

HRD: Where marketing crosses over into internal comms, a partnership with HR can be extremely beneficial to employee buy-in. Marketing is at the forefront of promoting the brand mission and creating an engaged community.

 

Of all these relationships, the research shows that the relationship between CMO and CFO is the one to improve. A study by EY, titled “The Future of the CMO CFO Connection,” found that 90% of nearly 300 senior financial and marketing executives believe that closer collaboration is critical to successfully drive digital transformation.

 

Unfortunately, 44% of the marketing professionals surveyed admit to having a less productive relationship with the finance department than any other function, and almost half of the finance professionals feel the same way. However, bridging the cultural gap between these two functions is essential and requires full sponsorship and mandate from CEOs.

 

Which Metrics are Important to Whom?

Metrics are the backbone of decision-making in the C-suite. However, the choice of metrics and their focus can vary significantly between CEOs and CMOs. In fact, only half of CEO-CMO pairs agree on their company’s top three marketing metrics. CEOs often focus on metrics related to revenue growth and margin improvements, while CMOs prioritise brand awareness and recognition.

 

The excessive emphasis on return on investment (ROI) can also be detrimental. Nearly 48.1% of marketers believe their companies are too focused on ROI, potentially leading to a weakening of brand equity and long-term performance issues.

 

What a board should realise is, there are a whole range of marketing metrics beyond ROI that can communicate the influence marketing has on business strategy.

 

Marketing Metrics for Early- and Late-Stage Organisations

 

Budget Considerations

Marketing budgets often find themselves on the chopping block during challenging economic times. A Forbes Insights survey reveals that 69% of CEOs believe their companies waste money on marketing initiatives. This is despite ample evidence suggesting that reducing marketing budgets is counterproductive. The reason behind this is partly a C-suite mindset that perceives marketing budgets as non-essential or inferior compared to essential business costs. Marketing leads often find themselves in the position of having to advocate for their own department’s worth.

 

It’s true that marketing budgets can be complex due to many moving parts and the inherent challenge in measuring and attributing their impact. However, companies that reallocate at least 49% of the previous year’s budget back into the business achieve a compound annual growth rate of 10% in total returns to shareholders. This underscores the long-term benefit of maintaining marketing investment, even in challenging times.

 

Marketing Budget Considerations: growth rates, business strategy, go-to-market model, company profits, industry category, maturity.

 

Again, we come back to the importance of aligning marketing goals with overall business goals for growth. When building the case to CEOs and CFOs who value frugality, understanding where growth is going to come from is essential. With this information, Marketing Directors can allocate their budget for maximum efficiency. Targeted, streamlined campaigns can save 10-30% of marketing spend which is sure to please any finance-focussed CEOs.

 

The Marketing/Information Dream Team

Most marketers will know that, for truly effective marketing, data is king. In some C-suite circles, market research is viewed as a non-essential expense and often becomes one of the first areas to be cut when budget reviews take place. However, quality brand research can pay off handsomely over time, which is why marketers should work hand-in-hand with the CIO.

 

Well-defined research can be repeatedly used to inform future decision-making. Market research not only directs a brand’s focus but also reveals areas where it can pull back, potentially saving millions on misguided future initiatives. Investing in research is a small price to pay for enhancing decision-making confidence among executive teams striving to achieve ongoing organisational success.

 

What Marketing Channels Should the Board Be Aware Of

In our increasingly digital world, staying up to date with the plethora of marketing channels is large part of the marketing department’s remit. So is communicating all possibilities to the board.

 

Fixating on only a few familiar channels can lead to missed opportunities and hinder the company’s ability to adapt and thrive in the face of evolving market dynamics. By fostering a culture of ongoing learning and an openness to new marketing channels, the board positions the company for greater success and innovation in the long run.

 

Marketing Strategies the Board Should Be Aware Of

 

To prevent the board getting stuck in the habit of traditional marketing methods or, conversely, getting swept away with the latest craze, marketers must promote the value of a mix of channels.

 

An omnichannel approach helps to create a cohesive experience for the customer, as well as mitigating the risk of putting all one’s marketing eggs in one basket, so to speak. The marketing lead can guide the boards ideas while also taking into account the cost-efficiency, audience-reach, and competitive advantage of each channel.

 

Conclusion: Marketing the Marketing Department

In conclusion, it’s crucial to recognise the significance of marketing within the C-suite. Marketing isn’t just an operational function; it’s a strategic driver of growth and success. While marketing’s role is multifaceted and often misunderstood, building trust and understanding between the marketing department and the rest of the board is essential for achieving long-term business goals.

 

Messaging to the C-suite should be focused on ROI, long-term objectives, thought leadership, and risk reduction. Sharing success stories can highlight the value and impact of the marketing department within the organisation.

 

Fortunately, there’s hope on the horizon. More marketers are taking the leap into the top leadership role, with examples like Tesco’s CEO, who was previously a marketing manager at Unilever, and M&S’s boss, who had a marketing background at British Airways and McDonald’s before joining. This shift underscores the growing recognition of marketing’s significance within the C-suite.

 

For help finding a marketing lead who can work with your board and maximise marketing effectiveness, get in touch today.

02/11/2023
The Evolving Role of CFOs in Private Equity Amid a Shifting Economic Landscape
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Consistently reviewing the economic landscape is a priority for all business leaders and especially CFOs who are often business partners with their MD/CEO and Board. This is particularly the case in Private Equity owned companies where the global economy directly affects their investment strategy. It has been reported that the recent economic uncertainty has led to a marked deceleration in investment activity. Specifically, a -30% contraction in investment market volume between Q1 2022 and Q1 2023. As PE firms adjust their strategies, so does the role of the Chief Financial Officer.

Someone knocks on the Chief Finance Officer's office door.

Despite the slow-down in equity growth, there is still strong demand for outstanding CFO and financial leaders within the PE Sector. In many cases though, the requirements for the role have changed, and thus PE firms are looking for different traits in potential candidates. Investment volume may be down, but aggregate value has steadily increased quarter by quarter, meaning a well-executed deal in the right place is even more significant. Appointing the CFO with the commercial skills and experience to navigate through this ever-changing market has never been so integral to PE firms who are scaling their business portfolios.

The Altered CFO Mandate in Private Equity

In the immediate post-pandemic era, Private Equity CFOs were predominantly needed to oversee new acquisitions and transferring financial management. Nowadays, however, firms are much more risk averse. Buying new firms is not on a priority in many cases, and instead they are choosing to shore up existing assets.

As a result, CFOs are required to become architects of performance enhancement within current portfolio companies. The focus has turned to extracting maximum value from current investments and CFOs are now preoccupied with cultivating operational efficiency, streamlining processes, and driving growth within these firms.

The CFO reviews an employees work

The search for a new CFO now prioritises meticulous money management as well as the ability to foster strong banking relationships. Operational competency within each firm’s specialist field is also desirable as a CFO who understands the day-to-day workings of their portfolio companies will be better positioned to advise on improving efficiencies.

More than this, a growing preference for experience CFOs underscores the risk-averse stance that PE firms are taking. Firms are less likely to take a leap of faith with individuals on the cusp of the CFO role. Rather, they are seeking seasoned executives who can seamlessly step into the leadership vacuum. Those who are currently looking for their step up into the C-Suite will be more likely to find that opportunity in an internal promotion.

The Current Trends for Hiring CFOs in Private Equity. IN: Skilled in existing business optimisation, operational efficiency, and experienced in CFO role. OUT: Skilled in new business acquisition, risk-taker, and promoting into first CFO role.

More generally, Private Equity firms are focusing on diversity in their recruitment strategies. According to EY’s 2023 Global Private Equity Survey, 49% of PE managers surveyed list increasing diversity as a top priority, and 41% listed creating an inclusive culture.

Following through on these ambitions, however, is proving difficult. Globally and across all sectors, 82% of CFO appointments made in 2022 were still male. More shockingly though, in Private Equity alone, female appointments decreased from 36% in 2021 to 23% 2022. As for racial and ethnicity diversity, only 10.9% of 2022’s Fortune 500 and S&P 500 companies had non-white CFOs.

If Private Equity firms are determined to recruit only experienced CFOs, their candidate pool is not going to give them a diverse selection. Those firms which do act on their diversity promises will likely build a more diverse team outside the C-Suite and promote internally, so as not to compromise on the lack of experience for their top job.

Navigating Professional Ambitions for CFOs

Of course, hiring talent is a two-way street. Just as CFOs must consider what Private Equity firms are looking for from them, the firms must also consider what they can do for prospective CFOs. There is a good chance to acquire top talent, as Bronzegate reports 75% of PE CFOs would be open to moving to a new opportunity in the next 12 months. Hiring firms need to put themselves in their candidates’ shoes when planning how to attract the best CFO talent.

CFO leads a productive team meeting

The changing economic climate has ramifications for how existing CFOs are planning their career trajectories, especially when they are seeking an entry point into working within Private Equity. Equity shares from underperforming firms might yield disappointing returns, prompting CFOs to contemplate strategic moves where they might expect a better return on their tenure. When considering a move to a new firm, CFOs will be interested to know the scope for potential improvement in portfolio companies. Firms with marginal prospects will need to find other ways to attract CFOs.

Moreover, an upcoming general election brings with it the potential for legislative changes. A new government is likely to reconsider capital gains relief, either by reducing it or eliminating it entirely. CFOs are therefore likely to strategize their career moves based on this uncertainty. In order to mitigate potential losses, CFOs will be tempted by higher base salaries and comprehensive benefits packages.

In conclusion, the role of CFO within private equity is inextricably linked to the economic landscape. Despite the sluggish investment market, the value of a well-executed deal remains has only increased, making it all the more important to make the right CFO hire.

10/10/2023
Crafting an Attractive Rewards Package for C-Suite Executives
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Attracting and retaining top talent in the C-suite is a critical challenge for organisations. To address this, creating an enticing benefits package for executives becomes paramount. Not only does it shape how top executives behave but it also helps determine what kinds of executives an organisation attracts. In this blog, we will delve into the crucial components that make up an executive’s rewards package and explore the considerations necessary for building a well-balanced and attractive offering.

 

The Building Blocks

A typical executive compensation package comprises both financial and non-financial elements, including salary, perks and benefits, bonuses, and Long-Term Incentive Plans (LTIPs).

Salary: The foundation of any renumeration package lies in the base salary, often paid in cash. When deciding just how much to offer, there is a lot to weigh up. Companies should consider what their existing board members are earning, but also what the market rate is in order to remain competitive. More than this though, companies need to calculate just how much value this role will bring to their organisation.

Perquisites: Non-financial benefits are often as important as annual salaries for job-seeking executives. In our post-pandemic world, the kinds of perks executives can expect have evolved somewhat. There is now more of a focus on maintaining work-life balance, a notorious difficulty among board-level workers.  Common perks include extra holiday, flexible hours, a 4-day work week, health and life insurance (for family members as well as the individual), or paying for them to complete their MBA.

Bonuses: In addition to a base salary, executives would expect annual bonuses to be awarded to them. These short-term incentives may be at the discretion of the board or dependent on specific performance metrics, such as profit margin increase or meeting critical project deadlines. These bonuses can be swapped for equity.

Long-Term Incentive Plans (LTIPs): Similar to annual bonuses except the performance period typically spans 3-5 years known as a vesting period. Executives might receive their reward only when the vesting period is complete, or they might receive proportionate value each year. These rewards might be a mix of cash and equity.

C-Suite Rewards Building Blocks. 4 Icons demonstrate the 4 building blocks; salary, perquisites, bonuses, and LTIPs.

Cash vs Equity

Instead of a cash lump sum, executives may receive their rewards in the form of equity. Stock Options allow an executive to purchase a number of shares in the business, linking their financial success with that of the business. Restricted Stock is similar but requires a vesting period before the employee can receive their rewards i.e. a long-term incentive.

For a long time, cash has been regarded as less incentivising than stock-based compensation plans. The argument goes that cash is a nice one-off reward, but the motivation is short-lived. Whereas gifting equity to an employee gives them part-ownership of the company and therefore gives them a vested interest in the company’s performance.

However, recent research from John Kelper finds that cash-based rewards are more incentivising than previously thought, especially in the early stages of an executive’s career. Kelper concludes that, regardless of the form bonuses take, bonuses encourage better cooperation across departments as they hold leaders collectively responsible for key performance goals.

Equity-based rewards might also be better suited to start-ups as they require lower upfront costs and can help the company get off the ground as the recipients are equally motivated to build a financially successful business.

C-Suite Rewards - Cash v Equity. Two columns weigh up the pros and cons of choosing cash or equity for C-Suite reward packages.
 

Long-Term vs Short-Term Goals

LTIPs play a crucial role in encouraging executives to focus on long-term organisational goals. According to a World at Work survey, the use of LTIPs in c-suite executive compensation plans is increasing. When they first start their survey in 2007, only 35% of businesses surveyed had an LTIP, which grew to 62% in 2019.

The argument for LTIPs is that they encourage leadership behaviour and decisions that are more aligned with the company’s long-term goals. If a compensation package were made up entirely of short-term incentives, then executives may be tempted to make quick-win decisions simply to boost their annual income. LTIPs also help with talent retention as executives would suffer a loss of earnings if they left the business before the vesting period is complete.

Of course, short-term incentives have their place. Candidates don’t want to have to wait 3-5 years before they start to see a return on their efforts. Moreover, companies that are going through transformational change may benefit from focussing more on short-term goals.

C-Suite Rewards: Long-term vs Short-term
 

Individual vs Company Performance

Just as with other considerations, a careful balance has to be achieved between elements that rewards individual achievements or collective achievements. Rewards based on organisational metrics such as profit margins, revenue growth, and shareholder returns will help to motivate executives in line with the company’s long-term plans. However, metrics like this are often influenced by multiple people across multiple divisions. This can either boost cross-departmental collaboration, or it can breed frustration.

Harvard Business Review found that rewards tied to an executive’s individual performance were “positively associated with job satisfaction.” However, rewards that relied on corporate-wide metrics made staff less committed and frustrated with management. It’s understandable that team-members will be demoralised after putting in lots of effort on their part, only to be stumped because someone else is underperforming.

C_Suite Rewards: Individual vs Company KPIS
 

Company Philosophy

Throughout all of these considerations, it’s important to bear in mind your company’s overall philosophy. Do you value collaboration and cohesion? Or is yours a company which values personal accountability? Do you value profit over all else, or do you measure success in other ways?

We’ve spoken a lot about finance-based metrics, but any performance incentive can also be measured by non-financial metrics. According to FW Cook’s 2018 Global Top 250 Compensation Survey, 70% of companies use non-financial metrics and 26% of them use at least one ESG goal. For example, you could measure employee diversity, company culture perceptions, or progress on sustainability goals.

Crafting a well-balanced benefits package for C-suite executives requires a thoughtful approach. By carefully balancing different aspects and keeping company values at the core, organisations can create a rewards package that not only attracts but retains top executive talent.

C-Suite Rewards: Introducing them to the team
 

Presenting Your Rewards Package to Potential Candidates

In the previous sections, we’ve discussed general considerations for building your rewards package. Now it’s time to bring all those ideas together and put your potential candidate at the centre. Why? Because you now have to assess the candidate’s current compensation package and how yours compares. Understanding their current remuneration not only demonstrates a commitment to fairness but also helps tailor an offer that reflects their market value and ensures a smooth transition.

If you’re offering LTIPs, it’s fair to assume that your candidate is already working towards a long-term reward in their current role. Recognising the potential financial impact of forfeiting such benefits, companies may consider offering a ‘golden handshake’ or a compensation package that offsets the loss incurred by leaving existing LTIPs. This proactive approach acknowledges the barriers associated with senior executives walking away from potential payouts, fostering goodwill, and making the transition more enticing.

C-Suite Rewards: Accepting a Job Offer
You should also bear in mind any individual motivators. While financial incentives like LTIPs or equity may resonate strongly with some, others may be primarily motivated by factors such as job satisfaction, company culture, and work-life balance. Crafting a personalised rewards package that aligns with the specific motivators of each board member showcases a nuanced and thoughtful approach to talent management.

Finally, it’s crucial to acknowledge that senior leaders haven’t just reached their positions because they’ve put in the correct number of work hours. Rather, they have gotten where they are because of the wealth of experience and expertise they bring to the table. Organisations must recognise the importance of a comprehensive rewards package in attracting and retaining such high-calibre talent. Beyond salary and bonuses, perks like professional development opportunities, mentorship programs, and a supportive work environment contribute significantly to making an offer compelling for senior executives. This holistic understanding of what motivates and retains top talent is vital in shaping competitive and attractive rewards packages for C-suite candidates.

At Parkinson Lee, we are your executive recruitment partners. We can work with you to craft the perfect rewards package to attract your ideal candidates. Call us today if you have a vacancy you’d like to discuss.

 

04/09/2023
The Power of Non-Executive Directors to Challenge and Support C-Suite Leaders
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The board exists to guide an organisation, each member acting as an expert in their field, an exceptional leader and savvy decision maker. It’s their task to navigate the market and implement a strategy for growth. But who is there to guide members of the board?

Enter the Non-Executive Director…

 

Enter the Non-Executive Director

 

An NED is a director who is not required for day-to-day business – in fact, they may only consult with the board a handful of days a year – leaving them free to work entirely at a strategic level. NEDs can apply all of their professional experience and their external viewpoint to see how decisions will affect various stakeholders. They are there to ask the difficult questions, contesting the CEO’s personal biases and preferences to ensure that your strategy is truly in line with your objectives at all times.

An Independent NED goes even further, having no financial ties to the business (such as holding shares) or personal ties to the management team. An iNED can offer purely objective advice to ensure the business is run responsibly and ethically, as well as strategically.

 

Why Companies Seek Non-Executive Directors

A Fresh Pair of Eyes: NEDs bring a fresh perspective to the table. As someone who isn’t embroiled in the day-to-day running of the company, their external viewpoint can spot potential opportunities and pitfalls that might have been missed otherwise.

A Skilled Consultant: NEDs often come armed with specialised skills and industry know-how. Their insights can be a source of wisdom for the C-suite, offering guidance on delicate matters and lending their acumen to strategic discussions.

A Networker: As the old adage goes, sometimes it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. A robust network can be a game-changer and NEDs, with their extensive connections, can open doors to all sorts of collaborations, partnerships, and opportunities.

 

Non-Executive Directors can be excellent Networkers

 

An Accountability Reminder: It’s easy for directors to get caught up in the whirlwind of daily operations. NEDs act as a steadfast reminder of accountability, ensuring that strategic goals and ethical standards are upheld at all times.

A Diverse Perspective: The need for diversity is becoming more and more apparent. The C-suite should represent a variety of backgrounds and experiences so as to better understand their audience and their own team. If a board is lacking diversity, NEDs can be recruited to expand the collective experience and enrich decision-making processes.

A Legal Requisite: Public sector businesses may be government mandated to have an NED on their board, ensuring that all business activities are conducted responsibly.

 

Recruiting an NED

As our managing director, Lee Bhandal, told Insider Magazine, “The NED recruitment process isn’t much different from any other executive search. There aren’t hundreds of relevant NEDs sat on recruitment databases. We need to go and find them proactively; quite often to very specific and demanding client briefs.”

 

Creating a Comprehensive Candidate Brief for a Non-Executive Director: Business goals and objectives, Required experience, Skills and expertise, Cultural Alignment

 

This proactive quest begins with a comprehensive search process. Our partners and in-house researchers delve deep into the reasons why a business is seeking a non-executive director, establishing a detailed brief of the required experience, sector expertise, and cultural alignment.

With this understanding to form our blueprint, we undertake a full market mapping process, coupled with a review of our existing networks, in order to identify a list of suitable NEDs to headhunt.

 

What to Seek in a Good NED

Of course, the answer to this question depends entirely on the company and their reasons for wanting an NED. However, certain qualities are always useful to look for.

A robust track record within the relevant industry will provide a solid foundation. NEDs who have already navigated similar challenges will bring valuable insights to the table, not to mention any relevant connections or an established reputation within their field.

