Two weeks’ ago, the RCSA announced the winners of the New Zealand industry awards. The winner of the Recruitment Leader of the Year was Consult’s Angela Cameron.
After completing her undergraduate degree at Victoria University in Wellington in the late 1990s, Angela commenced her professional career as an auditor at Big 4 professional services firm; Deloitte. In 2003 Angela made the switch to recruitment, joining Robert Half in Auckland. In 2008 Angela started her own recruitment agency, Consult.
Eleven years later , after the company’s sale to private equity interests in March this year, Angela continues to drive Consult’s growth, now in the role of CEO.
Angela kindly agreed to answer my interview questions about her career and her recent win in the RCSA awards.
Ross: What was your background prior to becoming a recruiter and how did you come to choose recruitment as a career?
Angela: I trained at Deloitte as a Chartered Accountant. It was a brilliant start to my career – however, I knew I wanted to be in business (rather than accounting) so I chose to go into recruitment. In doing so, I expected that I would gain a number of skills that I would need in business – sales, marketing, HR, negotiations, commercial realities, employment acumen. It was a good decision!
What aspects of recruitment did you find the most challenging when you started?
I was quite shocked to be given my “Flight Centre” headset on my first day! I thought recruitment was lots of coffees and chats – but there was actually a lot of work on the phone!!
Being an introvert, I struggled a bit with the energy side of things as speaking with so many people about their careers can be very tiring. On the flip side, I am very competitive, so I really enjoyed early success and the fact that my pay packet was based on my effectiveness.
How long did it take working as a recruiter before you were offered your first leadership role? Tell me a little about that role.
I had been in the role for about a year before I was promoted to Division Manager at Robert Half. This was a huge step up, but I loved it and the business thrived under my leadership. I had an inspiring boss (David Jones) and was encouraged to focus on customer service and doing the right things by people. By the time I left, we had won a couple of global service awards, the team was strong, and the business was doing really well in New Zealand.
What did you find to be the biggest challenges in moving from a consulting role into a leadership role?
Many successful consultants are promoted to leadership based on their consulting success, not their leadership capabilities. While I’ve enjoyed some great success as a consultant, my key drivers have always been focused on seeing other people succeed, so my transition here has been easier than most.
As a leader, letting go is also sometimes difficult, but you learn pretty quickly that you can’t be everything and do everything and that you need to rely on the power of team for success.
What was your primary motivation for leaving Robert Half in 2006 and starting Consult Recruitment in 2008?
I had my first child in late 2006 – so left to go on maternity leave. Unfortunately, the environment in general back then wasn’t very welcoming to mums returning from maternity leav. I reflect back on that now and realise how far we have come as a society.
I started Consult because I had one client who kept calling me, asking me to find him people. I call him Saint Andrew! When you’re a mum at home and you’ve lost a bit of your identity (and confidence) – a call like this is life changing. Because he believed in me and what I could do, that gave me the confidence to start Consult. Sometimes you need to lean on other people for confidence until you catch up on your own.
What were your major leadership challenges as a business owner compared to your major challenges as a leader working for one of the world’s biggest recruitment brands?
This is huge, and I think it is where a lot of consultants who leave large agencies to start their own agency underestimate the power of the big brands. Running a small brand with limited resources makes everything much more personal. You cannot rely on a big brand anymore for brand exposure or for a safe haven. For many it is a difficult transition.
For me, there were a few people who were not very positive about my starting Consult – I turned this into a huge dose of motivation in that I wouldn’t let it fail! My leadership challenge early on was doing everything well, while having a young family, being reliant on the success of the business and trying to build a team.
it took a couple of years before I realised that our superpower was that Consult was different from the big recruitment brands. Once we had worked out why we existed and the value we added to our community, we began to own our Consult brand identity – this has made all the difference.
Of course, there are many other things that are challenging moving away from a big brand to a SME – but I have always been a roll your sleeves up and get the job done person, so I’ve enjoyed the challenge!
Why did you recently sell Consult to new owners (efu Investment Ltd – New Zealand investment fund of Japanese billionaire, now New Zealand resident, Soichiro Fukutake and his family)?
Because it was the right thing to do for the business. We had built it to a sizeable business, with great profitability and even greater opportunity – but to take it to the next level would require a step change. Partnering with our new owners enables us to build the Consult we’ve dreamed of – which means we will be helping even more people by building our team and acquiring good recruitment agencies.
Our new owners (are not in the recruitment industry) – but are very focused on wellbeing and creating environments with meaning for people, so they are hugely values aligned with us. On a day to day basis, nothing has changed except we are better resourced and supported, and we are hugely excited about the next steps in the Consult journey!
