Principal Consultant, UK
How long have you worked with Oxford HR and who have been your key clients in that time?
I joined Oxford HR in Jan 2018 and started work to appoint a Director of Research for Muscular Dystrophy UK. We then supported Muscular Dystrophy UK, St Christopher’s Fellowship, and the Institute of Conservation with new Chief Executive appointments over the year. All three organisations have either appointed with us or are in discussion with further recruitment for Board Trustees.
I have also worked closely with our Asia / MENA and European teams to deliver Executive and Director level assignments for the Islamic Development Bank and UNAIDS; appointments have had either a scientific or health and human rights context. As you might imagine, some assignments have had some sensitive or political context, none more so than our assignment to appoint the Head of Communications, The Green Party last year.
What was your previous job before joining Oxford HR?
Before joining Oxford HR, I was working as a freelance executive search consultant / researcher largely within the Not for Profit sector. I delivered Board, Chief Executive and Director level searches often working as an associate with more established recruitment partners. Our Group CEO, David Lale, commissioned me to support some of his assignments, particularly in the health sector or for Board Trustee appointments over this period. I’m thoroughly enjoying working with him and the Oxford HR team, to continue to build on the 25 year history of this organisation and strengthen the portfolio of their work in the UK / global health.
Which role are most proud of placing in your time at Oxford HR and why?
When you love doing this job, there have been several examples over the past 18 months. More recently, I placed a Board Trustee at St Christopher’s Fellowship to help strengthen their vision for alternative provision education for the young people that they support in and on the edge of care. I approached the chosen candidate because of her educational leadership experience as the Founding Head of The Richmond upon Thames School and discovered on reply that she had been supported in a hostel run by St Christopher’s in her early adult life. When she was appointed to the Board, St Christopher’s Fellowship achieved one of their longer-term missions to either employ and / or pro-actively involve past residents in shaping the delivery of their services. I am so pleased that we found the candidate, and that she was willing and able to give back to an organisation that has helped her in the past. A life enriching experience for us all, in addition to the leadership that she can also offer towards developing the educational portfolio at St Christopher’s.
What qualities make a dream candidate?
Of course, it depends on the job. In general terms though, I value honesty and humility in all candidates. It’s always refreshing to hear candidates accepting that they are not the perfect match for a role and working with them to help define their key strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes, with a broad leadership post, it’s difficult for one person to be a perfect fit in every area and it’s useful to review this with our clients to help inform their decisions. Our aim at longlist is to have several candidates (in some cases a perfect functional match), with others that might be a close fit with additional skills and experience. Particularly for senior leadership roles, the softer inter-personal skills of individuals are often just as important as the career experience and qualifications. Given this, wherever possible, I would try to meet or have a video call with prospective candidates to get more personal insights, before presenting them to clients at longlist.
Which organization would you love to place a role for and why?
It’s hard to pick favourites within the not for profit sector, there are so many organisations that do such valuable work for society. It would have to be a people charity and with my Mum suffering from late onset dementia, I’d like to place a Campaigns and Advocacy Director or Chief Executive with this type of remit for one of the national charities that supports the family carers of those with dementia; maybe Dementia Carers Count. Having provided almost daily emotional telephone support to my father for several years before my Mum had to be placed in a care home, I suspect that there are many thousands of carers (perhaps a higher proportion of men; husbands, sons) that are not being reached effectively through current programmes and resources. However, any role within this thematic area that could make the biggest national impact for support would be interesting; it could be Age UK, Alzheimer’s Society or similar.
Your previous experience as a Research Scientist was very different to working in executive search. Why did you make this move with your career?
In 2006, a ‘light bulb moment’ in my head hinted that ‘People are more important to me than Science’. Clearly, the two were connected, but I had become more interested in helping and supporting people than wearing a lab coat and working in drug discovery research. I had spent the last couple of years hosting seminars with key opinion leaders, Professors and leading researchers who came in to talk about their work on Multiple Sclerosis, Rheumatoid Arthritis and Psoriasis, Pain and Cancer. I could see that their impact on biomedical research and influence on drug discovery thinking, was far more interesting than my own research at the time. In parallel, I started to take some courses in counselling with the aim of becoming a qualified Counsellor. Thinking about working with people, I also found my next vocation – a trainee executive search consultant with a global executive search firm, working closely with their Director, Science and Medicine (Not for Profit). It was a very positive career transition and I thoroughly enjoyed supporting the Medical Research Council, The welcome Trust and the broader UK / International university sector with their Director level appointments.
How do you feel your experience within the Sciences, is better able to influence how you position people within their roles effectively?
I think it’s better to answer this more generally. Identifying the best candidates involves looking for evidence and my research background certainly helps with this aspect. I have a lot of experience speaking and meeting people and am comfortable to ask questions about career gaps or about areas of experience that are important or not so clearly documented on a CV.
When roles have a scientific involvement or context, I have enjoyed speaking and meeting with scientifically qualified candidates, to learn more about their own career journey. I have presented and highlighted the key experiences of many scientific and general management leaders to Appointment Committee’s over the years, and it’s been quite useful to have a scientific background on occasion.
You have previously taken part in the Sleep Easy event to raise awareness of the challenges faced by those who are homelessness. Do you feel that UK homelessness is an issue that is improving or that not enough is being done?
It’s a complex problem to solve, but the numbers continue to rise – I’m sure we could do more. I was inspired to do this by Robert Purcell, CEO, East Herts YMCA at the time; I met Robert and we discussed the work he was doing, the programme of support for the young adults that came into the Centre. The event helped to raise some unrestricted funding for East Herts YMCA, and we had support from a few schools, the scouts and some corporate sponsorship. My son and I participated in the event, experienced the challenge of sleeping on a quilt mattress, in sleeping bags covered by cardboard on a relatively mild night. As anyone that has participated in these events, it certainly brings home how lucky we are to have a stable family and home. We do need to develop more outreach programmes to support and help people find safer and more stable accommodation, to enable them to contribute more to society.
What could be done to further help homeless situation in the UK?
I heard a story recently that a hostel space in London costs £10-15 night or £45 / week. To get a job, you need a residential address, which helps get a passport / identification to move forward; it’s a viscous circle than many can’t break. I haven’t researched this, but I question why we need to make the financial barrier to a shelter, so high. I wonder whether we could advocate some days of unpaid voluntary work for food and a shelter, which might break the barrier to entry. When I have spoken to people on the street, they don’t choose to be in that situation. Typically, they don’t have an answer to change their situation either. If we could find a financial model to support and accommodate more homeless people across the UK, my guess is that they could contribute more to society than they would cost.
What keeps you interested in executive search after 12 years and over 100 assignments?
No day is ever the same, and the people we speak to on our assignments have such interesting insights on their own specific sector and career, to date. Over the years, I have learnt so much about construction, publishing, plastics and injection moulding, life sciences and pharmaceuticals to name a few, in addition to the challenges of leading large and small not for profit organisations. I am currently developing a Health practice, and am networking with senior professionals in health, science and medicine and seeking to support organisations with their senior appointments.