Beyond this, NEDs should have a strong strategic vision that extends beyond immediate concerns. Remember, a key benefit to recruiting an NED is the outside perspective they can offer. NEDs can hold the company’s long-term objectives in mind at all times and tailor their advice around this.

Adaptability and curiosity are also vital traits in today’s rapidly changing business landscape. NEDS must be able to stay informed on current events in order to remain responsive and to identify possible opportunities.

Finally, NEDs must be confident in their recommendations so that they can say what needs to be said, even to an audience that doesn’t want to hear it. NEDs will challenge the CEO unlike any other director, as is their prerogative.

In the complex world of business leadership, Non-Executive Directors emerge as a stable, guiding light – to support leaders through difficult decisions, and to challenge them to do better.

 

As all board members know, making non-executive appointments can be a challenge: a challenge involving a number of important components- appropriate skills, a proper understanding of board governance, a balanced perspective on risk and innovation, appropriate fit for the existing board along with diversity of thought which can enrich the board and its decision making. We approached Lee Bhandal with this complex list of requirements: he listened and took time to understand our brief, showed genuine commitment to The Beverley Building Society and to our values. We found Lee’s approach refreshing and pragmatic and responsive: he provided us with a very high calibre of shortlisted candidates and ultimately with an excellent appointment. Thank you.
– Sue Symington, Beverley Building Society

 

If you’d like to discuss your NED requirements, we’d love to hear from you. Contact our managing director, Lee Bhandal, on l.bhandal@parkinsonlee.com to arrange a chat.

24/05/2023
Challenging the Norm: Recruiting Non-Executives
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Ever wondered what a Non-Executive Director can add to a board? Our Managing Director, Lee Bhandal, recently featured in an Insider Magazine article on this exact subject.

 

As Sheffield Forgemasters appoint a new Chair and Non-Executive Director, Lee discusses why a company might want to expand their board this way, as well as how Parkinson Lee approaches a search for the right candidate.

 

See below for the full article.

 

Insider Magazine Full Article

03/05/2023
Do Hybrid Working Arrangements Enable C-Suite and Board Level Executives to Lead as Effectively as They Once Did?
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There is no doubt that the way we work has changed dramatically in the last few years. Technological improvements laid the foundations for increased remote working, but the real catalyst was the Covid-19 pandemic. Now, three years on from the UK’s first lockdown, 16% of workers report working from home full-time and 28% report working in a hybrid arrangement i.e. a mix of in-office and remote work.

 

During this time, there has been much speculation on how working from home affects productivity and employee satisfaction. However, another important question is whether hybrid working has impacted the ability to lead from C-Suite and board level executives.

 

A manager rubs his temples with frustration.

 

To answer this question, we will consider the benefits and the challenges that hybrid working presents to leadership efficacy, before discussing strategies that can help C-Suite and board level executives adapt to this new age of working conditions.

 

The Benefits of Hybrid Working for C-Suite Executives

Possibly the biggest benefit of hybrid working, for workers at any level, is the ability to overcome geographical distance. Remote workers can be anywhere in the country, or the world, and still participate in business activities.

 

For C-Suite and board level executives, this means the ability to communicate with teams without having to be there in-person. The use of video conference software may have been available in the past, but shunned simply because it was not the norm, and workers expected in-person meetings. Now, digital communication channels are much more common, opening up a world of flexibility for leadership roles.

 

Executives with a wide-spread team, possibly with multiple branch locations, will quickly feel the benefit. Executives with a single worker hub will still save time from travelling to external meetings with important business partners. This change means that C-Suite executives can dedicate more time to planning and other critical tasks.

 

A laptop screen shows four people on a video conference call.

The Challenges of Hybrid Working for C-Suite Executives

While arranging meetings over large distances has become easier, one could argue that day-to-day communication has suffered. Working in separate locations means that employees have lost the opportunity for impromptu conversations.

 

These small interactions may have felt insignificant before, but now teams are learning how important they were for fostering positive connections and creativity, which in turn leads to better collaboration. Moreover, managers might use these bonds to build trust with their employees and to better understand how to motivate their team.

 

Two employees stand with coffee cups in their hands, having a chat.

 

Leaders must fight the feeling that, by losing these ‘watercooler moments’, they are also losing visibility on the team’s progress. It can be tempting to schedule a number of virtual meetings and touchpoints in order to try and replicate the contact available in an office. However, these attempts can come across as inauthentic to employees, or worse as a sign of distrust.

 

So, how can executives adapt to overcome these challenges?

 

Strategies for Leading Effectively in a Hybrid Work Environment

Given that remote and hybrid working arrangements seem here to stay, it is perhaps not helpful to ask whether C-Suite and board level executives are able to lead as effectively as before. Rather, we should be asking how executives can adapt to face these new challenges.

1. Lead with confidence and professionalism.

During times of change, stress levels are heightened, and people look to their leaders more for guidance. Instead of reacting negatively to changes and focusing on how things used to be, confident leaders embrace the cultural shift and role model the right behaviours for the new environment.

2. Lead with empathy.

In hybrid working environments, with limited inter-departmental contact, concern for employee welfare can no longer be a role restricted to HR. Demonstrating authentic care and a willingness to listen to employee issues will go a long way to building trust, even without those ‘watercooler moments’ from the past.

3. Lead with clarity and expectation setting.

Communication skills have never been more important. Without the ability to casually check in on employees, leaders must ensure their team leave meetings with precisely the information they need to carry out work independently. By setting clear expectations, leaders can avoid virtual micromanagement, which will only work to damage any trust they have with their team.

4. Lead with employee feedback.

Following on from the previous point, communication is a two-way process. Employees will be able to tell you what works for them and what doesn’t. Leaving space for workers to give their feedback – and actually acting upon that information – means leaders are better equipped to support their team. Providing the right support, in the right way, is another important factor in building trust and bridging the virtual disconnect.

 

Title: How to Lead Your Team Remotely. Followed by four icons with the words, Confidence, Empathy, Clarity, and Feedback.

 

In conclusion, a shift towards hybrid and remote working need not impair C-Suite and board level executives’ ability to lead effectively. By adopting new strategies which prioritise employee engagement and well-being, and remaining flexible and adaptable, executives can lead just as effectively in hybrid working arrangements.

 

Learn more about the importance of having the right executive leaders in challenging times in our previous blog post.

 

Get In Touch

If you’re looking to make a leadership change in your company, please contact our Managing Partner, Lee Bhandal, on 07590 529 274 or l.bhandal@parkinsonlee.com

27/04/2023
How to Present Yourself on the Executive Search Market
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Executive-level roles are highly competitive so presenting yourself in the best possible light through your CV, social media, and networking is crucial to securing a top position. In this blog, we’ll explore some key strategies for positioning yourself effectively on the executive search market.

 

Understanding the Executive Search Market

Executive search firms, also known as head-hunters, specialise in finding and placing top-level executives in organisations. These firms work on behalf of companies to identify, evaluate, and recruit the best candidates for leadership positions. They focus on senior-level roles such as CEO, CFO, CMO, CTO, and other C-suite positions. Here’s more on how executive search firms find candidates.

 

An infographic depicting "The Retained Search Process". There is an arrowing showing the progress of each of the stages from "Identify" to "Approach" to "Assets" to "Internal Interview" to "Shortlist Presentation" to "Client Interviews" to "Negotiation" through to "Completion".

 

How to Present Yourself on the Executive Search Market

Craft a Compelling Executive CV

Your CV is an essential tool for presenting yourself on the executive search market. It is your marketing brochure, and it should clearly highlight your achievements, skills, and experience.

 

1.     Know Your Numbers

As Fortune 500 CFO, Tomas Horejsi puts, “without financial intelligence, [executives] are less informed and therefore less effective as leaders.”

Embed key business performance metrics, such as sales figures, profit margins, cost savings, and productivity improvements throughout your CV and prepare to discuss them in further detail at interview. This will show potential employers that you have a results-oriented mindset and that you are able to deliver measurable outcomes.

 

A dark-blue saturated image of a person stood talking to a crowd. Wrapped in quotation marks is the quote: “without financial intelligence, [executives] are less informed and therefore less effective as leaders". The quote is by Fortune 500 CFO, Tomas Horejsi and the source is medium.com

 

 

2.     Demonstrate Your Commitment to Growth

Showcase your ongoing commitment to learning and development by highlighting any relevant courses, training, or qualifications you have obtained. You should provide specific examples of how you have applied your new knowledge or skills in your work.

If you haven’t undertaken any formal training recently, try to provide anecdotes of different strategies you’ve applied in practice, their outcome, and what you learned from taking this new approach. This shows that you’re open-minded to adopting new ways of working in a continual effort to maximise quality and efficiency.

 

A graphic showing the stages of the CPD Cycle. Showing the progress from "Identify and plan" to "Act" to "Reflect" to "Apply" to "Share" to "Impact" and indicating that these steps repeat over and over again.

 

 

3.     Highlight How You Have Influenced Senior Stakeholders

Another way to impress executive search consultants is by demonstrating your board-level influence. This involves showing the support you have given to your board or senior management team (SMT), and how you have made their lives easier through your role. This will demonstrate your ability to work collaboratively with senior leaders and make a valuable contribution to the success of the organisation.

 

People sat around a table in a meeting, one man is stood up and the others look engaged in what he's saying.

 

 

4.     Showcase Your Successes

When it comes to showcasing your achievements, it’s important to focus on the outcomes that add value to the business. This could include customer wins, transformational projects, acquisitions, or any other significant achievements that demonstrate your impact on the organisation. Be specific about the contributions you made and make sure they are relevant to the position you are applying for. By doing so, you will demonstrate your ability to deliver results and make a positive impact in a new role.

 

5.     Tailor Your Experience

At the executive level, a one-size-fits-all approach to your CV is unlikely to be effective. Each industry sector, role function, and business has different requirements, so it’s important to tailor your experience to each market. This will ensure that your experience is presented in the most compelling and relevant way for each potential employer.

 

Build a Strong Online Presence

In today’s executive search market, your online presence can be just as important as perfecting your CV. With 94% of executive headhunters using LinkedIn to source candidates and 84% of employers recruiting via social media, you should ensure that your LinkedIn profile is up-to-date, detailed, and well-connected. You should also ask your colleagues and industry contacts to endorse you on LinkedIn.

Additionally, you should set any other social media platforms you use to their highest privacy settings, so as not to undermine your professional image.

 

A close up of a keyboard with a blue button which says "Update profile".

 

 

Network, Network, Network

Having a robust network can give you a significant advantage over other C-suite candidates. Networking helps you to establish relationships with people with valuable insights and information about the industry, company culture, and potential job openings. It also allows you to showcase your skills, experience, and expertise to a broader audience, which can lead to potential job opportunities. Additionally, having a strong network can provide you with valuable referrals and recommendations from people who know and trust your work.

 

A gathering of professionals in business attire clustered in small groups networking.

 

 

Key Takeaway

In conclusion, presenting yourself effectively on the executive search market requires a range of skills and strategies. By knowing your numbers, focusing on how you can add value, and having a strong online and industry presence, you can stand out from the competition and attract the attention of executive search consultants and potential employers.

 

Browse our current executive opportunities here, or contact Lee Bhandal on 07590 529 274 or email l.bhandal@parkinsonlee.com to discuss your next C-suite role.

13/03/2023
Why Engineers Make Great Business Leaders
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During the initial consideration of the roles of engineers and business leaders, you will see two very different specialist areas. However, if you delve a little deeper, you’ll find there are a number of overlapping attributes and experiences that make Engineers great business leaders.

Powerful engineers and business leaders acquire a like-minded approach to finding advanced solutions, improving processes, and maximising efficiencies.

Although the day-to-day work of an engineer is different from most business leaders, the skills and knowledge obtained from studying and experiencing the specialist field can effectively transfer to leadership careers surprisingly well. In fact, you may be surprised to learn that more than 30% of Fortune 500 CEOs have an engineering degree.

We’ve spent time researching into the two roles, to understand how and why engineering professionals can make the best business leaders.

 

5 board game pawns positioned in a 'V' shape. A hand is about to pick up the pawn at the point of the 'V'.

 

 

Proactive Project Planning and Excellent Time Management Skills

Engineers by nature are methodical, analytical, and detail-oriented people. Throughout their years of practical and theoretical training, they’re required to have excellent discipline and time management skills to comply with strict deadlines, research efficiently and identify valuable solutions that adhere to industry compliance and legislation.

 

A person leaning over a table, measuring plans.

 

The vast sum of money consumed by engineering departments requires professionals with the competent ability to manage the finer details and work collaboratively with various departments to ensure a consistent, productive, and economical operation.

Those who succeed in this area and align with workplace best practices will find the transition into a leadership role pretty straightforward.

 

Tenacious, Strong Willed, and Active Problem Solvers

Engineers are constantly presented with pushback and strong opinions that a product won’t work, or the market doesn’t require it. The natural instinct of an engineer is to solve ‘impossible’ problems and find the appropriate solutions.

 

A row of lettered dice lined up to spell "Impossible". A hand is turning the second die to spell "It's possible".

 

Having a compelling approach to problem-solving is an essential attribute for any successful and influential leader – they need sheer determination to keep the business moving forward, overcome challenges, and solidify the company’s position as a leader of innovation.

 

Profound Technical Understanding

The ever-developing business world is becoming more technical in nature than we’ve ever known it, which positions Engineers in great stead – they truly understand the nitty-gritty of every technical aspect.

Engineering knowledge encourages a thorough and technical review process throughout each stage of a development project, from concept to completion which makes them some of the most critical assets to any manufacturing business.

Imagine having that level of knowledge, when it comes to implementing a stringent strategy and leading an engineering or manufacturing business.

 

A person sat at a computer with technical software open.

 

 

Understand That Details Matter

Engineers not only strive for perfection in design and product development but also for end-user purposes, they need to ensure the product will enhance the function of the application it’s used in. In doing so, they will work closely with the client to understand the fine details.

The quality and parameters the product functions to is a key objective for both engineers and business leaders – their customer satisfaction and recommendations are essential for a company to continue with its growth projection.

 

A graph showing exponential growth. A hand is placing block on the graph to symbolising building growth.

 

 

Inability To Shift Blame

Like all professionals, Engineers take great pride in their work; it signifies their reputation.

Throughout each stage of a product development project, a specialist team will focus solely on certain areas, before testing can begin. If an issue is identified, the area of malfunction can be easily found, which usually falls within the scope of a specific engineer or team – no ability to shift blame.

 

Two professionals sat opposite each other. One is pointing their pen in the direction of the other who is upset.

 

You’ll tend to find, with strong values, engineers are determined to get it right. Similarly, is that of a business leader, if you’re at the top, where do you portion blame? It’s your responsibility to get things right, take accountability and instil that in department heads.

 

Bridging the Gap Between an Engineer and Business Leader

Engineers hoping to take the next step into a leadership position, whether that be operations, R&D or as an MD, will be required to brush up on their knowledge of other business areas, such as marketing, purchasing, sales, HR, finance, and legal compliance.

Spending time away from the engineering department, will bridge knowledge gaps, broaden horizons, encourage an understanding of the full operation, and provide familiarity with diverse team members, their skills and mindsets.

As a new leader you have to gain trust and buy-in from your stakeholders, so another essential area to work on is emotional intelligence. The most successful leaders have a high level of this and are able to flexibly adapt to situations with varying groups or individuals.

 

An infographic showing emotional intelligence consists of social skills, self-awareness, self-regulation, empathy, and motivation.

 

 

Key Shifts That Turn Good Engineers into Great Leaders

Granted, engineers do tend to veer towards certain personality traits and work styles that make the transition from a solitary individual-thinker to a motivating team leader that bit more challenging. But, when stepping into a new leadership role with the same tenacity and curiosity of the engineering mindset, they thrive.

If you’re an engineer transitioning into a leadership role, here are a couple of shifts you must make to secure your footing as a trusted leader:

 

Let go of control

As an effective leader, micromanagement doesn’t work and equally, you don’t have the time.

You need to allow your engineers to be innovative, think outside of the box and if you’re too close to the project or giving immediate direction, you may risk losing them as they need the creative freedom and trust to flourish.

Your scope on any project, new development or product now needs to expand wider than the technical capabilities, consider company goals, cost, quality, resources, and the current market. “Being right” and “letting go of control” must reflect the big picture. If there are multiple ways to achieve the outcome or solution, your job is to consider all of them.

 

Provide encouragement and clear communication

You need to keep your team in the loop with company updates and essential changes, this will ensure they’re engaged and working as one.

It’s vital to remember that each member of your team require different ways of encouragement and support. Take the time to understand what makes them tick, then devise the best strategy and adapt your approach for each team member. You need to ensure each individual feels valued, works effectively, and the project and company goals are aligned and on track.

 

Even with the benefits of transferable skills, why would engineers be tempted to move into such a different line of work than the one they trained for? While most engineers are paid well, successful business leaders are often paid significantly more. Not only this but also, many want to expand to their knowledge, share it and lead a successful business or department.

 

Get In Touch

If you want to discuss the executive opportunities out there, or are looking to hire, please contact Managing Partner Lee Bhandal on 07590 529 274 or l.bhandal@parkinsonlee.com

22/02/2023
How to Handle Being Denied a C-Suite Promotion
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In all aspects of life, rejection is hard. But as a determined, career-focused professional, missing out on a C-Suite promotion that you’ve worked towards over the span of your career can feel especially devastating.

Putting in countless hours to achieve your KPIs, on top of managing the day-to-day responsibilities, and then pouring further time and effort into interview preparation, only to learn that you were unsuccessful can be a real knock to your motivation and your confidence.

 

Person wearing a suit, sat at a desk with their head in their hand.

 

But you’re not alone, according to Harvard Business Review, only 28% of talent acquisition leaders today report that internal candidates are considered an important source to fill vacancies, due to less internal development and unclear progression pathways.

This article serves to act as a guide to help you recover from internal promotion rejection and determine the next best course of action.

 

Contents

 

Managing Your Emotions After Being Denied an Internal Promotion

Firstly, it’s important to accept that any emotions you may be experiencing are completely rational. Disappointment, anger, sadness, embarrassment – there’s no right or wrong way to feel. Only you know how much you wanted the opportunity and how much time you dedicated to it, so you shouldn’t dismiss your feelings.

Allow yourself time to grieve and process the situation. This can look different for everyone; you might benefit from confiding in friends and family, distracting yourself with a hobby, or visiting places that make you happy. It might also be appropriate to take annual leave to enjoy some mental and physical downtime.

 

Person being comforted by a friend, the friend is comfortingly placing their hand on the other person's arm.

 

Practical Next Steps Plan Following Internal Promotion Rejection

Request Feedback

“If we see rejection as information, rather than a personal attack, we can create informed responses rather than irrational reactions.” – Liza Kotar, International Resilience Researcher at Fulbright Program

Whilst it’s healthy to express your true emotions with friends, family, and close colleagues, it’s also important to remain professional at work. It does you no favours to show bitterness towards the hiring team or the successful candidate, and you don’t want to hinder future promotion opportunities and/or jeopardise your references.

Make sure to thank the interviewers for their time and consideration and ask for feedback on your interview performance. This demonstrates your unwavering commitment to personal development and will help you to improve in future executive-level interviews. It might sound cliché, but there’s always more to learn from rejection and failure, than from acceptance and success.

 

Illustration of a target with one arrow that has successfully hit it, surrounded by lots of arrows that missed.

 

 

Revaluate Your Options

Once you’re in a clearer headspace and you’ve had the chance to discuss and reflect on your feedback from the board, it’s time to consider your options.

The main questions to ask yourself are, do you still have room to develop in your current role? And, do you have a clear progression pathway that you can work towards?

If you believe that your role still offers self-development opportunities and you are emotionally invested in the company, it might be worth staying around for longer with the hopes of seeing success when the next promotion opportunity comes along. Meet with the relevant directors, CEO, and/or shareholders to establish an alternate progression route, and clearly define how it can be achieved.

 

Illustration of person looking up at a mountain through a telescope. A path is mapped out along the mountain.