What books, blogs, podcasts, websites, programs or other external resources have you gained the most from in terms of developing your leadership skills and what specific difference have these resources made?
We are fortunate to have Greg Savage visit us every six weeks or so (in his role as Consult investor and advisor). This has formed a lot of my leadership development. I am a Chartered Accountant and a CPA, and both these organisations provide great learning opportunities. Doing the Entrepreneurial Winning Women programme through EY a few years ago gave me a lot of confidence. We’ve supported the RCSA (and yourself Ross!) by attending courses over the years – I think ongoing development is essential to remaining relevant. There is never a perfect recruiter or leader and there is always much to learn.
Apart from that – I read a lot of books about health, maximising energy and looking after myself – I consider this to be hugely important as a leader (and a mum). Unfortunately, I come from the generation where we just worked that bit harder and longer to get the job done – so it is a bit of deprogramming a lifetime of unhealthy habits!
What sort of statistics or KPIs do you rely on, and how do you use them, to effectively manage the people who report to you?
Early in my career – it was all about the numbers – jobs filled, fill percentage, client visits, temp hours etc. Now I am less focused on those things, and more on two main things:
- Overall success of the business (placement revenue, Net Promotor Score feedback from candidates and clients)
- Happiness and success of the Consult team – to me this means providing a great place to work, where our team are enabled to be their best selves and are supported through training and development to succeed.
Who have been important influences in your recruitment career and what have those people specifically contributed to you?
David Jones at Robert Half was an inspirational manager for me – he always kept it fun and always made time for me despite him being incredibly busy.
Mostly however – Greg Savage has been a huge influence. I somehow convinced him that he should be a Consult advisor in 2013 (it’s a funny story about how sometimes you just have to put your best foot forward, be cheeky and if you don’t ask, you don’t get!). I’ve learnt a huge amount from him over the years about recruitment, leadership, but also about being a better person.
What do you attribute your win in RCSA 2019 New Zealand Recruitment Leader of the Year to?
Perseverance, resilience, an openness to learning and not necessarily having all the answers; but mostly, due to creating an environment in Consult where people like coming to work and being together. Consult is a success not because of one person, but because we have harnessed the power of team.
What are the most important things that a recruitment agency leader should focus on to build a team with strong morale, excellent skills and outstanding results?
I believe you need to know what your values are and what is important to you. You need to have team members who share the same values. You need to empower your people to live those values – not just when you are in the room. I love the saying ‘the behaviour you walk past is the behaviour you accept’. I believe everyone in the organisation has a part to play in creating the environment you operate in.
Vulnerability is vital as a leader. Sometimes the best ideas come from the most junior people, but if you haven’t created an environment where people are okay being vulnerable, you will miss the magic. Additionally, being okay with getting it wrong is important too – it is the focus on learning and improving every day that matters.
Finally, in this day and age – if you want to build a good recruitment business, you have to win the hearts and minds of the best people. This means that people want to belong somewhere and be a part of something – so as the leader it is important that you set the scene for the difference your organisation makes.
What personal philosophies drive you each day in your job?
I learnt many years ago from being a bank teller to never to judge a book by its cover! I have taken opportunities because I don’t want to be in my rocking chair in my nineties wishing that I had of taken them because by then, it’s probably too late!
Mostly, I aim for kindness to others and myself.
What’s something about yourself that very few people, who know you professionally, would know about you?
Early in my career, I worked in the Aluminium smelter in Bluff – casting ingots, driving forklifts and working on the furnaces. It was a super tough role for a 18 year old girl to work in heavy industry (and in a VERY male dominated environment) – but I learnt so much about myself and how adversity can make you stronger and better.
On a lighter note – I found out a couple of years ago that I have a strange superpower. It seems I can float for hours in the sea; so, I don’t need to be so worried about falling off ferries anymore!
What advice would you give to a recruiter who has leadership ambitions?
I kick myself that I didn’t get cheeky and ask someone I admired for a bit of help earlier. The step up that someone with knowledge can give you is immense. Connect with people you admire and ask them if they would mind giving you some advice. You’ll be surprised how many people just want to help!
The other thing is that leadership can be tough. I believe it is still hard to be a woman in leadership especially (though things are much better than ever before!). Don’t second guess yourself or who you are at your core – there are some people that like you, love you and some that loathe you. It might be fair or not – but you can’t control that, so surround yourself with positive people that make you a better person, and don’t forget to put a stick in the sand and celebrate the small milestones. Oh, and look after your health.
All the best for the new era at Consult, Angela, and thanks for sharing your story and wisdom.
Thanks, Ross. I appreciate you asking me. I’m always happy to help.