Skip to content

On 30 April 2004 in Melbourne, a new recruitment agency opened its doors for business.  Co-founders David Braham , Nick Hindhaugh and Paul Hallam (pictured left: L-R April 2024, and below in 2004) had each risen through the ranks of Michael Page’s local operation and decided it was time to see if they could combine their respective strengths to make a go of building their own company. They called their recruitment agency Six Degrees Executive.

On the occasion of SDE’s ten-year anniversary, Nick Hindhaugh answered my questions and, again, Nick happily agreed to a round of my questions about what’s been happening at SDE in the intervening ten years.

Ross: Congratulations to you, David, and Paul on chalking up 20 years in business, Nick. How would you briefly describe years 11 to 20 of the SDE journey?

Nick: Thank you, Ross. The past decade has been incredibly dynamic. We expanded significantly, growing from 40 to over 100 employees across three states and broadening our services to include new disciplines like accounting and finance. Despite facing economic ups and downs and the challenges of a pandemic, the positive moments—like winning industry awards, promoting key staff, and celebrating achievements—overshadow the tough times.

A major shift for us was moving from a founder-led to a more corporatised structure, which included appointing a CEO and an independent chair to strengthen our governance.

Ross: One of the biggest changes in the company was the elevation of Suzie McInerney to CEO in 2019. How did the directors decide the time was right to have an employee CEO?

Nick: Our plan has always been to either promote from within or hire externally for the CEO role to step back from daily operations. Suzie was a standout choice, having been with us for nine years and demonstrated exceptional leadership. With a solid executive team already in place, it felt like the natural next step for her and the company.

Ross: What key criteria did Suzie possess that convinced you, Paul, and David that she was the right person for such an important role?

Nick: Suzie possesses a magnetic leadership style that’s incredibly effective in our industry. Her track record as a recruiter is impressive, especially her ability to build strong client relationships. Her leadership qualities, drive, and deep industry knowledge made her the ideal candidate for the role.

Ross: What has Suzie brought to the role that you found surprising, or weren’t expecting? 

Nick: Suzie’s approach to blending respect for our legacy with her drive for innovation has been enlightening. She’s spearheaded significant advances in Diversity and Inclusion, extending our focus to benefit our own employees, our clients, our candidates and our community. This has led to various initiatives focused on Reconciliation, Closing the Gender Gap, Inclusion and Accessibility.
She has also adopted a more data-driven approach to decision-making. Her leadership has not only honoured our foundational values but has also introduced fresh perspectives and continuous improvement.

Ross: Describe SDE’s current service offerings and how different or similar they are from your 2014 offerings.

Nick: We’ve continued to deepen our expertise in the areas we’re best known for—Sales, Marketing/Digital, Supply Chain, and Engineering. Simultaneously, we’ve been expanding our market presence in newer sectors such as our Executive Search Practice, which focuses on Board and CEO appointments, as well as Accounting & Finance and Government. These additions are crucial as they support and enhance our national contracting capabilities, allowing us to serve a broader range of client needs across the country.

Ross: How does the growth from 40 employees in 2014 to more than 100 employees now align with the expectations of the directors from ten years ago (if you can remember)?

Nick: From the outset, we’ve embraced a conservative approach to growth, focusing on maintaining profitability, ensuring business longevity, and managing cash flow effectively. Over the last decade, our strategy has mirrored the first ten years—prioritising natural and organic growth that’s often driven by market dynamics and economic conditions.

Ross: Also in our 2014 interview you weren’t predicting SDE’s national expansion although the possibility of expansion into Asia was raised. Ten years later SDE remains an Australian east coast business. What geographic growth options and opportunities have the directors considered since 2014 and why were none pursued?

Nick: After thorough analysis, we recognised that there’s ample opportunity to deepen our footprint within Australia itself before venturing overseas. Queensland emerged as a clear choice for expansion. While we’ve considered establishing offices in New Zealand and Adelaide seriously, the potential for growth in our existing markets—Victoria, New South Wales, and Queensland—is substantial. We can effectively service other regions remotely for now, and it’s worth noting that New Zealand is currently a very active market for us.

Ross: What are the most significant things you have learned about growing a recruitment agency in your 20 years as an owner?

Nick: One of the most crucial lessons has been the importance of managing cash flow and keeping a close eye on costs, especially given the cyclical nature of markets. We’ve weathered several economic storms, including the Global Financial Crisis and the recent pandemic, which taught us a lot about financial resilience.

Another significant lesson has been the value of opening up shareholding to staff who are deeply invested in our growth and success. This has not only motivated our team but also aligned their goals with the company’s long-term objectives.

Specialising deeply in specific areas has also been key. As our clients have developed their in-house recruitment capabilities, we’ve had to enhance our efficiency and continue to offer unique value. This has involved investing heavily in our systems and data management processes.

A continued focus on people and fun. Creating career opportunities at every turn and encouraging staff to move outside their comfort zones and move into different roles to broaden commercial acumen, leadership and career longevity.

Play to your strengths. As a founder and leadership team, find your areas of expertise and dial them up and allow others to do the same. The combined power of a collective has been key.

Celebrate the wins and don’t repeat the same mistakes.

Build a rhythm and cadence to business planning and goal setting that filters from the corporate strategic plan, right through to individual business plans and over-communicate internally.

Ross: SDE remains firmly Australian-owned. No doubt a business as reputable as SDE has attracted interest from potential buyers over the years. What key criteria (apart from price) must be satisfied before you, David and Paul sell?

Nick: Over the years, we’ve received multiple expressions of interest, which is always flattering. However, our current focus is firmly on growth. We’ve recently relocated to new offices across all three states to create more collaborative and inspiring work environments. Our strategic growth plans are centred around expanding our contracting business, along with bolstering our capabilities in Accounting and Finance, Government, and Technology sectors. These areas are critical to our journey and our commitment to broadening our services and impact.

Ross: How do you predict AI and LLMs will impact agency recruitment in the next five years?

Nick: Watching AI transform recruitment has been exciting to watch. Its applications are vast. At SDE, we’re eager to harness more of these capabilities to drive greater efficiency, although we acknowledge that we have much to explore and implement to fully leverage AI’s potential.

However, I believe, as do many others in our industry, that human insight will continue to play a crucial role, especially in senior-level recruitment. The nuanced understanding and judgment that experienced recruiters bring cannot be fully replicated by technology, underscoring the enduring value of human touch in our field.

Ross: What are you most proud of about SDE’s twenty years in business?

Nick: There are numerous highlights, but the most rewarding has been witnessing the professional and personal development of our team members. Seeing junior consultants evolve into remarkable leaders, parents, and influential figures in the recruitment industry. Our purpose at Six Degrees has always been about ‘Shaping Futures,’ and I’m proud to say that this remains unchanged under Suzie’s leadership. Seeing our people grow and thrive is a testament to the enduring impact of our work.

Ross: How will SDE’s 20th anniversary be celebrated? 

Nick: Over the next few months, we have planned a series of events and activities to mark our 20th anniversary, taking place across our three offices and extending into our broader community. Additionally, we’ve released a new video highlights our enduring purpose of ‘Shaping Futures’, a purpose that has been a cornerstone of our identity for the past two decades.

Ross: Congratulations on all SDE has accomplished over the years, Nick, and all the best for whatever the future holds.

Related blogs

Ten years of success: The Six Degrees Executive journey

How the Six Degrees Executive back office team drives their culture

2022 Agency Careers Site Review: Wavelength surf to the beach


0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
Scroll To Top