 

If you answered no to the questions above, and/or perhaps you feel as though you were unfairly snubbed for the role, now might be the right time to pursue other opportunities. Reach out to executive search firms to obtain an understanding of what executive opportunities are currently available in your market at present. Some firms might be able to support you in other ways as well, for example, Parkinson Lee offers mock interviews to help rebuild candidates’ confidence and provides tried and tested advice to help you excel in future interviews. Learn more about preparing for an executive-level interview.

 

Two people in suits shaking hands, smiling.

 

 

Key Takeaways

  • Allow yourself time to process your emotions in a healthy way.
  • Remain professional at work, this will help your chances of being considered for future roles and/or maintain positive references.
  • Ask for feedback from the hiring team to help you improve for future C-Suite interviews.
  • Reflect on your personal priorities, do you want to invest more time into your current company, or do you see your career progressing elsewhere?

 

Get In Touch

If you’re ready to make a career move or would like proven interview advice, please contact Managing Partner Lee Bhandal on 07590 529 274 or l.bhandal@parkinsonlee.com

14/02/2023
Strengthen Your Boardroom with A Diverse Leadership Team
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With the rapid advancement of technology and the shift in workplace demographics, the need for greater board diversity has never been stronger.

Company decisions made in the boardroom impact both the operation and workplace culture. Therefore, creating a board team with complimentary attributes results in strong corporate governance and strategic execution and in turn, signifies to the wider company that diversity is valued and practiced within the entire organisation.

 

A group of people in formal business attire meeting around a table.

 

Contents

 

The Evolution of Boardroom Culture

For years, in many organisations, board independence was discouraged, with members feeling beholden to the CEO and subsequently tunnel-visioned in their thought process. Opinions and new ideas were disregarded, and this led to an environment of fear – fear of standing out, of thinking adversely to the majority, and of losing their place on the board.

For the most part, this is a thing of the past. Top CEOs now want to surround themselves with a high-calibre team of directors, to ensure that there’s representation across all departments involved in the decision-making process. However, there is still a noticeable lack of diversity occupying these roles. Personnel Today reports that in 2021, white males accounted for 90.4% of leadership positions in the UK’s top 20 firms.

 

The Benefits of Diversity in the Boardroom

Boardroom Diversity Facilitates Innovation

If a board consists of leaders with the same demographic, then it’s likely that many will share the same thoughts and opinions, due to overlapping experiences. But when more people from different backgrounds hold leadership positions, it challenges the echo chamber and facilitates innovation. Diversity creates an environment where ideas can be elevated through the reviewal and feedback of multiple perspectives.

As Larry Fink, Chairman and CEO of BlackRock, puts: “Boards with a diverse mix of genders, ethnicities, career experiences, and ways of thinking, have, as a result, a more diverse and aware mindset. They’re less likely to succumb to groupthink for miss or new threats to a company’s business mode. And they are better able to identify opportunities to promote long-term growth.”

 

“Boards with a diverse mix of genders, ethnicities, career experiences, and ways of thinking, have, as a result, a more diverse and aware mindset.” – Larry Fink, Chairman and CEO of BlackRock

 

Boardroom Diversity Builds Stronger Rapports with Stakeholders

A diverse board is a better representation of your shareholders, employees, and customers. This increases the likelihood of the board’s decisions resonating with their stakeholders’ best interests. Shareholders will be more satisfied with the company’s direction, employees will be happier, and customers will be better taken care of, amounting to further investment, increased productivity, and more sales.

Boardroom Diversity Enhances Workplace Culture

Companies and their employees benefit from a diverse and inclusive culture when leaders are appointed that create a psychologically safe workplace, combat systems of discrimination and subordination, embrace employees with different identity groups, and make cultural differences a resource for learning and improving organisational effectiveness. Leaders that have first-hand experience of being inadvertently disadvantaged by or outright discriminated against corporate systems, will be better equipped to recognise exclusionary flaws in procedures, and help to pave the way for future leaders.

 

Boardroom Diversity Increases Revenue

Through a combination of the reasons above, businesses that have strategically incorporated diversity across their workforce and principally in the boardroom, have experienced profit growth. One study from McKinsey & Company International found that businesses that incorporated more diversity into the workforce were 33% more likely to have a higher financial return.

 

Businesses that incorporated more diversity into the workforce were 33% more likely to have higher financial return. – McKinsey & Company, 2018

 

 

How to Increase Boardroom Diversity

In the UK, positive discrimination is unlawful under the Equality Act 2010, meaning companies cannot recruit solely on the basis of ethnicity or any other protected characteristic. It is important that diversity is recognised as more than a tick box in the recruitment process, and that board-level appointments are hired as a result of merit and the valuable contribution they can bring to a business.

So, while you can’t actively look to recruit diversly, there are approaches you can take to ensure that your hiring process is as inclusive as possible.

 

Review Your Company Policy

Creating an effective and diverse board is often complex and requires careful consideration in the recruitment process, taking into account multiple types of diversity. To enhance the recruitment strategy, developing a company policy for board seats can demonstrate to shareholders, employees, and other organisations that the business is committed to diversity in the board composition.

 

Utilise an Executive Search Firm

Inviting a third party into the hiring process can help eliminate internal subconscious biases. After the firm has shortlisted candidates based on merit, businesses provide feedback on why they do/don’t want to proceed with each candidate. Preparing and reporting back this feedback will help internal teams to realise whether their hesitations about a candidate aren’t justified.

Additionally, executive search firms have access to a larger and more diverse pool of potential candidates and networks. As opposed to interviewing solely from internal leadership’s own networks – who will likely be from similar demographics. Learn more about how top executive search firms find and shortlist candidates.

 

Close up of someone sat at a laptop with candidate profiles floating above the keyboard.

 

 

Key Takeaway

There is a greater focus than ever before on appointing inclusive board members that can make a substantial contribution to the business, by challenging decisions in the boardroom and identifying operational improvements. A diverse board can provide more than a “check in the box”, it can expand the knowledge, experiences, and practices that go into a company’s decision-making process and ultimately, drive growth for the business.

 

Get In Touch

For more information on how you can create a more inclusive boardroom, or to discuss any recruitment requirements you may have, please contact Lee Bhandal on 07590 529 274 or l.bhandal@parkinsonlee.com

15/12/2022
How Do Top Executive Search Firms Find Candidates?
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Finding executive and non-executive level candidates is very different.

While 85% of non-executive job roles are filled via candidates applying to vacancies advertised on job boards or internal career sites, this figure is drastically lower for C-suite positions. At this level, professionals are more likely to either attain a job via their networks or be headhunted by an executive search firm.

So how do executive search firms have so much more success attracting C-suite and board-level candidates, compared to in-house HR teams?

 

Contents

 

How Does Executive Search Work?

Executive search is a structured recruitment process involving the research, identification, approach, and attraction of precisely targeted individuals. The process will differ from firm to firm, and even internally at Parkinson Lee, the recruitment stages aren’t stringent, we tailor our method to each client’s unique requirements.

But before we delve into how executive search firms find candidates, you should understand the fundamentals of the executive search process.

 

1.     Briefing

Upon accepting an assignment, the search firm will arrange an initial briefing meeting with you, the client. The point of this meeting is for the firm to obtain a thorough understanding of your situation. This is a platform to discuss your business, the role requirements, person specifications, and most importantly, the culture of your organisation. A sign of a quality executive search firm is one that aims to meet with as many different stakeholders as possible during the process, indicating their commitment to finding the perfect cultural fit.

It might help you to prepare the answers to questions about your company’s history, plans, markets, challenges, etc., in addition to questions specific to the role like your reason for hiring and any timelines you’d like to work to work to.

 

An outsider's perspective of a glass-walled meeting room looking in. There are 4 people all dressed in smart business attire sat at a meeting table with laptops and papers in front of them talking.

 

2.     Creation of Specification of Requirements & Candidate Briefing Pack

Something that’s custom at Parkinson Lee is that we like to demonstrate our understanding of the brief by producing a Specification of Requirements document. This document collates all the information discussed in the briefing stage(s), including predicted timescales, and acts as a reference point for both parties to keep the search focused.

We will then adapt the Specification of Requirements document into a Candidate Briefing Pack. This pack is designed to be sent out to candidates, once approved by you, and serves the purpose of giving an excellent first impression of your company and minimising any uncertainty about the vacant position.

 

3.     Identification & Approach

The search strategy, as agreed upon between you and the executive search firm, will be put into motion.

 

4.     Longlisting Process

All prospective candidates are asked to complete a series of pre-qualification checks to ensure their suitability for the role. The criteria for this will be pre-determined by you during the briefing stage. This typically includes a written and/or verbal assessment, and/or an initial telephone interview.

 

Someone sat at a desk looking at a laptop while on the phone. They are in a home environment and wearing a smart shirt.

 

The candidates who pass these screening stages will then be interviewed face-to-face or over video call to be asked questions specific to the brief and to assess their cultural fit.

 

5.     Shortlist

The shortlist of candidates will be presented to you either via a face-to-face meeting or video call, at your preference. From here on, you can dictate how much or little input you’d like the firm to have in subsequent interview stages. Parkinson Lee are happy to accompany you in your interviews with the shortlisted candidates if you so wish.

 

An interview panel interviewing a candidate. The candidate is in focus and listening intently to one of the interviewers.

 

6.     Offer Management

Once you’ve made the decision about who you would like to appoint, an executive search firm will handle all the negotiation and admin side involved in offer management. This includes negotiating remuneration, counter-offer management, obtaining references, acceptance management, and intermediary management.

 

A close up of a handshake. Both parties are wearing shirts and the background is an office environment.

 

7.     Post Start Date Follow-up

Credible executive search firms will always arrange a follow-up meeting, once the candidate has been in post for a few months. This is to ensure that you are satisfied with the candidate’s suitability.

 

How Do Executive Search Firms Find Candidates?

Executive search firms historically have a better track record of finding strong executive candidates, compared to internal HR teams. So, what are we doing differently?

 

It’s Our Bread and Butter

In the same way that you know your industry inside out, executive search firms know executive search. They’ve trialled and tested many different processes until they’ve found what’s most effective and it’s in their best interest to keep up to date with all the relevant business trends, new recruitment tools, and to continue to expand their networks.

Naturally, internal C-suite vacancies don’t come around very often. This stifles the opportunities that HR teams have to learn the executive search process as thoroughly, and why it’s so hard for them to replicate the success of executive search firms. Executive search firms are highly specialised to their niche, so it’s not fair to expect HR teams to replicate the same success when their hiring efforts are spread across the company’s divisions at all levels, not to mention handling any other HR duties that fall within their remit.

 

Specialist Tools & Reports

Unless your company is constantly hiring, it can be hard to justify the costs of the professional recruitment tools that executive search firms use, and there are a lot.

Specialist recruitment tools:

  • LinkedIn RPS (Recruit Professional Services)
  • Market mapping tools (FAME, Orbis, etc.)
  • Existing candidate database
  • Competitor analysis tools

 

A close up of a laptop displaying an analytics dashboard.

 

It’s challenging for internal HR teams to deliver the same quality of candidates at the executive level when they don’t have access to industry-standard tools.

 

A Fresh Perspective

You will almost certainly have internal employees who are responsible for conducting regular market mapping however, a fresh pair of eyes and an external perspective can catch something that’s been missed.

We often find that clients are initially hesitant to consider candidates with limited to no experience in their same industry before, however, many executive search firms will encourage against this mindset. Some of the most successful case studies we’ve placed have been when a candidate is new to the industry, but with plenty of transferable skills and experiences, takes post, and excels because they bring new ideas, an alternative perspective, and are eager to learn.

 

Key Takeaway

Your approach to hiring at C-suite cannot be forced into the same mold as your regular hiring practices. This is why so many businesses, even those that have in-house hiring teams, opt to partner with executive search firms for senior leadership roles.

With the level of influence, they have on the business, finding executives is not something that you should cut corners on and there really is no comparison to using an executive search firm if you don’t already have the perfect candidate in mind.

If you don’t have one in mind already, here are six factors to consider when choosing an executive search firm.

 

Get In Touch

To arrange an initial consultation and learn more about our executive search process, please contact Parkinson Lee’s Managing Partner, Lee Bhandal, at l.bhandal@parkinsonlee.com

Parkinson Lee has been operating for close to a decade, and in that time has established a huge talent pool of executive-level professionals across the UK. We have extensive experience serving PLCs, AIM-listed companies, PE-backed firms, and SMEs across both the private and public sectors, spanning many different industries.

30/11/2022
An Interview with Jason Boyle – Former Chief People Officer at Tunstall Healthcare Group
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Parkinson Lee Executive search are delighted to be sharing a series of interviews with Business Leaders from across the region. Each month we will be publishing “an interview with…” highly respected Executives.

Our thirteenth interview is with Jason Boyle, former Chief People Officer at Tunstall Healthcare Group.

Jason is a passionate and inspiring leader who champions the people agenda to transform organisation structures, culture, engagement, ways of working, and performance.

Over the last 30+ years, Jason has gained extensive experience in the design and delivery of commercial people plans to support business growth, culture change, and performance improvement and has led on acquisitions, change, integration, transformation, talent, inclusion and diversity, leadership & employment engagement projects.

In this interview, Jason has given an insight into his impressive HR career, some of his greatest professional achievements to date, and his passions outside of the professional arena.

 

Interview with Jason


 

Can you give us an overview of your incredible 30+year HR career?

HR was not really a considered choice but more of an accident. I joined a YTS scheme, a modern-day Apprenticeship Scheme, and started several placements within the Personnel team, as it was then, and it sparked an interest and real passion. It offered an amazing opportunity to both study and gain valuable work experience at the same time, resulting in me being professionally qualified by 23.

I have learned that you need to push yourself out of your comfort zones and take risks, some of them worked out and some didn’t, but all in all, that defines you as a person, leader, and professional.  I have worked with some amazing people, teams, and businesses and have never taken the easy route, but again, that is what has enabled me to keep learning and growing in all aspects of my life. There were a couple of times in my career when I was offered roles outside of HR, but I’ve found that being an HR leader puts you at the heart of any business, central to its success, and also a key influencer.

 

Throughout your career, you have held numerous HR leadership positions, can you share with us, some of your greatest professional achievements to date?

There have been several highlights, but the most recent is the work supporting TalkTalk.  I led a complex group transformation program known as One Team, which was about relocating its Headquarters to Manchester from London, implementing a simpler and lower cost operating model and organisation structure, new modern ways of working, and improvements to the people agenda.  All of this was underpinned by a comprehensive communication and engagement program, providing real clarity to colleagues on business priorities moving forward.  This was a real team effort, and the success was down to amazing colleagues and a real passion and desire by the Executive team to embrace and make the necessary changes ultimately providing a better customer experience and a great place to work for existing and future colleagues.  It’s great to see TalkTalk continue to go from strength to strength.

 

Up until 2015, you spent most of your career in the telecommunications, technology, and IT sectors, before moving into pharmaceutical, healthcare, and electrical component distribution, was there a reason behind your transition into new sectors?

I would love to say there was a real strategy in my decisions, but it really came down to opportunities at the time!  One of the career choices was driven by my desire to lead a global people team and contribute to a business turnaround, the move into pharma and healthcare was opportunity-led.  However, what Pharma and Healthcare did provide, was working for organisations with a real purpose of saving lives and making a difference – that has really resonated with me.  There are not many organisations that can say this, and I am proud and humbled to say I have been part of the work they do.  These organisations and their colleagues are real heroes in my opinion.

 

Is there a point or position in your career that has been most pivotal to you and if so, why?

Yes, my time at Marconi.  This was a successful global player at the time I joined and following significant changes in market conditions and strategy, the business was quickly wrong-footed and needed to change, reduce in size and cost and refocus.  It was a matter of business survival.

This was probably the toughest 4 years I have experienced with the amount of change necessary and the impact on colleagues around the globe. I was quickly immersed in situations that I had not been involved in or experienced before and had to learn quickly through a variety of sources including peers, colleagues, leaders, and external partners.

I learned how to do things in different countries, with different cultures and legal requirements, and generally how to make things happen. Additionally, how to do things at pace and do them in the right way, which has shaped my perspective since then. I think this gave me a passion for working globally and celebrating what diversity can bring.

 

Given your career and experience, what advice would you give?

Be bold, make decisions quickly, and have a clear and simple rationale for any change, supported by a robust and effective communication and engagement plan.  I have been involved in delivering some tough and difficult messages throughout my career, but if you deliver the message in the right and compassionate way and colleagues understand, it does make such a difference.

Lead from the front and don’t be afraid to take a risk or two!

 

In January 2022, you joined Tunstall Healthcare Group as an Interim Group Chief People Officer, what were your priorities during that period?

My immediate priorities were to focus on the global people team and build some capabilities that did not exist already, create a people strategy for the next 2 years to support the business, and drive some transformational changes in the operating model and structure. I was proud to also be behind the recent expansion into Manchester as a key talent attraction strategy.

 

What do you consider the most challenging aspect of a Chief People Officer?

Good question. For me, it’s about understanding and connecting with the business and providing an effective strategy that combines the right level of ambition with the need to just get on and make things happen.

You can have great people plans, but people are individuals with hopes, expectations, and needs, therefore you need to be agile in what you do and change course quickly where required.

 

In today’s economy, what would you say are the biggest people risks that companies face?

I think the whole talent agenda is both a risk and an opportunity.  Whether that is being able to attract and retain the best talent, through balancing the costs of providing a competitive employer proposition and reward package, given the cost-of-living challenges everybody is facing.  Businesses need to be innovative, engaging, and provide the flexibility that colleagues demand post-COVID.  They also need to look at how effective their organisations are in terms of operating model, costs, productivity, digital footprint, ways of working and embracing automation, AI, and simplifying what they do.  Clarity, accountability, and trust should also underpin everything.

 

Your contract at Tunstall Healthcare Group came to an end in October, what’s next for your career?

I am currently open to any opportunity both permanent and interim – for me, it’s all about the business challenges, the people you are going to work with, whether it excites you and what value I can bring.

 

Outside of your profession, what are your greatest loves and hobbies?

Travelling and food are top of the list. I am also trying to get my PPL (private pilot license) but progress is slow due to the UK weather!

 


 

For more information on this interview or to discuss how Parkinson Lee could assist your organisation in hiring an Executive or Board Level appointment, please contact our Managing Partner, Lee Bhandal on 07590 529 274 or l.bhandal@parkinsonlee.com.

08/11/2022
6 Critical Success Factors for Choosing an Executive Search Firm
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With nearly 300 UK executive search firms to choose from, it can be overwhelming to try and determine which firm is most suitable to recognise your business needs and help you appoint your next senior leader. Within this blog, we will provide a breakdown of everything you need to consider when shortlisting executive search firms, questions you should ask during the initial consultation stage, and a few warning signs to look out for.

 

Contents

 

Why Use Executive Search Firms?

Sourcing Candidates is Time Demanding

We know better than anybody that executive recruitment is a full-time job and, if you don’t hire regularly enough to justify having a dedicated talent acquisition role internally, it can be very difficult for someone in your company to accommodate the hiring process in addition to their regular responsibilities, especially if they’re currently handling tasks that the vacant position would take over. As Theresa Adams, Senior Knowledge Advisor at the Society for Human Management Resource, puts:

A speech bubble with text inside: Managers typically have their own job, and when they have an open position, technically may have two jobs. Underneath the speech bubble is the text: Theresa Adams, Senior Knowledge Advisor at the Society for Human Management Resource.

From market mapping to candidate research, the process is timely, so partnering with an executive search firm can help alleviate most of the search process so that you only have to get involved with interviewing beyond the first screening stage.

 

Recruitment Tools are Expensive

Investing in recruitment tools is only worthwhile if you hire regularly, otherwise, they’re not cost-effective. The very basic LinkedIn recruiter license alone costs £1,200 per annum, which has lots of restrictions on contacting potential candidates and a limited search function. Working with an executive search firm allows you to vicariously have access to professional-standard tools to ensure that you attract the very best talent for your vacant position.

 

A phone screen showing the LinkedIn app.

 

Executive Search Firms are Impartial

Promoting internally can boost company morale and motivate staff. However, companies can also be blind-sighted by loyal employees, encouraging them into leadership roles before they’re ready and, unfortunately, sometimes it quickly becomes apparent that they just couldn’t meet the demands of the role at that time. Even if you have a very strong candidate internally, it’s highly recommended that you reach out to an executive search firm to compare their competency against a broad range of external candidates. This will either offer you the reassurance that your internal candidate is perfect for the job, or you might realise that they’re not quite ready and find a more suitable external candidate.

 

Candidates sat waiting to go into an interview.

 

It’s also common to see companies become close-minded to considering candidates who haven’t got leadership experience in the same field. This creates a small pool of talent with limited perspectives and experiences, and who share the same strategic thinking as your competitors. Due to this, most executive search firms will recommend that you consider leaders with adjacent industry experience as well, as this can inject innovative ideas and original insight into your business, giving you a competitive advantage.

 

6 Factors to Consider When Choosing an Executive Search Firm

1. How Long the Firm Has Been Operating

If it’s not stated on the website, always ask any executive search firm that you’re in talks with when they were established. A firm that’s operated for more than a decade can be a good indicator of quality, since they’ve managed to remain sustainable, probably by accruing repeat clients and winning many pitches.

It’s even more of a positive sign when a search firm has survived times of recession or other economic hardship. This means that they can provide tried and tested business advice, and will have established relationships with highly attractive, seasoned leaders who are experienced in navigating financially challenging times.

 

A personal stood up in a business meeting, giving direction to the other attendees.

 

2. Where They’re Based

Salary and benefit expectations vary drastically from region to region. That’s why you should find an executive search firm that is based or has lots of experience recruiting for the location that you’re recruiting in.

A good executive search firm should be able to strike a balance and negotiate the best deal for both you and your ideal candidate. If a firm has a lack of understanding of the company benefit expectations in the designated area, then there’s the risk that they might provide poor advice on what remuneration package you should be offering to attract and retain top talent.

 

A row of £20 notes.

 

3. Their Specialisation

Some executive search firms choose to specialise, whether it be the size of the company, industry, or sector. For example, here are our practices. Take the time to research whether there are any with extensive experience recruiting on behalf of businesses similar to yours. Even if you’ve previously had a good experience working with one search firm to place your Chief Marketing Officer, maybe another firm would be more appropriate to help you to appoint your next Chief Financial Officer.

 

4. Who Works There

It’s always worth asking about the experience of the person assigned to manage your role(s). For example:

  • How long have they worked in executive search?
  • What sort of industries have they completed jobs on behalf of?
  • Have they worked with any businesses like yours?
  • How many connections do they have with leaders in your industry?

 

5. Their Processes

During the initial consultation stages with an executive search firm, ask them about their approach to executive search. Ensure that you understand their processes and procedures and that they align with the needs of your business so that you don’t encounter any unwelcome surprises along the way. This is also a great opportunity to enquire about anticipated timeframes, and if you have any deadlines, discuss whether they are realistic for the firm to be able to meet.

 

A close up of a gantt chart.

 

6. What Their Testimonials Say

Besides a word-of-mouth recommendation from a trustworthy professional connection, external review websites can provide great insight into what an executive search firm is like to work with. Refer to resources like Trustpilot or Google Reviews for unbiased opinions from previous clients and candidates.

 

Close up of a person using a laptop with different reviews floating above the keyboard.

 

How Much do Executive Search Firms Charge?

It depends on a lot of factors.

How much executive search firms charge ranges significantly, as with any business, you can probably expect to pay more partnering with an established market leader than you would a newly founded start-up still finding its feet. And as with everything, being more expensive doesn’t necessarily guarantee better quality.

Here are some of the other factors that can greatly influence the cost.

 

Longevity of Relationship

How much you’re quoted can depend on whether this is your first time partnering with the firm or not. This can work both ways; some firms might reward returning clients with a loyalty discount, whereas others might offer a one-off introductory price for new businesses.

 

Volume of Work

If you are looking to hire 2 or more executive-level roles in one go, most firms will probably offer you a discounted rate in exchange for taking them all on. Similarly, perhaps you’re only looking to hire one executive role but have other non-executive roles to fill throughout the business, executive search firms which are a part of a wider recruitment group (for example, Parkinson Lee who are a subsidiary of Elevation Recruitment Group) might quote a lower bundled price.

 

Location

The location of the firm can play a huge factor in how much they charge. It probably won’t surprise you to learn that in the UK, London-based firms are typically the most expensive. We’d estimate that, when you collaborate with a firm in London, you can expect to pay between 30-40% of the role’s entire package (including basic, car/car allowance, and an average of any commission, bonus, and other monetary incentives) over the first 12 months of their employment. To put that into context, we on average will exclusively charge around 33% of the basic salary and the value of any company car.

A comparison table showing the cost of London firms versus firms outside of London. The table reads: Average London Firm charges between 30-40% of a role’s entire package (including basic, car/car allowance, and an average of any commission, bonus, and other monetary incentives) over the first 12 months of their employment. Average Non-London Firm charges 33% of basic salary plus the value of a company car.

 

Benefits Package

Some executive search firms will charge a percentage of just the basic salary, whereas others will look at the entire remuneration package. If you have a very generous benefits package, then finding a firm that mostly charges by basic salary might be most cost-efficient for you.

 

How Long Does an Executive Search Take?

Different Executive Search Firms Work to Different Timescales

How long an executive search takes to complete can depend on a myriad of different factors; from what industry the role is to how many other roles the assigned account manager has on. As a guide, we would say that most executive firms will take between 6 and 12 weeks, which starts with the firm receiving the brief and ends with the successful candidate receiving an offer.

 

Some Roles Typically Take Longer to Complete

No two jobs are the same, but we’ve found that roles in the tech industry typically take longer to complete. Due to IT, computer science, and digital marketing, for example, all being relatively new disciplines, there’s a shortage of candidates with enough experience to do these roles at an executive level. And unfortunately for employers, demand for these positions is high, so expect to have a competitive remuneration package to stand a chance in this challenging market.

 

Close up of a person using a laptop.

 

Factors That Can Make the Process Longer

Before approaching executive search firms, determine what your internal approval process will be. Who is going to be involved in the shortlisting, interview, and decision-making stages? Although hiring at the executive level is crucial to get right, involving too many people in the process can cause delays and risks making a bad impression of your business to the candidates. It’s worth checking whether any of the decision-makers have annual leave booked in, and if so, consider how you will work around it to prevent setbacks if you cannot postpone advertising the role.

Once you know who’s going to be involved, take the time to decide how many interview stages you plan to have, and what they will entail. Discuss what qualities and attributes your ideal candidate would have until you all agree along the same lines. This helps to communicate a clear brief to the executive search firm and improves the quality of the shortlisted candidates the first time around.

 

An in-person business meeting.

 

Key Takeaway

To summarise, processes, costs, and timescales all vary wildly from firm to firm. To ensure a smooth hiring experience for everyone, it’s important to implement an efficient internal process before liaising with executive search firms. Once you’re ready, research firms specialised in your location, size of company, and/or industry. From this list, refer to review websites or consult your contacts on whether they have any experience with these firms to help you refine the list further before you reach out.

 

Get In Touch

To arrange an initial consultation and learn more about our executive search process, please contact Parkinson Lee’s Managing Partner, Lee Bhandal, at l.bhandal@parkinsonlee.com

Parkinson Lee has been operating for close to a decade, and in that time has established a huge talent pool of executive-level professionals across the UK. We have extensive experience serving PLCs, AIM-listed companies, PE-backed firms, and SMEs across both the private and public sectors, spanning many different industries.

28/10/2022
An Interview with Tony Strong – CEO at Adare SEC
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Parkinson Lee Executive search are delighted to be sharing a series of interviews with Business Leaders from across the region. Each month we will be publishing “an interview with…” highly respected Executives.

Our twelfth interview is with Tony Strong, CEO at Adare SEC. Throughout his exceptional 36-year career, Tony has a proven track record as a participative leader, delivering business transformation and cultural change, raising productivity, reducing costs, improving quality, increasing customer service performance and enhancing overall business/shareholder profitability, in Private Equity, Public Sector and Global Corporations.

Adare SEC are customer communication (CCM) specialists for banking, insurance, financial solutions, business solutions, utilities, retail and public sector. The company provides multi-channel customer communications that drive higher value customer relationships. As a result of their offering, Adare SEC were recognised as three-time UK IT Industry Awards 2022 Finalist, earlier this year.

In this interview, Tony has given an insight into his 36-year career, how he’s achieved his career goals and how he continues to inspire and get the best out of his teams.

 

Interview with Tony


Can you give us an overview of your incredible 36-year career?

I left school at 16 with only 3 GCSE’s as I spent most of my youth as an amateur boxer and didn’t focus too much on my education at that time. I then began a 4-year engineering apprenticeship as a Fabricator/Welder in a Chemical factory called Laporte in my hometown of Widnes. I completed my HNC & HND engineering qualifications.

I then took on my first leadership role as Engineering Team leader before moving to Shift Production Manager. During this time, I studied and gained a couple of leadership/management qualifications. With a wife and four young children to provide for, I realised I needed to up my game to compete with the graduates that were coming into the business. I was fortunate that the company sponsored me in studying part time for a Business Degree with Manchester University. After four years I finally qualified with a First Class Hons in Business and Management.

I then left Laporte in 1998 and joined Lubrizol, an American Speciality Chemical company. I joined there as Production Manager before becoming the General Manager of the Bromborough site and then on to the UK GM of multiple sites across the UK. Lubrizol also invested in me and sponsored my MBA, which I received in 2002. I was headhunted for the role of UK General Manager in 2005 at Cargill (Cargill are the largest family-owned business in the world), I visited a number of their Grain & Oilseed sites during a 6-month induction travelling around the globe visiting every continent.

In 2009 I had a complete change in industry when I was headhunted to join Communisis in Liverpool as their General Manager. CMS was a completely different world to me, a Communications business. They were having some challenges at the time and wanted to bring someone in from outside their industry. This along with my role at Lubrizol, became two pivotal points in my career. I started as their Transactional Mail Business GM and quickly became their MD for their whole Produce Division. I was responsible for all aspects of this division which meant responsibility for >80% of the group’s turnover, covering all aspects from Production, Sales, Client Services, Technology.

I had always had the ambition to either own my own business or become a CEO one day. That was never going to happen at Communisis, as the CEO at the time, only recently left when the business was sold a couple of years ago.

Therefore, I had a call from a business in a similar space who were looking for a new CEO – I joined Parseq in 2015 as CEO. I was with the company for just over 2 years and during this time we divested part of the business and grew the remainder from c£20m to £48m. Following this role, I was asked to help establish a Commercial Function at Trafford Council selling services to the private sector to help provide additional revenue for the council. It was during this period, that I was approached by Opus Trust Marketing to join as COO, a role which I did for 4 months before becoming the CEO.

How have you set and accomplished your career goals?

For me there is no silver bullet for success in business. It comes down to hard work, dedication and commitment to your goals and aspirations. In my earlier years, I was driven to provide for my family, nowadays it’s for the success of the business and the legacy for our colleagues when I eventually hang my boots up. I think its possibly linked to my boxing career, I never, liked getting beat. To be successful you need to want to be a winner in business!

You’ve held managerial positions since 1986, how have you continued to inspire and get the best out of your teams?

To me, life is very simple, treat people how you would want to be treated yourself. I love nothing more than seeing colleagues develop, gain experience, and grow. I believe in being a very open book. Our employees run their own successful lives outside of work, making financial decisions, running the local football team, or scout/guide group. I encourage all our colleagues to bring those ‘life skills’ into the workplace and not to be constrained by a job description in order to help our business grow. Fundamentally, I see us all as Managers of our Business!

In 2009, you became Managing Director, part of the Board of Directors at Communisis, was that a significant point/ achievement in your career?

I had a lot of success at CMS which helped me moving forward, but also my earlier experiences at Laporte/Lubrizol & Cargill where all significant steppingstones and fantastic achievements in different ways. I genuinely believe that I have made a difference and had an impact on a lot of people over my career and that is one of my proudest achievements

You joined Opus Trust Marketing in 2018 as their Chief Operating Officer for 5 months, before taking on the role of CEO in 2019.  How has the business transformed in that time?

I joined OTM as COO but quickly became their CEO. As the leader of the business, I immediately changed its name, from Opus Trust Marketing to Opus Trust Communications, as I thought it didn’t reflect who and what we were and was also confusing for the market. We are a Transactional Communications Business not a Marketing business.

Can you tell us more about your role as CEO and your long-term vision for the company?

We are privately owned by Peter De Haan. Peter & his brother Rodger previously created the SAGA dynasty. Peter is our chairman and owner and I work very closely with him. My role as CEO is to ensure that we grow our business in a very ethical and sustainable way. As CEO I am charged with enhancing and delivering significant shareholder value through our various services.

My long-term vision is for us to become one of the largest Transactional Communications organisations in the UK. When I started with OTM in October 2018 we were employing 130 people and turning over £26m. Today we are employing c500 and turning over £120m. We are now the second largest Transactional Communications provider in the UK.

This success has been driven by a combination of strategic organic and acquisitional growth.  This growth has been achieved in under 4 years, whilst simultaneously dealing with 2 years of the COVID pandemic and the current significant economical headwinds. We have just completed H1 and our results show us ahead in revenue, operating profit & EBITDA terms.

In recent years, there has been a number of significant challenges to overcome, with an unknown global pandemic, Brexit, supply chain issues and with a potential recession looming, how have/ do you continue to proactively manage challenges?

Through our acquisitions we have been able to drive considerable cost saving synergies by consolidating and integrating our operational footprint. This strategy combined with our sector specific approach has, in most instances, left us reasonably well protected against some of the pandemic and market forces. We provide communications on behalf of clients in the Public Sector, Finance, Utilities, Insurance, Health, & Debt sectors as well as many others. Therefore, statutory notifications on interest rate changes, public sector messaging, energy price changes, health sector communications have all been required over this difficult trading period. We were also courageous and continued with our acquisition activity throughout the pandemic.

Can you share some of your greatest achievement in your career to date?

That’s a tricky one as there have been several highlights throughout my career operating in different roles. From a personal perspective probably studying for 7 years, whilst working full time, travelling around the globe and raising my family. Anything to get out of changing nappies!

From a business perspective, I am particularly proud of what we are achieving now given the challenges over the past few years and the growth we have been able to attain. I had significant success and growth during my time with Lubrizol & Communisis for very different reasons. Being earmarked as the next Global Operational Vice President was a high spot. However, I would have never disrupted my family and moved them over to the States.

With a highly successful, nearly four-decade career under your belt, what would you say has been your most valued learning experience or advice you’ve been given?

During my sporting career I was given this quote by a great friend and mentor to me.

There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads to fortune” – “Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and miseries” By William Shakespeare…”

My friend was basically saying opportunities don’t often come around, but when they do, grab them with everything you have…

My other one would be the simple basic principle, driven into me by my parents, “Always treat people how you would like to be treated yourself”

Outside of your profession, what are your greatest loves and hobbies?

My greatest loves are my partner Sue, my children, grandchildren, and my dear friends. Outside of work I love live music, (used to be a drummer in a band), travelling, good food & wine and my bolt hole in Betws-y-Coed where I escape most weekends. Oh, and Manchester United of course (now we are playing a bit better).

For more information on this interview or to discuss how Parkinson Lee could assist your organisation in hiring an Executive or Board Level appointment, please contact our Managing Partner, Lee Bhandal on 07590 529 274 or l.bhandal@parkinsonlee.com.

28/09/2022
An Interview with Nick Manning – Group CEO at John Cotton
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Parkinson Lee Executive search are delighted to be sharing a series of interviews with Business Leaders from across the region. Each month we will be publishing “an interview with…” highly respected Executives.

Our eleventh interview is with Nick Manning, Group CEO at John Cotton Group Ltd. Throughout his exceptional 29-year career, Nick has been a highly influential and strategic leader within multiple companies, with extensive experience in business transformations.

John Cotton have been dreaming up innovative sleep solutions since 1916 and today are proud to be Europe’s leading manufacturer of pillows, duvets and mattress protectors. With an annual group turnover in excess of £300 million, the group employs over 1500 people and operates across the globe in UK and Continental Europe, Asia and Australasia. The Group has recently expanded in Continental Europe with a new ‘state of the art’ manufacturing site and ‘first class, cutting edge’ technical equipment.

In this interview, Nick has given an insight into his impressive three-decade career, including his transition from CFO to Group CEO at John Cotton Group, whilst also detailing how the business has remained competitive, sustained exceptional quality and advanced with the times, over their 100 years of trading.

 

Interview with Nick


 

Can you give us an overview of your incredible 29-year career?

From a very young age, I was fascinated by manufacturing after spending time in, and working for, engineering businesses that my father ran.  I was drawn to the shop floor, the manufacturing process and the transformation of raw materials into a finished product.  From this early exposure, my desire to lead a UK manufacturing business was set.

For me, the route into business was through Finance as I believed it would provide me with end-to-end involvement in the running of a business.  I was fortunate enough to be accepted onto the British Steel Graduate Training scheme and proudly deployed into the home of the steel industry in my hometown of Sheffield.  British Steel (now Outokumpu Stainless Ltd) was an amazing training ground where I completed my CIMA qualification, an MBA at Warwick Business School and gained 13 years of experience, in 10 different roles in 3 different countries.

With the Outokumpu footprint shrinking in the UK, I decided I needed to move into a lead finance role and became Finance Director of Cooper Lighting and Safety, part of a large quoted American corporate (Cooper Industries as was).  I gained experience in the number one finance role along with a number of interesting projects/acquisitions. However, the financial reporting requirements of a quoted American corporate was taking me further away from my manufacturing passion, so I decided to move on.

In 2011, I moved to the Group CFO role in John Cotton Group to financially lead a mid-sized privately owned Group.  From day 1 it was clear that the scope of the role would be far wider than a traditional CFO role and I was delighted to embrace the challenges this brought.  As the role and I developed, I took on the responsibility for our international manufacturing operations, which connected me directly to my passion for manufacturing.

Earlier this year I was appointed as Group CEO as the business looks to the future and structures for the opportunities and challenges we face ahead.

How have you set and accomplished your career goals?

My career goals were essentially simple, get my accountancy qualification, progress up the finance career ladder and move into general management.  I chose the route of working hard, demonstrating value and committing to employers for long periods of time. Nearly 30 years into my career, I’ve only had three employers.  I believe I’ve accomplished my goals working within employers that suit my style, where I feel happy and can demonstrate hard work and commitment.

In 2022, you moved into the role of Group CEO at John Cotton, following an extremely successful 10 years as CFO, can you tell us more about your vision for the business, and how your new position allows you to drive this?

The Group has two main business areas, Filled Products (pillows, duvets, mattress protectors etc) and non-Woven products used primarily in the mattress industry.  Our shared vision is to be the leading and most innovative supplier in the markets we serve.

As a Group, we have demonstrated significant growth over the last 10 years and have pulled together great plans for the coming years.  There are many opportunities for a market leader in the UK, Europe and Australia to expand.  I am here to drive this development of the business and to replicate our very strong UK market position in other territories.

In a personal capacity, and as a business, we are passionate about sustainability.  Today we use thousands of tonnes of polyester fibres made from discarded plastic water bottles, use old clothing from Oxfam to create felt pads for mattress construction, take old feather duvets and reuse the material (after sanitisation) in new duvets and are pioneering closed loop recycling for mattress materials, pillows and duvets.  It is critical for all of us that we find ways to sustainably manufacture products and reuse them at the end of their life.

Clearly, my new position allows me to drive both our business growth and sustainability agenda, which I believe are aligned with our shareholder value enhancement goals.

Were there any personal or professional steps/challenges that you had to overcome to support your transition from CFO to CEO?

After close to 30 years in a finance leadership role ‘letting go of finance’ has probably been the biggest challenge, as I am sure my new CFO would confirm.  Personally, I am fortunate enough to have a very supportive wife and family who have always supported the travel, working hours and challenges that come with the modern corporate world.

John Cotton has been trading for over 100 years, in your experience in the business, how have they remained competitive, sustained quality in product and service and advanced with the times?

Our business DNA is to continuously improve.  The continuous improvement in our manufacturing technologies, our material usage and sourcing and people has allowed the business to keep up with the times and ultimately, lead the markets in which we operate.  The vision and commitment of our shareholders has underpinned this for over 100 years now.

What are you most excited about, for the future of John Cotton?

There are many things to be excited about, so it is difficult to call out one specific item.  However, I would call out the transformation project we are undertaking in the UK, which will see us with a new business Target Operating Model, new business processes and a new ERP system in the UK early next year.  A huge challenge but immensely rewarding.

Unforeseen social and economic changes can be challenging to navigate through. As CEO, how do you tackle these challenges proactively for The John Cotton Group?

The last three years have presented unprecedented challenges. We have navigated these challenges and I believe have come out better prepared for the future.

As CEO I simply tackle these challenges head-on, one by one, and with the fantastic John Cotton team.  It is very rare we are unable to find a solution.

What is your greatest career accomplishment to date?

I am not sure I would use the word great but, the accomplishment I get the most pleasure out of is coming up with an idea that has ultimately led to new technology for automatically applying the binding tape around the outer edge of a duvet.  With a finance background, it is fantastic to have been able to release the frustrated engineer in me to deliver a significant benefit to our manufacturing processes.

Outside of your successful profession, what are your greatest loves and hobbies?

Much of my time outside work is spent with my family and our dog.  The dog is a recent addition that I spent years resisting but now could not live without.

Watching the F1 as a family, walking and holidaying on the Isles of Scilly are my key interests.

 


 

For more information on this interview or to discuss how Parkinson Lee could assist your organisation in hiring an Executive or Board Level appointment, please contact our Managing Partner, Lee Bhandal on 07590 529 274 or l.bhandal@parkinsonlee.com.

10/08/2022
The Importance of Having the Right Executive Leaders in Place During Potentially Challenging Times
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Having the right leaders in place is vital for the success of any business. Strong strategic direction leads to the outcome of a company’s bottom line, sustainability, and brand perception.

Solid leadership can also impact a business’ microenvironment. Recent statistics have shown poor business advice costs UK businesses approximately £12.9 billion per year.

 

Icon of an arrow pointing down with text: Poor business advice costs UK businesses approximately £12.9 billion per year

 

As the cost of living in the UK increases, with a challenging economical period on the horizon, risks are being amplified for businesses with limited diversity in skills and experience in their leadership teams.

It’s been consistently proven that hiring new leaders during or in preparation for an uncertain economic climate, in fact, drives a business’s performance and offers more financial stability.

 

Two people sat at a table taking notes while another person stood up is talking to them. The people are all wearing suits in a business environment, all are smiling.

 

Here are three common recruitment mistakes to avoid during uncertain times and our advice on hiring a great leader to navigate a challenging economy.

 

Common Hiring Mistakes Made During Challenging Economies

 

Delaying Essential Hires

While delaying hiring efforts to prevent business expenses may seem like the safest approach, you may be surprised to know the outcome can actually prove more costly overall.

Defining an ‘essential’ hire is subjective to each business. Without being proactive, you will risk forcing inexperienced and unspecialised leaders into tough situations where there’s a significantly higher chance of poor decisions being made.

Don’t hesitate to seek out an executive search firm to advise you where gaps lie in vital leadership expertise.

 

Person in suit on the phone whilst looking at a laptop screen.

 

 

Hiring a ‘Jack-of-all-trades’

It’s not uncommon to see businesses reserve funds by combining what should be multiple leadership roles, into one. In some cases, for smaller businesses or start-ups, this may the only viable option. However, for medium and large enterprises, it’s almost guaranteed that a department will fall short of the attention it needs by assigning one Director to oversee multiple areas i.e., HR, IT and Marketing.

Chances are, Directors are far more experienced in one discipline and therefore, could procrastinate or make the wrong decisions on behalf of any other departments.

It’s also critical to consider the well-being of a director that has the responsibility for multiple departments. High levels of pressure can result in burnout, which ultimately impacts the company’s productivity.

 

A person with their head in their hands. They are dressed in a suit and sat at a laptop in an office environment.

 

 

Undervaluing Job Offers

During times of economic hardship, the power dynamic usually falls in favour of the business, however, in the last 2 years, we have seen an all-time high in job opportunities, which has subsequently meant employers have had to place all efforts in retaining and attracting new talent. Therefore, this power dynamic may not shift as expected.

Despite having the final sign approval when it comes to negotiations, many hiring managers make the mistake of offering a leadership appointment at a salary less than its worth or what the market commands, in the assumption they will receive an acceptance regardless. If you’re unwilling to offer or compromise on fair remuneration, be prepared to receive a rejected offer.

If you have a set salary benchmark for a role, consider other attractive perks:

  • Longer term incentives (LTIPS) & Equity Participation
  • Remote and/or hybrid arrangements
  • Private healthcare packages
  • Creative Bonus Structures

Our team can provide market intel and advise on remuneration packages for your industry, role and location.

 

How to Hire a Great Leader

Hiring the right leaders is an essential criterion of any successful business. Here’s our advice on finding the right leaders.

 

Identify Knowledge Gaps

Review the strength and depth of your leadership’s capabilities by undertaking a SWOT analysis of the executive team. Pinpoint each members’ strengths and weaknesses and identify whether any of your executives have previous experience leading a business through turbulent times.

 

Example:

Two columns, one labelled strengths with an icon of a dumbbell

 

Once you have this data, distinguish the areas that need to be addressed and consider hiring a leader that can fulfil these demands. This will form the foundation of a job description, specifically tailored to your business requirements.

 

Work with an Experienced and Trusted Search Partner

We understand recruiting internally can be a challenge, especially at board and c-suite level.  To widen your talent pool, reach out to an experienced executive search firm with established networks. They will be able to deliver effectively and to the essential criteria derived from your gap analysis.

 

Satellite view of the earth with lines connecting different places.

 

Something that often gets overlooked when selecting an executive search firm, is the expertise, reputation and experience of placing leaders during economic hardship. Newer firms will have a limited understanding of the complex and unique skillset required to successfully complete this assignment.

 

Key Takeaway

The best method to develop your recruitment strategy for potential challenges is to assess your current leadership team and determine whether the skillsets can be supplemented by training, or if new leaders need to be added into the mix.

 

Get in Touch

To arrange an initial consultation to help you determine which leadership roles would benefit your business, please contact Parkinson Lee’s Managing Partner, Lee Bhandal, at l.bhandal@parkinsonlee.com

Parkinson Lee has been operating for close to a decade, and in that time has established a huge talent pool of executive-level professionals across the UK. We have extensive experience serving PLCs, AIM listed companies, PE-backed firms and SMEs across both the private and public sectors, spanning many different industries.

04/08/2022
An Interview with Richard Hughes – CFO at Proactis
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Parkinson Lee Executive search are delighted to be sharing a series of interviews with Business Leaders from across the region. Each month we will be publishing “an interview with…” highly respected Executives from across the region.

Our tenth interview is with Richard Hughes, CFO at Proactis. Throughout his exceptional two-decade career in finance, Richard has successfully led a number of high-performing businesses, through his proactive leadership, meticulous approach and in-depth knowledge of the current market, across multiple locations and time zones.

Proactis is a leading Source-to-Pay software solution provider for mid-market organisations across a range of service-led industries. Their platform enables customers to control spends, manage supply chain risk, improve compliance and governance of their purchasing activities, reduce the cost of goods and services and deliver efficiencies through process digitisation and automation.

In this interview, Richard has given an insight into his impressive career, highlighted some of his greatest professional achievements and shared how he effectively responded to the Covid-19 pandemic, after only a year in post at Proactis.

Interview with Richard

________________________________________________________

Can you give us an overview of your financial career?

My career so far has been quite a journey, so I will try and simplify it a little.

I started my career in 1999 at a small accounting firm in Leeds and then moved to another small firm in Harrogate, but after completing my ACA qualification in 2002, I wanted to try something new and explore the world.

In 2003, still being very young, I followed a girl to Australia, and worked in a number of temporary finance roles in Melbourne and Perth, however, after a year, I returned to the UK.

I then joined the PwC Assurance practice and ended up staying there for 7 years, which funnily enough included a secondment back to Australia, working in Sydney for 18 months during 2007-2009.

Following that, I joined Pace plc on secondment in 2011 for 4 months and ended up staying with the business. I worked my way up through various leadership positions, from Head of Financial Reporting to Finance VP.

Pace was then acquired by a competitor, ARRIS International plc, in 2016, so I then moved into an International FD role for the following 3 years.

All of my experience has led me to my current role as CFO at Proactis, joining in 2019.

Were there any significant influences in your decision to pursue a career in finance? 

I don’t think I ever wanted to be ‘an accountant’, or at least the stereotype that people apply to that role. I was always good with numbers (some may argue otherwise!) so had a natural inclination to be drawn towards that area.

I do remember 2 specific examples that I could point to which may have sent me down the finance path – the first being that when completing a questionnaire about likes and dislikes, etc. at school, where the answers would point to a mostly likely career, Chartered Accountant came out on top! The second being my placement year as part of my degree – I worked for a logistics business in Leeds (Redfern International Logistics, now part of Ligentia I believe) where the CEO took pity on a lad who wanted to stay in the North but struggled to get a placement organised. As part of that role, I ended up doing some basic accounting to help out the part-time bookkeeper and I really enjoyed it.

As my career has developed, I’ve been influenced by lots of people (colleagues at the same level, some more junior and certainly some more senior, along with outside influences). I like to think that I’ve been able to take those influences (both good and bad) and improve myself.

What do you consider to be some of the biggest highlights of your career?

I have been very lucky that I’ve been able to see a lot of the world with work, that maybe I wouldn’t have seen or spent a lot of time in had I not worked in the roles that I have.

Having spent a lot of time in North America, South America, Europe, India, Asia-Pacific countries and Australia, I do like to think I understand various cultural differences in those areas that drive us towards our goals.

We obviously spend a lot of time at work, so having the pleasure of working with fantastic people is a great bonus and it makes the time at work a lot more enjoyable.

I’ve also been involved in some great and really significant projects over the years, whether it be M&A (I have bought companies, worked in companies that have been bought, and have sold companies over the years) as well as, some really tricky operational and systems projects – those ones that make your brain hurt!

How did you find responding to the Covid-19 pandemic, only a year in post, at Proactis?

We were very lucky in one sense (albeit you could argue that you make your own luck) that we started using MS Teams across all our international teams in November 2019, (we operate in UK, US, Netherlands, France, Germany, Manila and Australia / New Zealand) so the transition to remote working wasn’t that difficult overall. However, I do need to give credit to everyone at Proactis who facilitated a total change to remote working over a 3-day period, without any loss of customer service – it was a fantastic effort, which is all too easy to take for granted.

My finance teams were really adaptable during the initial period until it became ‘the norm’ and the business, being a SaaS business, was as insulated as possible against major disruption – the risks were ultimately customers having their own survival issues and then slower conversion of pipeline, just as we were really starting to accelerate the growth story.

Aside from the pandemic, have you experienced any major challenges/setback over the course of your career? If so, how did you overcome them?

Like most people in their careers, I have experienced a number of setbacks, some big and some small, but my mindset has always been that we take what is given to us and fight to move forward.

When I started working in 1999, straight out of University, I was very naïve and didn’t really know what I wanted in life or my career – it took me until my late 20s to focus on the hard work and dedication required to get somewhere in my career. The initial year working in Australia in 2003 really did open my eyes to the level of effort required to succeed.

Ultimately, every setback that I’ve experienced has made me more determined to show what I can do.

How do you believe you’ve added value to Proactis? What are the personal strengths that you bring to the role and the organisation?

That may be a question that others are best placed to answer, but the reason I took the role at Proactis was because I love the change management side of finance, and Proactis had been through a couple of years of bad press, but it had a really good plan to move forwards with substantial growth. We’ve changed a lot in the 3 years that I have been involved with the business in order to set the company up for accelerated growth.

I like to think that I’ve brought a lot of experience across international businesses and the development of high performing teams, along with a structured approach to all sides of finance – oh, and always bringing a smile with it!

What advice would you give to a finance professional with aspirations of making od leadership?

Your life and career aren’t always going to be straight forward – how someone deals with setbacks and the curveballs that life throws, are the real measure of a person. You’ve got to take the stuff that comes your way and keep moving forward.

Also – ask lots of questions and don’t be afraid to give your opinion – no-one has the right answer for everything, and your opinion may be the one that is ‘right’ this time.

Finally, we should all keep learning in our lives and careers – if we stop learning, it’s time to give up and go home!

Outside of your successful profession, what are your greatest loves and hobbies?

My family and friends keep my very busy outside of work, but I’m also a big lover of all sports, whether it be Leeds United (don’t attend as many games as I’d like to go to), rugby, cricket, golf (don’t play as many rounds as I’d like to) or motor sport.

For more information on this interview or to discuss how Parkinson Lee could assist your organisation in hiring an Executive or Board Level appointment, please contact our Managing Partner, Lee Bhandal on 07590 529 274 or l.bhandal@parkinsonlee.com.

04/08/2022
An Interview with Michelle Williams – HR Director at Safestyle UK
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Parkinson Lee Executive search are delighted to be sharing a series of interviews with Business Leaders from across the region. Each month we will be publishing “an interview with…” highly respected Executives from across the region.

Our ninth interview has been conducted by Emma Noble, Partner, with Michelle Williams, HR Director at Safestyle UK plc. With over 20 years HR experience across various sectors, Michelle is also a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development.

Safestyle is the UK’s No. 1 retailer and manufacturer of PVCu windows and doors to the homeowner replacement market. The Group’s business has grown from its founding in 1992 to become the largest company in the UK homeowner window and door replacement market, manufacturing almost 200,000 frames and carrying out over 45,000 installations in the last 12 months.

Since joining Safestyle UK in 2017, Michelle has developed the business’ people strategy in alignment with their corporate vision, values, and objectives.

In this interview, Michelle has given an incredible insight into her career journey to date, how she’s overcome some tough challenges and setbacks and how she manages burnout in an increasingly pressured and communicative world, post pandemic.

Interview with Michelle

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Could you tell us about your career journey and how it led to your current role as HR Director at Safestyle?

My journey into HR wasn’t conventional; it wasn’t a conscious choice but something that was forced upon me.

I considered going to university to study journalism, I loved writing, reading and I enjoyed being around people.  I would have been the first in my family to go to university.  My parents were very proud, but I knew that it would have been a financial burden that they couldn’t really afford, which was a great excuse for me not to actually go as being honest with myself now, I was daunted by the thought of it at the time.

Instead, I secured a job at a Management Development company as an Administrator, and from there, joined a nationwide scaffolding business to support their Health & Safety team.  I began to see that profession as a career choice.  Soon after, the business was taken over by a PLC and they made huge structural changes – all subsidiaries were required to set up their own HR function.  As their “up and coming, bright young thing”, I was picked to change roles to support the HR Directors. It really wasn’t something I wanted to do but I wasn’t given an option.

I ended up working for a fantastic HR Director who opened my eyes to the profession. He encouraged me to take my CPP (showing my age now as that’s the old name for the first level of the CIPD qualification) and then complete my Diploma.

I went on to become HR Manager and was able to recruit my own team, which was a great experience. But after 11 years in the business, I returned from maternity leave and felt it was the right time to spread my wings.

I then joined ABF, as HR Manager for one of their food manufacturing businesses, before moving into the public sector for a short stint, which was pretty refreshing after the grit and speed of my previous role. But funnily enough, I quickly realised that I liked the challenge, fast paced, high volume workload of the private sector, which led me into the role of HR Manager at UK Greetings and it was whilst working there that I completed by Masters degree

In 2006, I landed my first Head of HR role for a private equity backed business, which then steered me into the HR Director position at Symington’s, where I stayed for 9 years. And from there, I returned to the PLC world, joining Safestyle, which has been a fantastic experience.

What has kept you motivated and inspired throughout your career?

On a personal level, it would be my parents and the hope and pride they had for me. Sadly, my dad passed away when I was 30, so he never saw how far my career developed but he was always a strong support.

On a professional level, it’s been more about the challenges I’ve faced over the years and feeling like I’ve done a good job at the end of it.  Things haven’t always been easy, but I thrive in high pressured environments.

I’m inspired by being part of a good team, whether that’s an executive team or my own HR team. It’s rewarding to see people grow and realise their potential and I love to see the younger generation coming through and shooting for their own ambitions.

Who has been your mentor and how have they impacted your career?

I don’t really have a mentor as such, but there are a few people that have positively impacted my career, either through timely advice, constructive feedback or just being there as support.

The first HR Director I worked with was there for me at the perfect time, where I didn’t really want to be in HR but he opened up a career path for me.  He helped me find my passion.  Since then, I’ve been fortunate to work with some great CEOs and CFOs, and I’ve learnt things from every one of them.

Then there is my husband. He’s worked all over the World in commercial businesses for a long time, so he has incredible insight and lots of advice.  He challenges me and always offers an alternative perspective.  He is the wind beneath my wings.

Last but by no means least, I need to mention the employment lawyer I work with, he’s fantastic, we have worked together when I have been in a number of challenging situations and not only have I learnt a lot from him, he always finds the time to ask how I’m doing, and that’s very rare, but very much appreciated.

Have you experienced and had to overcome any major challenges/setbacks in your career? If so, what were they and how did you manage them?

I’ve been through a few challenges in my career. Working in predominately male led businesses, I’ve found that people often see the ‘female’ before they see the person.

Thinking journalism was the route for me, I joined a newspaper when I was 18 , and experienced very inappropriate behaviour from one of the owners, which led me to quit on the spot and never return. I would say that was very difficult to handle at such a young age.

Another challenge was in the scaffolding business, it was decided that all the safety team were to be put through their NEBOSH certificates. I told my manager that I wanted to do the certificate as well, to which he said, “but you’re a woman …. this is construction, male dominated, it’s not for you.”

6 months later, the Group started delivering their own in-house NEBOSH courses and because it was free my manager said that I could attend.   I was the only female to take part and was actually the only person to pass – so you can imagine the feeling I had then!

To get through any challenge in work or general life, I’ve always just tried to remain the best version of myself and that has always got me through.

Burnout is becoming all too frequent in the working arena. Having such a role with great responsibility, how have you personally coped with that?

A couple of times in my career, I have been close to burnout. The most important things I’ve learnt is firstly to recognise it, and secondly not to make any rash decisions in the midst of an emotional situation.

HR can be really lonely and challenging; you’re always looking after someone else and there’s rarely anyone looking after you.

I work hard but also make sure I have downtime on a weekend. In a post Covid world, it’s become difficult to switch off, there’s always something going on, whether it’s a Team’s call or chat, Zoom, text message, WhatsApp, email, phone – it can feel impossible to disconnect but you have to do it.  Recharging of the batteries is essential.  I distract myself by walking 2 energetic Beagles, and by immersing myself in horticulture which is my hobby – I even work for free in a local plant nursery on Saturday mornings.  They say a change is as good as a rest, and that’s definitely a change from my Monday to Friday work!

In the current climate, the role of a HR Director, has become even more crucial for organisations as they navigate the challenges of Brexit and the competitive job market post-pandemic. How have you positively navigated through this? And have you had to adapt or change your focus?

Navigating successfully through any challenge is about planning, being prepared, and being able to proactively adapt to the circumstance. I tend to find, if you have the philosophy of doing the right thing, it guides you through.

Brexit has been less of a challenge for us than the pandemic was.  Everything we did was centred around the wellbeing of our people and our customers and that was received well.  Post-pandemic the biggest issue for us is the current labour market. There are less applicants, competition is high, and we have found that people’s attitudes towards working have changed they are more focused on flexibility, and on the Company ethos and less so on the job.  We’ve had to adapt to this to continue to retain and attract the best talent for our business

How do you add value to Safestyle? What are your personal strengths that you bring to the role and organisation? And how do you instil these into your team?

I strive to be a visible leader in the organisation, I’ve always tried to engage with people at different levels and I think that’s added great value to our culture.

I try to be a confidante, a person that people can trust, open up to, and gain support from, wherever they need it. I’m not a HRD, I’m just Michelle. I try to be non-status driven and I find that’s the best way to engage people.

I would say resilience is my biggest personal strength. Some of the roles have been extremely challenging, so I’ve needed strong staying power to navigate through and to bounce back.

I try to practice all of the above every day and let my team see me do that, which is a clear way of instilling these values into the team as they progress in their careers. You also learn from making your own mistakes, so I do take a backseat at times and give the team the autonomy to make their own judgement and if it’s the wrong call, they’ll learn something from that – but my door is always open and I’m always there whenever they need me.

Personal development is crucial, even when you’ve successfully reached C-suite level, how do you continue to challenge yourself?

I think it’s even more important at C-suite level, but I’d also say it’s harder – when you’re in the early stages of your career, you’re actively tuning into learning and developing your skills – at least that was my experience as I studied on the job

I take interest in the CIPD, I take part in regular webinars, use my commute time to listen to podcasts, and I read.  I have found that a blend of office and working from home has given me more thinking space to take time out for my own development.

I’ve also learnt and continue to learn from my colleagues. Many of my peers have held senior roles in large corporations, so I really take the time to watch, learn and talk to them – asking for advice isn’t something that does or should ever stop.

What has been your biggest career achievement/stand out moments to date?

My first HR Director appointment at Symington’s has to be mentioned, phenomenal feeling to get to that prevalent point in my career but the one that I’m most proud of is being a part of the Executive Team at Symington’s that won the British Private Equity & Venture Capital Association award of large management buyout team of the year. That was preceded by a huge amount of work but was very rewarding; I have very fond memories of that team and my time at Symington’s.

Bringing it back to current times, being part of the team at Safestyle has been an incredible experience. The double-glazing sector hasn’t had a great reputation, but it doesn’t need to be like that.  We are really turning Safestyle into a business to be proud of and that gives our hard-working, dedicated, talented colleagues the recognition that they truly deserve.  Only last month someone chose a career with Safestyle over a career with Nestle – and that shows that we are truly winning.

For more information on this interview contact Emma Noble, Partner at e.noble@parkinsonlee.com or to discuss how Parkinson Lee could assist your organisation in hiring an Executive or Board Level appointment, please contact our Managing Partner, Lee Bhandal on 07590 529 274 or l.bhandal@parkinsonlee.com.

12/05/2022
An Interview with Adam Barraclough – Partner at EY
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 Parkinson Lee Executive search are delighted to be sharing a series of interviews with Business Leaders from across the region. Each month we will be publishing “an interview with…” that our Managing Partner, Lee Bhandal, has conducted with highly respected Executives from across the region.

Our eighth interview is with Adam Barraclough, Associate Partner in Strategy & Transactions at EY. Throughout his exceptional 25-year career, Adam has worked with and advised businesses across Yorkshire and the Northeast regions in the sale and acquisition of a number of high-profile brands.

EY’s purpose it to work with entrepreneurs, companies, and entire countries to solve their most pressing challenges such as, data piracy, guiding governments through cash-flow crises, unlocking new medical treatments with data analytics and pursuing high quality audits to build trust in financial markets and business.

Since joining EY in 2020, Adam has become a trusted advisor for businesses across the region, supporting them through EY’s broader expertise.

In this interview, Adam has given a great insight into his impressive career journey, his major standout deals to date and his expert advice on making it to the top in world of M&A/Dealmaking.

Interview with Adam

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Can you give us a whistle stop tour of your career?

I began as a roadie for bands like the Rolling Stones, Bon Jovi and the Eagles right after university, then thought I’d better get a proper job. So started my career as an auditor for KPMG in Sheffield, qualifying as a chartered accountant after 3 years.  Hard work, long hours and exams on top.

I then moved to Halifax Treasury and worked on a special project which resulted in the merger with Bank of Scotland and the creation of HBOS.  Following the completion of that project I worked in M&A for BUPA for 3 years before 15 years in corporate banking with Bank of Scotland, Barclays and Lloyds.

I left Lloyds to join William Jackson Food Group where I spent 4 years as head of M&A, and latterly became FD of their Bakery Business before joining EY 2 years ago.

Why did you choose to pursue a career in finance? Were there any particular influences on your decision?

I wasn’t good enough at football or golf, although I haven’t given up yet!  I did actually want to become a teacher, but my degree subject didn’t qualify for funding (Politics and History) at the time.  Accounting is agnostic on degree subjects, so I applied to the Big Four – and KPMG had a local office that impressed me most at the time.

Over your impressive 25-year career, you have held various positions of influence and leadership, can you share with us, some of your greatest professional achievements to date?

Crikey. I won corporate banker of the year in 2012 and was also nominated for dealmaker of the year but Neil Thompson posthumously won it that year, so I didn’t mind one jot – top bloke and sadly missed.  One of my closest friends also died that year so it was a very strange and awful time – great professionally, tragic personally.

I enjoyed my time working with Innocent Drinks from a relatively small start-up through to becoming part of Coca Cola – that was a fun ride. They nearly got me the sack twice but that’s another story – see below.

Best of all is seeing the people I’ve worked with over the years going on and doing great stuff.  Tom Beahon at Castore is a great example but so are others who’ve decided to get off the ride and do something completely different, which I admire, I’ve got a pal who rents bicycles in the dales after having had enough of the corporate life and is as happy as anyone I know.

Can you tell us more about what your role of Partner in strategy and transactions at EY entails?

I originate and help clients across the region in both buy side and sell side transactions covering everything from diligence to lead advisory.  We are sector agnostic, though I do have a food & drink background so anything that is in F&B I tend to get involved in.

As one of the region’s leading deal makers, what particular deal stands out if your career and why?

I’m not sure I fall into that category, but I’ll mention three for different reasons:

  1. Synetiq – I worked with Tom Rumboll, CEO at Synetiq, to help lead their merger which was an was an incredible opportunity and we have since become great friends. The EY and Synetiq teams gelled instantly, and we delivered a terrific result. A truly special business, and Tom is a top-drawer CEO.
  2. CEPAC – strangely enough, this was one that myself and Tom did together back in our Lloyds days. We completed 3 acquisitions, over 6 days for a new bank client, the last one was completed at midnight on New Year’s Eve! That was tough and I’ve never had so little sleep – but it was immensely satisfying!
  3. Innocent’s refinance – I can tell this story as the individuals have now moved on, but I fought hard to get a refinance and cash out for the Innocent shareholders in 2007.  The banks head of credit at that time just didn’t get Innocent and didn’t want to do the deal as he thought that smoothies were in his words “a here today gone tomorrow fad”.  I got annoyed and asked him if he still pointed at planes – for which I received a written warning! But we got the deal over the line, and they’ve just gone on to become one of Europe’s leading drink brands.

What are your thoughts on the strength of the UK M&A Market in 2022? And in your opinion, what types of deals are we likely to see?

It is as strong as most of us have ever seen, certainly in my 25 years in this game.  Lots of liquidity driving demand for good quality businesses.  In terms of types of deals – right across the spectrum from PE both majority and minority, trade deals, cash outs, and the deal you guys have recently done with the ESOTs.   No one particular type, and neither should there be, each set of circumstances are different for business owners.

In 2018, you completed a course at Harvard Business School in Executive Education Mergers and Acquisitions: Strategy, Negotiation and Post Merger Management, how have you used this knowledge in your roles since?

That was a cool course.  Not sure I’d have lasted 3 years on a degree there, but great fun.  The networks you build there are unbelievable.  I became pals with a Canadian guy who had been to prison for 12 years and had emerged with a doctorate and now owns Canada’s biggest chain of Dentists and is best mates with Justin Bieber!

The biggest thing I learned at Harvard was the value of storytelling to illustrate and articulate particular messages you want to deliver.  If you can’t explain something to a 10-year-old you are either failing to get your point across in plain English or don’t know your stuff.

If you could give the 25-year-old version of you some career advice now on how to make it to the top in world of M&A/Dealmaking, what would it be!

Enjoy the ride, and if you don’t, go and do something else – life is too short.  Keep learning and let that be your North Star – when you stop being stretched, learning, or getting new experiences it’s probably time to move.

And keep yourself fit (I try and fail but I try), it’s a long and exhausting career and it’s going to be a lot longer if you’re starting out now.

Oh and have an opinion, your own opinion, not something you’ve read on the internet that sounds clever – that’s not yours – and is dull.

Outside of your successful profession, what are your greatest loves and hobbies?

My family and friends.  My football team – SWFC they’ve been ruining my weekends for 40 years, but I love them, nonetheless.  I play golf (6 handicap) should be better, but I think I am Seve and go for shots even he couldn’t pull off – ending in disaster.  Wine, food and music – did I mention I roadied for the Rolling Stones 12?

For more information on this interview or to discuss how Parkinson Lee could assist your organisation in hiring an Executive or Board Level appointment, please contact our Managing Partner, Lee Bhandal on 07590 529 274 or l.bhandal@parkinsonlee.com.

04/04/2022
An Interview with Tom Rumboll – CEO at SYNETIQ
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Parkinson Lee Executive search are delighted to be sharing a series of interviews with Business Leaders from across the region. Each month we will be publishing “an interview with…” that our Managing Partner, Lee Bhandal, has conducted with highly respected Executives from across the region.

Our seventh interview is with Tom Rumboll, CEO at SYNETIQ. Tom joined SYNETIQ as an Executive Chairman, having played a pivotal role in the merger that created the market-leading salvage and vehicle recycling business. In 2021, Tom was appointed as CEO, with overall responsibility for the performance of the business and its people.

SYNETIQ is a UK’s leading vehicle salvage, dismantling & recycling specialist, offering affordable and sustainable motoring solutions. They cater to customers looking for quality used car parts and businesses who want to maximise the financial and environmental return of their vehicles. 

Sustainability is at the heart of everything they do. In support of their mission, the company have implemented a “Road to Tomorrow” strategy, which shapes their long and short-term approach to becoming a more sustainable business. 

Following a hugely successful 23-year career in various business development, commercial and advisory roles, in large PLCs, regulated industries and high growth businesses, Tom has given an insight into his impressive career journey, how he has led SYNETIQ in becoming the UK’s largest vehicle dismantler with incredible year on year growth and what he enjoys in life, outside the world of a CEO.  

Interview with Tom

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Can you give us an overview of your career to date? 

After graduating from university in 1999, I joined the Lloyds Bank Business Graduate Training Programme in Newcastle. I then moved into the world of Corporate Banking in Leeds in 2001 and never looked back. During my time there I held a variety of roles, predominantly in either Relationship Management or Business Development, alongside a challenging but rewarding 6-month secondment in a people, compliance and merger integration role as part of the COO’s office.  This was part of the Lloyds and HBoS merger integration programme.  

The career development I experienced at Lloyds was incredible. Working for, and alongside some fantastic role models, I received feedback, coaching, formal training and financial support to complete external recognised professional qualifications in both Accountancy and Marketing. I gained some extremely valuable and transferable skills and experiences.

In 2013, I left Lloyds Bank to join the Board of one of my Banking clients, Company Shop Group. My initial attraction to the company was through their incredibly strong ESG and sustainability credentials. During the four years I was with the Group, I was a part of a significant restructure, witnessed the company’s rapid growth and had the honour of receiving the Queen’s Award for Sustainable Development, and was presented this by the Queen at Buckingham Palace, on behalf of the business. 

I then set up my own Corporate Advisory business, which was how I got involved in the opportunity that became the business, SYNETIQ. I was brought in as an independent advisor to support a 4-way merger, and, after a lot of hard work SYNETIQ was created. We became the UK’s largest integrated vehicle salvage, dismantling and recycling business. Like Company Shop Group, SYNETIQ has a very strong sustainability story. I initially joined as Executive Chairman and in January 2021, became CEO.

Was it always in your career plan to become a business leader and if so, how did this drive your career path to your current position as Chief Executive Officer at SYNETIQ? 

It is fair to say that I have always had lots of drive, determination and ambition but my goals have always been to do the very best job that I can, to continuously improve, to make a positive difference and to make my family proud.  

With the variety of experiences, I have had, and a desire to constantly challenge myself, I have been given some amazing opportunities to fulfil these personal goals.  All of which, have led me to my current position as CEO of SYNETIQ, a role I am very proud and privileged to fulfil.

Anyone who worked with me at Lloyds, Company Shop or SYNETIQ, know I am fond of a quote.  This one from Larry Bird sums up my approach to my career to date.

“I’ve got a theory that if you give 100% all the time, somehow things will work out in the end”

In 2019 when SYNETIQ was established as a result of the merger of Motorhog, Car Transplants, DH Systems and FAB Recycling – what were the key challenges or setbacks that you had to overcome, what were they & how did you deal with them?

Any merger, brings challenges, but a 4-way merger where the Shareholders and Directors of all the merging entities stay in the new business, brings its own unique set of challenges! 

The biggest challenge, unsurprisingly, was around change and all that goes with it. I am pleased to say that we successfully integrated the SYNETIQ business by winning both hearts and minds. There was a compelling merger rationale, clear recommendations from the vendor due diligence (undertaken by myself pre-merger) and obvious synergy benefits which were delivered with positivity, integrity, empathy and a care for people at its heart.  

Can you share some of your greatest achievements during your career?

A great question! There are lots of things I am proud of in my career to date, starting with winning some fantastic clients for Lloyds Bank over the years.

Taking Company Shop to their first Queen’s Award, delivering a 3-way partnership with a major retailer and a charity that resulted in a £750,000 charity donation, opening the business’s first new “greenfield” store and developing a store roll-out plan that has seen the business grow hugely since I left has given me a real sense of achievement.  

In my relatively short time working in an advisory capacity, I advised on 3-mergers, all of which have gone on to great success since. 

More recently my career highlights understandably relate to SYNETIQ. Creating the business in the first instance was a real highlight, then building one market-leading, nationally recognised business and then achieving an exit at more than double the value two and half years later was a real challenge, but one that has been incredibly rewarding. 

Putting the big headlines to one side, I am so, so proud of how SYNETIQ has put sustainability at the centre of our business and strategy, becoming Carbon Literacy Silver accredited, supporting other organisations in becoming carbon literate and committing to set Science Based Targets to help us become net zero.  We are leading our industry to a more sustainable future.  

Investing in our people, establishing our apprenticeship programme and creating a nationally accredited apprenticeship for our industry speaks volumes about us, and interacting with our apprentices who are right at the start of their careers gives me real pride and optimism.

Can you tell us more about how you have driven SYNETIQ to become the UK’s largest vehicle dismantler, with year-on-year growth?

Whilst the business that made up SYNETIQ had combined trading histories of over 150 years, the opportunity we had with the new business that became SYNETIQ was to think big, think differently and think long term.  

I worked with the Board to agree a progressive and ambitious vision and then set about creating a business that could deliver this Vision. 

Putting sustainability at the heart of the business has been a major ingredient in our success, alongside our fantastic people, our commitment to our clients, our technology and innovation and the strength of the foundation the legacy businesses provided to us. 

We combined the best from each business’s legacy, added in new thinking and expertise and created a market-leading circular model that is absolutely right for our time.

Having recently led the successful sale of the business, what is your future vision for SYNETIQ and how do you aim to get there?

The future vision for SYNETIQ is the same as the current vision, but I believe that with the brand, proposition, people, infrastructure, client partnerships and momentum we have built, coupled with the resources and support we will receive from our owners, IAA Inc. we will go much faster towards it.  

I truly believe the SYNETIQ model can and will become a household name in the UK and internationalise to help decarbonise part of the automotive supply chain across Europe and beyond. 

Do you see the importance of transparency in your role as CEO? If so, how do you demonstrate this?

Being transparent, honest, authentic and consistent are essential traits of any leader. I try to demonstrate this at all times and take the businesses best interests into every situation, conversation and thought process. I do not have a secret formula; I just treat others as I would wish to be treated and ensure that what I do is consistent with what I say.  

As Mark Twain said, “if you always tell the truth, you never have to remember anything”.

As a business leader, constant and unforeseen changes can be very challenging to navigate through. How do you tackle these challenges head on, affectively adapt and ensure the wider business are all working collaboratively? 

I am a big believer in facing life as it is, not how you want it to be, so the first things that I do and have done is to define the current reality and secondly, bring to life our intended future state.  From this definition comes both, clarity and a clear goal to aim for and be motivated towards reaching. With clarity and goals, effective plans can be created. 

With competent, confident, hardworking and trusting teams, plans to reach these goals can be delivered, and good decisions can be made with enough flexibility and agility to accommodate the constant change in the internal and external environment.  

The mindset and energy to continually invest time and effort in recognising, rewarding, reflecting, supporting and challenging in order to sustain and maintain pace, commitment and progress has proved to be a really effective formula for SYNETIQ, in what has been a challenging and changeable period since we were formed in 2019.

What would you say are the key qualities required for a successful CEO?

If I were to distil this down to those that have served me on my journey to becoming a CEO and since, I would say:

  • Optimism – A belief that the future can and will be better is powerful personally and infectious for those around you.
  • Confidence – A belief that you are capable of delivering a better future for yourself, your team, your business and your industry motivates you to act.
  • Resilience – The ability to learn from and recover quickly from mistakes or disappointment is essential to maintain focus and positivity in the face of adversity.
  • Energy – The enthusiasm and stamina to be at, and to give your best at all times creates a positive effect on those around you, such that this energy is multiplied many times over.
  • Care – a genuine care for what you do, how you do it and who you do it for and with, cannot be manufactured.  From care comes authenticity which is so important for building commitment and trust from those in your care.

What advice would you give to young professionals aspiring to reach CEO level in their future career?

Firstly, I would say anyone can be a CEO, regardless of their starting point or career discipline. After that I would guide anyone to follow your passion. Build a career in an area you believe in, that is consistent with your values and excites you. Build a career in something you are passionate about where your skills can be put to best use. Self-awareness and knowing what drives you is essential here. 

My advice would be to use the early part of your career to both build skills and experience whilst getting to know yourself better; to understand how you learn, motivate yourself, and, crucially, re-energise.

On a more practical note, I would also suggest; investing time in building a trusted network of friends and mentors, making your career decisions based on building skills and learning rather than money, and to always remember that there are lessons you can learn in every situation. 

“Great things are never achieved from within a comfort zone” is a phrase that has stuck with me throughout my career. So, with that in mind, my final piece of advice is to be prepared for being uncomfortable and always say yes to opportunities that put you out of your comfort zone. By moving into realms where you don’t have all the answers, but will work hard to get the answers, you’ll find yourself at the other side with a new set of skills, competencies, and confidence.

I’m sure that work takes up an enormous amount of your time, but as a family man, what do you enjoying with any free time?

I am blessed with an amazing family, my fantastic wife Emilie and our 8-year-old twin boys Arthur and Albert.  We love spending time together as a family walking, cycling, playing very competitive games of Monopoly and watching the boys at their various after school and weekend activities. 

Personally, I like to keep fit through a mixture of running and HIIT and I am the Manager of my son’s football team (way more difficult than running a business!)  

My big passion is House music and DJ’ing where I love to buy, play and record mixes either live or to post online.  I DJ under the name LGRTR where you can find me on Soundcloud (shameless plug!) David Solomons, the CEO of Goldman Sachs is also a DJ, so if it’s good enough for DSOL, it’s good enough for me!

For more information on this interview or to discuss how Parkinson Lee could assist your organisation in hiring Executive or Board Level appointments, please contact Lee Bhandal on 07590 529 274 or l.bhandal@parkinsonlee.com.

23/03/2022
How has COVID-19 changed the way the business work & for the better?
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As we reach the two-year milestone of lockdown #1, we are exploring how the changes in the way we work, as a result of the pandemic, has had a positive influence over companies and their people.

Since 2020, many have adapted to new working environments, introduced new technologies and embraced new skillsets, which have subsequently improved how companies operate and as importantly, had a profound effect on employee happiness and engagement at work.

Many businesses have used the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity for change, but how has that changed the way they work and for the better?

Flexibility

For centuries, companies were conditioned to think efficiency and outputs were a result of 9-5 hours and an office-based/ on-site set up.

As a result of the pandemic, remote working meant employers had no option but to embrace change and incorporate employee freedom.

Adopting a flexible approach has seen many businesses experience higher levels of productivity, better quality outputs and an overall happier workforce.

With top talent getting a taste for homeworking, many will no longer consider a traditional, office-based arrangement and therefore, businesses across the world have had to reflect their set up accordingly.

For Parkinson Lee, these flexible arrangements have allowed our team to establish relationships with a wider network of executives without the limitations of geographical proximities – enabling us to deliver the best talent from any corner of the UK for our clients.

Digitialisation

In a remote world, staying connected with customers, suppliers and with one another, whilst remaining operationally viable, meant companies had to find means of working outside of the office.

These new technologies have not only kept people together but have also, enabled employees to work more efficiently and accurately with new workflow and live reporting resources.

The outcome of digitalisation has powered businesses and their people with new digital skills and the knowledge to work effectively from anywhere.

Marketing

In this new age, marketing departments have transitioned from a “nice to have” function, to a vital element of any company operation.

You just have to look at the job market to see how heavily businesses are investing in their marketing structure.

In the height of Covid, where the world seemed to have stopped, companies either used it as an opportunity to inherit new technologies to communicate with their customers, through social media and targeted marketing, or stood still and were left behind.

Clever and consistent marketing has and will continue to be crucial for business visibility, in a post covid world.

Work-life balance

For many professionals, and even more so in the generation Z that are incredibly career hungry and money motivated, the work-life balance has been near or non-existent.

The pandemic has allowed employees to slow down, work in the comfort of their own homes, feel more a part of family life during the working week and re-tilt the scale to an equal keel.

Many companies have found employees to be happier and more efficient, preventing the frequent experience of burn-out.

Mental health

Throughout the pandemic, there was a huge spike in mental health issues, and for many, that hasn’t just stopped since life has resumed to the ‘new normal’.

Many businesses were forced to understand and acknowledge the importance of mental wellbeing at work and identify ways to support their employees.

In a post covid world, this is still very prevalent in the workplace, with many introducing mental wellbeing days, encouraging lunchtime walks, flexible working hours and internal and external mental health support programmes.

As we move forward, we hope these positive outcomes will continue to support businesses with innovation, responsiveness and success, whilst keeping workforces happy and healthy.

Our company changes

Historically, Parkinson Lee have operated like many other companies around the world. Our employees were based 5 days a week at our head office in Rotherham and had structured working hours.

Since the pandemic hit, the senior leadership team have adapted and welcomed a more relaxed and flexible working approach. Now offering a permanent, remote and hybrid set up to suit the needs of our employees, with less restrictions on set working hours.

We encourage our people to take frequent breaks, work around their hectic lives as parents and to prioritise their mental health.

In 2021, Parkinson Lee had a record-breaking year, which was a clear demonstration that home working and flexibility had a positive influence over companywide success.

As a result of this growth, we currently looking for an ambitious, committed and experienced Senior Recruiter to join our expanding team across the Yorkshire region.

If you are a career focused, motivated individual, looking to join a highly entrepreneurial, successful team, and contribute to our continued growth and success, whilst establishing yourself with as an executive recruiter of choice with a high profile client base, then please contact our Managing Partner, Lee Bhandal for a confidential discussion at l.bhandal@parkinsonlee.com.

23/02/2022
The Greatest Challenge’s Business Leaders Face Today – LinkedIn Poll
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Leadership today is more complex than ever. The growth of technology, sudden market changes and uncertain economic climate has ushered in at an unprecedented and rapid rate.

We recently asked our LinkedIn community of Business Leaders within various size organisations and industries, what their greatest challenges are today.

The results were as follows:

  • Build/ retain a diverse board – 8%
  • Navigating constant change – 48%
  • Staying ahead of competition – 24%
  • Future Strategic Planning – 20%

Our team have taken a greater look into these challenges and advised on actions to help navigate through.

Build/ retain a diverse board

The most successful and influential boards are those with directors that offer a variety of skills and diverse experiences.

For many business leaders, introducing diversity into their board team comes as a huge challenge – but one that is vital in steering a company towards its long-term goals.

Diversity encourages new ways of thinking and perspective on a range of consumers, markets and business practices.

To overcome these challenges and establish greater boardroom diversity, we suggest the following:

  • Increase transparency

Work closely with the HR Director to identify gaps in your current board team. Following this, devise a strategy to introduce more women and minorities into executive positions. Once the board structure has been established and you’ve identified how you will implement your strategy, make these goals public and communicate it to the wider business – this will keep you accountable and demonstrate your commitment to diversity and inclusion in your business.

  • Refresh the board

One-to-one meetings and annual assessments for each director, are just as important as companywide ones. These should determine board members contribution to the business strategy and where there is a short fall in skills.

For those that have been part of a board team for a number of years, falling into a comfortable and coasting way of thinking can be easy. As a business leader it’s your responsibility to ensure each individual on the board continues to influence, demonstrate productivity, passion and commitment. If this begins to fade or there is a greater demonstration of underperforming you need to find ways to reengage your directors or consider a restructure and introduce new proactive members.

  • Develop future leaders

Work with your HR department to develop future diverse leaders and make it your mission to recruit further diversity into the wider business. As importantly, involve your board team in mentoring programmes, where they can support leaders of tomorrow and get a greater perspective of views from those diverse individuals.

Navigating through constant change

As a result of the pandemic, Brexit and digitalisation, business leaders are facing more changes than ever before. Navigating through these and getting ahead of the curve is where many struggle.

We suggest the following steps to support you through these changes:

  • Prepare for change

In light of the recent pandemic, being able to roll your sleeves up, take charge and guide the business through unforeseen challenges is crucial. Prioritising and undertaking a risk analysis and a mitigation strategy, will be poignant in navigating through future challenges that may lie ahead. Identifying as many risks as possible ahead of time will reduce panic and chaos amongst your workforce – with readily available and attainable strategies and tactics in place. Use your previous experiences to establish a strategy that can successfully keep your business running profitably, whilst remaining ahead of the competition.

  • Communicate with the team

In times of uncertainty, communication is key. From a leader’s perspective, that includes your team, board, investors, shareholders and customers. Open up a forum for people to ask questions and voice concerns, and ensure your responses are timely and direct with no room for misinterpretation. Weekly team catch-ups, monthly or quarterly companywide communications meetings are a great way of doing this.

  • Focus on obtainable, short-term goals.

In your company strategy, it is vital that you consider short-term goals in order to successfully reach your long-term goals. Focusing on immediate/ quarterly priorities, where designated people can take ownership, will balance the pressure on your own shoulders. If the wider business feel involved in these changes and clearly understand their positive impact on the business and the company’s mission, every individual will be working in the same direction.

Staying ahead of the competition

To dominate your market and stay ahead of your competition, defining your business proposition is essential.

You have to identify and demonstrate your unique selling proposition through your marketing strategy and instil this in your sales team when reaching out to prospective customers. You need to make a clear-cut proposition, that gives customers a reason to come to you rather than your competitors.

As a business leader, aside from product and service offerings, you need to ensure your core processes, strategy and values set you apart from the rest in your market.

We suggest the following steps to help you stay ahead of the competition:

  • Know your competition

Delve deep into your rivals – what they offer, their market proposition and how they present themselves. Work closely with your marketing team for competitor analysis and research. Following this, spend time relooking at your own business, undertake a SWOT analysis and identify what your competitive edge is and target marketplace – then set your strategy.

  • Test and experiment

Trial and error can be extremely useful in identifying what your audience likes and requires. It is a great way of monitoring results and planning strategically for the business. However, do your research first! Leaving it completely to chance may impact productivity and throw a considerable unwanted curve ball into your brand strategy and customers perception of you.

  • Be the best employer

Skilled and motivated people are the backbone of any successful business. Attracting and retaining talent means more than paying a competitive wage, offering an inclusive and inspiring culture, career development opportunities, and excellent benefits are significant for productivity and personal job satisfaction.

Future Strategic Planning

Strategic planning provides structure to day-to-day decisions that follow a larger vision – in program development, building a solid financial foundation and preparing for challenges that lie ahead. It is an opportunity for the board team to share their perceptions and discuss critical issues that may affect the organisation in the future.

An inclusive approach to strategic planning has proven to positively impact a smooth operation, in ensuring key stakeholders believe in the organisation’s vision and are committed to achieving it.

We suggest the following steps to help you to plan strategically:

  • Mission & values

Start with reviewing your mission statement, this has to define a long-term goal/ vision that is used to navigate your business plan. Use your mission, to then determine your company values – what you want to instil in your people that reflects in your customer experience. Your values need to be strong, clear and at the core of your practices.

  • External and internal SWOT analysis

Strategically review the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats that you face both within your organisation and with external factors such as industry trends, global issues and growing competition. Interpreting data is key to successfully executing a SWOT analysis. Bring your board team together to support in this step, their perspective and insights will be significant.

  • Develop strategies

Once a clear picture of your mission, values and market position has been established, the board team need to develop strategic options to move the business from its current status toward that of your mission. Its key to remember that a strategic planning meeting is not the place to discuss systems, preferred data, or training required. Managing these kinds of details will be the responsibility of individuals assigned in the action plan.

  • Action Plan

The outcome of developing strategies should be the prioritisation of a few (two to five) achievable goals and the creation of a related action plan. Many strategic plans have previously failed for because they were too ambitious or too complex. It’s important to remember that the opportunities or limitations identified in your SWOT analysis need to be addressed over a matter of years – for company sustainability.

By having an annual strategic planning meeting, these goals will stay in sight and can be successfully achieved.

For more information on how to address your current challenges as a business leader or if you are looking to add real value into your board team, please contact Lee Bhandal at l.bhandal@parkinsonlee.com.

25/11/2021
Interview with Andrea Preston – HR Director at Tes Global
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Parkinson Lee Executive search are delighted to be sharing a series of interviews with Business Leaders from across the region. Each month we will be publishing “an interview with…” that our Managing Partner, Lee Bhandal, has conducted with highly respected Executives from across the region.

Our sixth interview is with Andrea Preston, HR Director at Tes Global. Andrea is a member of the board team and responsible for creating and leading the people strategy, implementing successful wellbeing and flexible working programmes as part of employee engagement and talent attraction strategies, and driving inclusivity across the business.

Tes Global’s mission is to, power, school and enable great teaching worldwide, by creating intelligent online products and services to make the greatest difference in education. For more than 100 years, Tes has championed great teaching by working together with teachers to build trusted education solutions that help them to be the best they can be. From safeguarding and compliance, to staff and pupil management, their innovative and flexible software and services help teachers and school leaders worldwide to provide the best education to millions of children. Tes is a global company employing over 600 people across 10 offices, in locations including London, Sheffield, Hong Kong, Melbourne, Sydney, and Dubai.

In this interview, Andrea shares an insight into her impressive HR career, how she navigated through the challenges that came with the pandemic and her greatest professional achievements.

Interview with Andrea

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Why did you choose a career in Human Resources? Were there any particular influences?

During my last year of studying for a history degree at Lancaster University, I did a psychometric style questionnaire that suggested suitable careers, and HR was one of the options.

I did some investigation into what HR entailed, the responsibilities of the function and the career path that came with it. It sounded interesting, it fit perfectly with my values and would give me an opportunity to make a real impact to both a business and the careers of the people within it. That’s when I made the decision to complete my CIPD.

Can you tell us more about your impressive 19-year career in the industry and your progression to HR Director? What have been the standout moments for you?

I began my HR career as an Advisor and worked my way through various roles and industries, which gave me great exposure to many projects and challenges that required flexibility, dedication and strong problem-solving skills. Since 2001, I’ve held senior/ board level positions and led the HR strategy.

I was fortunate in my early career to work for great managers who had more confidence in my abilities than I had in myself at the time – they pushed me to gain new experiences. One manager put me forward to set-up a new international office for the company, which was terrifying, especially without the international experience. The project was a huge success and since then, I have repeated this in many locations around the world.

What has kept you motivated and inspired throughout your career? And what is the most rewarding part of your role HR Director?

What keeps me motivated is knowing that I’ve made a difference to a number of companies’ and helped to progress the careers of so many people. Equally, my ability to find solutions that benefit both our employees and the business, for any given situation is a great motivation.

The most rewarding part of my role is growing and developing my team(s) current and former, and watching their careers go from strength to strength. I feel privileged to be able to help in some small way.

What do you think has been the role of HRD in the pandemic? How were you as HRD able to help your company through the crisis?

The role of a HRD in the pandemic has been to communicate pragmatic solutions to often new and challenging situations. At the start of the pandemic, we set up a weekly company broadcast to answer questions about working from home and hybrid working, to interpret changing government guidance, explain new concepts such as furlough and reassure colleagues about the future of the business. This was a really effective communication tool that kept everyone connected and informed.

Maintaining engagement across the business, whilst keeping morale going and prioritising the well-being of our employees was key. It was a completely unknown situation, but I personally feel that we acted fast, found solutions and overcame the challenges.

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing a HR Director today?

It would definitely be the change of pace, there are always new situations that we need to adapt to, be equipped for and ready to face.

Equally, it would be avoiding a one size fits all approach, especially for a global workforce – it is so important to balance a global culture / values whilst respecting local employment practices.

How do you add value to Tes? What are your personal strengths that you bring to the role and organisation?

The broad experience I’ve had over the years across different sectors, has allowed me to offer a fresh perspective and a variety of solutions, which is extremely valuable when leading a HR function.

On a personal basis, my biggest strength is the ability to remain calm and identify key factors that are important. I have a very pragmatic approach to situations, which helps guides me in decision-making processes.

What would you say are the key qualities required to perform as a successful HR Director?

Absorbing information is key, which often includes conflicting data that requires more research to determine the most appropriate value adding people strategy.

I would also say having a level-headed approach and the ability to see other perspectives is key to building a positive and influential culture.

What has been your biggest achievement to date in your HR career?

In a professional capacity, it was opening an office in Brazil to extremely tight timescales, without the ability to speak Portuguese. Also being able to attract and retain employees with extremely niche IT and credit card expertise.

In a personal capacity, it would be the ability to present at large conferences – as an introvert that takes a great deal of work to overcome. To be successful as a HRD it is so important to keep investing in personal development.

Have you experienced any major challenges/setbacks that you have had to overcome in your career and how has that helped you become the HR professional you are today?

Early in my career, I experienced some prejudice about my working-class background and hint of a Barnsley accent, mostly when applying for new roles, which was hugely frustrating.

As a HR Director, leading the strategy, I have used my personal experience to ensure our workforce and culture champions inclusivity, where people are comfortable to challenge assumptions.

Who has been your mentor and what impact have they had on your career?

I am incredibly grateful that I met Kate Black, Managing Director at Agile HR Solutions, when I was starting out in my career. Kate was a great mentor; willing to listen and give me practical advice. Looking back, she really helped me build on self-confidence and encouraged me to apply for new opportunities. She also introduced me to champagne and now as friends, I still look forward to catching up with her for a chat and a glass of fizz.

What advice would you give to up-and-coming HR professionals looking to make it to the top of the profession?

Successful HR professionals must be comfortable with change and be committed to continuous learning and personal development – a growth mindset is essential to progression.

You need to be able to work outside of your comfort zone and understand that occasionally you will make mistakes, but in my experience, you can learn as much, if not more, from a mistake as a success.

What are your interests outside of your career?

I felt very fortunate during lockdown to have my golden retriever Bertie – both my husband and I enjoy walking and sightseeing at dog friendly places. I’m looking forward to going to the theatre, ballet and my favourite restaurants now that things have begun to re-open.

For more information on this interview or to discuss how Parkinson Lee could assist your organisation in hiring Executive or Board Level appointments, please contact Lee Bhandal on 07590 529 274 or l.bhandal@parkinsonlee.com.

04/11/2021
Interview with Carole Urey Chief Commercial Officer at High Speed Training
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Parkinson Lee Executive search are delighted to be sharing a series of interviews with Business Leaders from across the region. Each month we will be publishing “an interview with…” that our Managing Partner, Lee Bhandal has conducted with highly respected Executives from across the region.

Our fifth interview is with Carole Urey, Chief Commercial Director at High Speed Training (HST). Carole is responsible for implementing the commercial strategy and business plan to establish meaningful KPIs, whilst managing and developing the commercial and sales teams, providing financial revenue support and introducing and maintaining sales processes to improve business performance.

High Speed Training are an online training provider covering areas of compliance and development. With over 160 training courses, HST have helped over one million learners across the world to gain accredited certificates. They partner with specialists in each field to ensure their training offers industry trends, legislative changes, and relevant knowledge and actions to take forward in working life.

In this interview, Carole shares an insight into her impressive career, the commercial challenges she faced as a result of Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic and her priorities since joining HST in September 2021.

Interview with Carole

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Could you tell us about your career and how it led to your current role as Chief Commercial Officer at HST?

I began my sales career in recruitment, but after a few years, I decided to pursue the external sales route. Over the last 18 years, I have progressed through varying positions of seniority, from Sales Manager, Sales & Marketing Director, UK Sales Director, to my most recent role as Chief Commercial Officer at High-Speed Training (HST).

Working in various roles, across a range of sectors has given me exposure to every aspect of sales, marketing, product and operations, whilst overseeing multiple large business transformation projects.

The positions I’ve held at c-suite level, have allowed me to strategically and commercially influence business operations to drive growth and deliver incremental revenue.

In September this year, I joined High-Speed Training, and I am thoroughly enjoying the change of sector and the pace it offers. I am excited to use my knowledge and experience to contribute to the on-going success of HST and continue to build relationships across the business, whilst establishing new ones with our customers.

In the current climate, the role of Chief Commercial Officer, has become even more crucial for organisations as they navigate the challenges provided by both Brexit and the covid pandemic. How have you positively navigated through the last 2 years and have you had to adapt or change your focus?

In my last role, the company predominantly dealt with residential and commercial property lawyers and as a result of Brexit, this market was greatly affected. We experienced many months of uncertainty before a deal was struck.

Likewise, when the pandemic hit, we fell into the unknown. I developed a business continuity plan, that ensured we could remain operational and profitable, even with a remote workforce. I implemented communication methods that allowed us to reach out to our customers and provide our services. It was one of my greatest challenges to date – it required constant assessments and a great deal of flexibility.

Since joining the business, it’s clear to see that HST was ahead of the curve – they were equipped to hit the ground running. As an online training business, they have grown significantly through the pandemic and were able to act almost instantly, by offering training such as Covid 19 Essentials Close Contact Protection and Infection Prevention and PPE, to help navigate through the pandemic.

Why do you think more and more businesses are creating the role of CCO as an addition to existing board teams?

In my experience the role of CCO is not just about strategic thinking and delivering a commercial strategy, it’s about understanding and maximising opportunities within each area of the business, to support the company in reaching its full potential.

Throughout my career, I have led a number of business transformation projects and this collaborative way of working has significantly helped to deliver against our business objectives.

What are your values as a commercial leader? And how do you ensure these values are upheld by your team?

My values are honesty, integrity, fairness, accountability and being passionate about what you do. Trust is a significant element to any successful operation, and likewise, to be led by example. I ensure that decisions and the company direction are communicated clearly, which creates an effective and united dynamic.

How do you manage and influence your vision to the wider sales, marketing and support teams?

I work collaboratively with my teams and hold regular meetings to share updates, changes and gather ideas, so they can see their contribution to our financial targets.

Gathering feedback from our people and our customers is something that I actively encourage, it is a vital tool that increases performance outputs, reputation and company culture.

I hold my own open-door policy, where my team can comfortably speak about current challenges, finding solutions, share concepts and suggest improvements.

Clear lines of communication are crucial when bringing people on a journey, it allows them to be a part of the process, share values and ultimately, achieve their goals.

Personal development is crucial, even when you’ve successfully reached c-suite level, how do you continue to challenge yourself?

I personally think it’s important to learn something new every day! As a new member of the HST team, I tend to do this by spending time with different people across the business, to find out about their roles and gather their ideas. Not all answers are found in textbooks, people often have the answers, but it’s about creating the right forum to address them.

What would you say has been your greatest success and challenge throughout your career and how did you overcome this?

This is a difficult one, but I think my greatest success has been to see the people I’ve helped to develop, go on to create extremely successful careers. I take great pride in mentoring my team and sharing my knowledge.

Second to that, would be creating hugely successful sales teams that have delivered YOY growth for the businesses I’ve worked in.

I would say navigating through the Covid landscape and transitioning the customer success teams to remote working in a considerably short space of time, whilst ensuring there was a profitable business at the end of it, has been my greatest challenge to date.

Having joined HST just a few months ago, what has been your main priority? And how do you hope to accelerate the commercial operation and team success to reflect your long-term goals and strategy?

My first priority was to understand the current business strategy and get a feel for the company culture. I then utilised this, to shape a business plan that would help us to achieve commercial growth within our extensive customer base.

We are currently in the process of aligning our commercial strategy to our 3-year business plan, by reviewing our value proposition and validating our thinking with a number of customer innovation groups.

Can you share your advice to any aspiring CCO/Commercial Directors? What skills and personality traits do you believe are vital for a successful career?

To become a good leader, you need to understand the business from the bottom up – it eases the decision-making process.

Clear communication is key to running successful teams, keeping people engaged and ensuring that everyone is aligned to the company’s objectives.

You need to also have the ability to listen and then act on information – it is critical to gaining the trust of your customers and colleagues. As importantly, being kind and considerate goes a long way!

For more information on this interview or to discuss how Parkinson Lee could assist your organisation in hiring Executive or Board Level appointments, please contact Lee Bhandal on 07590 529 274 or l.bhandal@parkinsonlee.com.

30/09/2021
Interview with Dr Elizabeth Wigley Technical Director at Bawtry Carbon
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Parkinson Lee Executive search are delighted to be sharing a series of interviews with Business Leaders from across the region. Each month we will be publishing “an interview with…” that our Managing Partner, Lee Bhandal has conducted with highly respected Executives from across the region.

Our fourth interview is with Elizabeth Wigley, Technical Director at Bawtry Carbon. Elizabeth leads the decisions, relationships and strategy of the Quality, Continuous Improvement and Research and Development department in Doncaster. She works closely with the wider team to improve the business operation and to scope ideas, whilst establishing relationships with customers to better understand their needs for future technologies and products.

Bawtry Carbon Limited is a leading manufacturer of carbon cathodes, sidewalls and ramming paste for the aluminium smelting sector, based near Doncaster. Exporting nearly 100% of their output, Bawtry Carbon are a trusted partner who places emphasis on innovation, on-time delivery, quality and customer service.

In this interview, Elizabeth shares an insight into why she chose a career in Engineering and Manufacturing, the most challenging and rewarding parts of her role as Technical Director, and how Bawtry Carbon are implementing green initiatives into their operation.

Interview with Elizabeth

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Why did you decide to choose a career in Engineering and Manufacturing? Were there any particular influences on your decision?

At school, I was a typical all-rounder; sporty and fairly academic; I also worked very hard. In the end, I chose to pursue science and maths at A-levels as I originally wanted to become a GP. Throughout my A Levels, I worked as a Care Assistant for the elderly and loved it. Combining science and people seemed like the perfect job for me.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get the grades for medical school, so I decided to study Chemistry at university. I had hoped to continue to Medical School after that. However, I quickly learned that medicinal and synthetic organic chemistry were not for me! Time for a plan B. It was mid-way through my BSc when I met my PhD Supervisor. This was a turning point. I was fortunate to be able to work in his laboratory for two summers, working on polymer and colloid research. It was here, I discovered that the practical side of research and development really suited me and my style of learning. Choosing to do a PhD in Polymer Chemistry was an easy decision, and undoubtedly one of the best I’ve ever made. It was a fantastic three years working with a great team of students and postdocs from around the world – I made lifelong friends and I’m extremely proud of what I achieved.

Being funded by Unilever gave me a great insight into industry life. I’ve always had this at home too, as my Dad was a Chemical Engineer in the petrochemical industry. His job seemed exciting, always talking on the phone to plants around the world about specifications, shipments and random chemicals! At this point, I knew I wanted to work in industry rather than academia, turning R&D into tangible results whether financial or technical. I was fortunate to start my career within a large chemical corporation. I started work whilst still writing my thesis (What was I thinking?). The next key decision for me was moving to a non-polymer industry, refractories. Here I learned the benefits of bringing a different but overlapping discipline (polymers) to another (ceramics/refractories).

You have had a fantastic career, progressing from a Research and Development Chemist to a Technical Director over a 13-year career span, what would you say has been your highlights so far? And what has motivated you to achieve so much?

Thank you! My 10 years in the refractories industry equipped me for what was to come next in my career at Bawtry Carbon. I thrived on working in R&D and had several different roles allowing me to build my skills and experience as a leader. Because it was a large organisation, I learned business structure and processes, particularly surrounding New Product Development and Innovation. I was fortunate to work with leaders with a breadth of styles and skills. I found myself fascinated by the impact they had on on the people around them and the delivery of results. It was here, I discovered another avenue that would allow me to influence people’s lives in a positive way: leadership. I’m motivated by seeing other people grow and love seeing someone arrive at work with a spring in their step, energised by their work; it’s great for business too. A highlight for me has been learning about human leadership and the importance of empathy, building positive relationships and psychological safety in a team.

I’ve always been driven and had my next career goal insight with some kind of plan in my head. This could be anything from an external course to a development project. I thought that having two children would change that, but I returned from maternity leave the second time with renewed energy and purpose (admittedly, when the sleepless nights stage had passed). My two boys will always be my greatest achievement in life, but I had space and a desire to achieve more in my career. Now, I’m also motivated to do it for them. I was extremely lucky that this opportunity presented itself at end of last year when I first met our Managing Director. I felt so motivated and passionate about Bawtry Carbon and what I could contribute after only an hour of discussion- I knew it was the role for me.

It’s very exciting working for an SME. Especially, armed with all the tools and skills I acquired during my time in larger organisations. I particularly enjoy contributing to decisions at board level and influencing the future direction of the organisation, aligned with our newly derived vision, mission and values.

What does your role as Technical Director entail?

I am responsible for technical decisions, relationships and strategy at Bawtry Carbon. My team cover Quality, Continuous Improvements and R&D. Since joining, I have been working on our plan to improve the department and position ourselves to drive growth and realise our vision. I have spent a lot of time talking to our customers and building technical relationships, asking them for feedback and ideas for the future. This is key for increased success for Bawtry Carbon, and supports our core values, including innovation, knowledge, customer focus and collaboration.

What would you consider the most rewarding and most challenging part of your role?

I’m finding working for a smaller organisation, making decisions and generally standing on my own two feet extremely rewarding. As Directors, we continuously work beyond our own departments. I’m learning so much from the team here about the commercial, financial and operational aspects of running a manufacturing business. It’s also great working with our Private Equity Investor owners, Enact.

The downside of a smaller organisation is there is nowhere to hide when things don’t go to plan, you are accountable. Before I left my previous role, my boss at the time told me that as a leader you must “be prepared to fail at least 50% of the time”. This was great advice. Having courage to make decisions, based on the information you have at the time. Knowing it could be wrong but that a decision is better than standing still in most cases.

This is made easier by having a great team supporting you. One highlight for me has been promoting two of my current team members. Two individuals who have been contributing to Bawtry Carbon’s success for a few years and clearly have an appetite for change and want to improve our department and business overall. The next step for us will be to grow the department with some new key R&D team members.

I’ve also found that some of the experience I have now means I am able mentor and coach others, this is very rewarding. I’ll never stop learning either; Bawtry Carbon is enabling me to do that with Leadership MBA and regular Business Coaching. Feeling invested in, is so important.

Are there any significant projects that you have led as Technical Director at Bawtry Carbon that has made a great impact to your operation or overall business success that you could tell us about?

A particularly inspiring leader I worked within the past, taught me the power of a establishing a roadmap to communicate future plans. Setting out the aims of the business, or in my case the Technical Department, and aligning them with the scale of our ambition. I used this in the first presentation to our board, highlighting what a world class Technical Department would be and where our ambitions should lie to meet our business growth objectives.

I also created the first departmental vision within Bawtry, which was later expanded to create our new company vision, mission and values with contributions from all departments. I aligned our technical roadmap with key future projects supporting our potential for growth via product development. I’m pleased to share that one of these projects was successfully backed by a local grant, highlighting the strength of our business case. This has accelerated the upgrade of our laboratory and testing capability. The first phase is due to be completed in Q1 2022.

The pandemic has had a huge impact on us all, but particularly for the engineering and manufacturing sector that had to adapt to rapidly changing conditions. How did you overcome those challenges?

At Bawtry Carbon, Covid caused a considerable downturn in our industry forcing the furlough of staff and mothballing of our plant. I’m pleased to say that we are now back to full capacity, with some remaining supply/freight challenges to carefully manage. I was not part of the team in 2020, so I cannot claim to have helped weather the storm.

During this year, I was placed on furlough from my global R&D role for two months. I was very grateful to be able to care for my children at home without having to work at the same time. I’m fully aware I was one of the lucky ones and many others have struggled and continue to struggle as a result of the pandemic.

At Bawtry Carbon, since the pandemic, we have focussed on Mental Health Awareness. Many of the team completed Mental Health First Aid training, including me. I’m extremely grateful that I now feel more confident in knowing how to best support people suffering with their mental health and the importance of checking in with team members and offering appropriate support.

Going green has been a hot topic for a very long time and businesses have been more focused on making plans to implement new technology, the use and production of sustainable components and chemicals, and waste reduction. How have you considered this within your technical operation, and have you made any changes already?

We are at the start of our journey, recently completing a corporate social responsibility survey. We are working on reducing our plastic packaging and minimising our environmental impact. In our industry, since REACH came on the scene, we have been busy trying to reduce and replace hazardous chemicals. We have made some progress with our non-hazardous ramming paste for aluminium smelters but certainly there is more work to do in the future.

To any aspiring Technical Directors, and particularly women who are considering a career in the field, what advice would you give in regard to ensuring they have the right skills and experience in order to be successful in their first Technical Director role?

Research! Never stop learning. And I mean beyond your scientific field or application. The world is full of people that want to share their path to personal and business success, including inspiring female scientists and leaders. Check out podcasts, TED talks, self-help books, to name a few. Find something that resonates with you and apply the learning. Understand what you are energised by at work and your gravitas as early as possible. When faced with imposter syndrome, or a lack of confidence, I’d recommend thinking “why shouldn’t it be me” and see where that takes you!

For more information on this interview or to discuss how Parkinson Lee could assist your organisation in hiring Executive or Board Level appointments, please contact Lee Bhandal on 07590 529 274 or l.bhandal@parkinsonlee.com.

30/09/2021
Interview with Nigel Hunter Marketing Director at Victoria Plum Plc
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Parkinson Lee Executive search are delighted to be sharing a series of interviews with Business Leaders from across the region. Each month we will be publishing “an interview with…” that our Managing Partner, Lee Bhandal has conducted with highly respected Executives from across the region.

Our third interview is with Nigel Hunter, Marketing Director at Victoria Plum. Nigel leads the marketing strategy for new and existing products including innovation through research, data, trend analysis and branding. He also manages the day-to-day activities of the marketing team such as: CRM, Affiliates, social media, SEO / Search (PPC and Shopping), Direct Mail, Programmatic Display and VOD to improve ROI from all performance channels.

In his role, Nigel is responsible for the full marketing life cycle, working closely with the company’s Commercial team; enabling them to meet their commercial objectives by providing appropriate analysis on NPI and digital performance. Whilst additionally working alongside the IT team to develop customer centric experiences across the online and digital real estate.

Victoria Plum is one of the UK’s fastest growing online home retailers, supplying quality bathrooms to consumers and trade customers alike. Founded in 2001, they have become one of the UK’s most successful pure play retailers.

In this interview, Nigel shares an insight into why he chose a career in marketing, how he transitioned from agency to client side, and his proudest marketing campaign for Victoria Plum to date.

Why did you choose a career in Marketing?

Growing up in a sedate council estate in rural North Yorkshire, with a handful of great friends gave me a desire to explore different places, try new things and generally stretch my legs. My family were, and still are, everything to me, and having loving parents who supported me to be whatever I wanted was a good start. I had great mates and we were determined to stand out (and not just in an 80’s boy band manner, which I’m slightly embarrassed to say was our starting ambition) so when I met my now wife who was from the far-flung reaches of Bradford, I embraced the opportunity to expand my horizons.

And so, it began – My first jobs in the media sector led to fast-paced agency life with unexpected highs and inevitable lows. 35 years later working on the client-side, I’m still loving it. Some of my colleagues from the days at ‘An Agency Called England’ will have to forgive me for this, but as one memorable ad campaign from back in the day said – ‘Live it, love it” and I am.

Can you tell us how you marketing career began and how you have transitioned from agency to client lead marketing?

Oh Crikey, to quote The Beatles, it’s been ‘a long and winding road’.

Having started in the media working for a number of regional newspapers, I moved via The Newspaper Society to a long-established Leeds-based agency, Charles Walls, for my first stint in ad agency life. And if I’m honest it was a complete shock. I had so many briefs from clients lined up that they ran the length of the floor across the office. The hours were long, but the belief in the team, right up to the top, that we were doing great things made it easy to get up in the morning and head to the office to get started way before sensible people were pouring milk on their cornflakes. And so it began; a period best described as ‘Blood, Sweat and Beers’.

Agency life was generally good to me, but it was not without its challenges, as I’m sure is still the case today for many up-and-coming studios. But after about 15 years, I eventually left the sector and moved to what I thought would be the quieter side of the fence – that of the role of client-side Marketing.

Whilst the pressure of not having to pitch 24/7 was a relief, I quickly realised that being immersed in one business full time was just as intense as that of the more nomadic agency roles I was used to. Moving ‘client-side’ meant I had to understand new and complex aspects, such as, the impact of the supply chain on promotions and the opportunities offered to the marketing team, to understand the Operations side of the business. I was no longer simply concerned with the likes of traffic, awareness, or ratings but instead totally consumed with EBITDA, profitability and data – so much data that I’m still amazed at the things I continue to learn through my obsession with the numbers and the details.

What has kept you motivated and inspired to achieve so much throughout your fantastic marketing career? And what is the most rewarding part of your role?

It’s the people, definitely the people that motivate me. From the basic need to provide adequately for my family, to the desire to ensure my colleagues thrive in their roles. Right through my agency days, I can recall new young recruits coming to the business with all the energy and drive you could ever desire. I found it so motivating to be around such ambition, skill, and raw talent and made it my mission to support those rising stars who in turn were giving me direction and ambition, without even realising it.

I’m probably guilty of taking this ideology too seriously, but I’m proud that some of those fresh-faced peers have become lifelong friends and even Godparents to my kids. And so, it still stands today that I find some of my team in the marketing department at Victoria Plum so unbelievably inspirational that I’m just as star-struck at their skill and ways of thinking. It’s clear to me that I am standing on the shoulders of giants in my role as Marketing Director at Victoria Plum.

Which marketing campaign/ initiative/ project are you most proud of since starting your role as Marketing Director at Victoria Plum?

I suppose it would have to be the brand TV activity we started a few years ago. It’s always more difficult to gain support for Brand activity in an eCommerce business due to the poor attribution options associated with broadcast TV, however, the Board at Victoria Plum are very aware of the power of a well-curated brand, and our exceptional brand awareness metrics evidence this fact.

We managed to pull off an impressive, highly awarded TV ad without the need for external creative teams. I suppose my background in Agencies came in really handy here as we pulled together a great bunch of independent professionals and used Equinox TV for the production. Much of it was filmed in our in-house studio in Hull and a location in South Manchester and I have to say it was great fun and most importantly a great product.

Outside of the glamour and fun of filming live-action TV, I would say that the way the in-house team attacks the performance marketing channels working hand in hand with Google, gives me an ongoing sense of pride. The team is innovative, agile, and not afraid to be brave, and it is really paying off. So often, we get approached by digital agencies telling us they could get us more traffic, but this just makes me smile to myself. Our activity goes way beyond clicks, into the likes of stock availability and operational efficiency before even deciding if a click would be a good investment or not. Knowing our customers and their preferences means we have insight that no outside organisation could ever understand. I wish I had realised and truly understood this when I was in the Agency game as it might have made me alter the way the team went about new business.

What is your view on the term ‘digital marketing’, do you think with natural progression in technology and user experience, this is now a given in any marketing role today? And how do your team use ‘digital marketing’ in their day to day activities?

I recall a time when my son was young that he was gifted a ‘digital camera’ from his grandparents. He was only about 8-years old at the time, but his first reaction was ‘What made it digital?’ after all, it did everything that every other camera did. The fact that all cameras were pretty much digital by then had simply passed his grandparent by, and to my son it was just a camera – he absolutely loved it.

To my mind, there is no such thing as digital marketing anymore. Where 15 years ago the terms digital was directed at the technology used to deliver the message, now it’s all about the measurement of the data you get back that makes it so impressive. Of course, the technology is no less impressive with machine learning, predictive modelling through impressive algorithms, and the ability to crunch incomprehensible amounts of data at lightning speed becoming the norm. It’s just less visible and less surprising as we learn that technology is already far beyond the limits of where most of us think.

It’s funny to reflect and think that as recently as only 15 years ago, the agency I worked at was still selling the concept of the internet and businesses having their first website.

The team at Victoria Plum are of course ‘digital’ to the core – but as with cameras, being digital isn’t something anyone should think of as special anymore – it’s got to be a given? However, what surprises me most is my team’s ability to not only work with data but to have the confidence to rely on it for every decision and opportunity. This is a team that is spearheading the data transformation at Victoria Plum, and that really excites me for our future.

How has the global pandemic changed the way you communicate and work as a team within the marketing department at Victoria Plum? Has there been any challenges you have needed to overcome?

The main thing we did during the first few weeks of the pandemic in 2020 was move to homeworking across all the head office functions, including Marketing. To be honest it was such a success, with the teams really flourishing, that we now have permanent home working, which is really flexible for the colleagues and allows us a much wider pool of talent for any positions that we create. We do, however, have a couple of really smart campus locations where colleagues can meet up as they need, and training can take place.

So, for many businesses, the challenge with remote working has been communication, but at Victoria Plum, we have found it better than ever. We use MS Teams, and the entire department has as many social chats as they do work ones. I can honestly say the team is closer than ever before and the mesh that this communication has caused holds us together stronger than ever. Of course, it doesn’t work for everyone, but for me, it is an absolute game-changer.

What do you think is the most exciting marketing trend at the moment and why?

I would say it has to be end-to-end personalisation, although that in itself isn’t as easy as it sounds. With a long conversion journey as we see in the home improvement sector, there are many touchpoints. So, to help manage the complexity we deploy automation where we can, with demand-led budgets, automated creative, and smart bidding, allowing us to focus on the customer journey rather than the implementation of the adverts themselves.

I think it takes a certain kind of culture to get away with this approach to automation as you need to be brave and believe in the data. So many people are afraid to ‘let go of the sides’, but as my swimming teacher told me aged 4, if you don’t let go, how are you ever going to reach the other side? Thankfully I work with a supportive Board and shareholders who embrace the opportunities with automation and technology generally.

To any aspiring Marketing Directors, what advice would you give in regard to skills and experience to be successful in their first director level role?

Never stop being inquisitive and understand that success will come from those you recruit, train and mentor and not from yourself alone no matter how long you have been in the role.

For more information on this interview or to discuss how Parkinson Lee could assist your organisation in hiring Executive or Board Level appointments, please contact Lee Bhandal on 07590 529 274 or l.bhandal@parkinsonlee.com.

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