In a NY state of mind
10 questions in 10 minutes with CEO Marcus Haigh
Marcus Haigh, the CEO of Explore Group, discusses their exciting new USA growth plans in a frank and honest interview with Sian Owen. He reveals why he feels it is important to personally lead the US expansion to ensure Explore Group’s continued success, the reasons behind the move, and why he is ready to be truly ‘hands on’ again – unlike many other CEOs
1. Let’s be real, what really makes you different from any other UK recruitment business wanting to jump on the NY bandwagon?
That’s a very good question and cuts straight to the point! Frankly, few factors separate us from the myriad other ambitious businesses which want to build something in NYC, however those little things make a BIG difference. Many have succeeded and many have failed. There are 3 fundamental factors that will ensure Explore Groups American success; Our Team, our Values, and Me.
The Team: Whilst having the freedom and ambition of a startup, our NY set up has a strong team back in the UK to partner with made up of organically grown leadership and a wealth of international experience. The key to success is to synergize. We are only as strong as the sum of our parts.
Our Brand & Values: We have no interest in cutting corners. We do right by our clients, our candidates and our people. We want our staff to be proud to be 'Explorers', and above all else to be trusted in the market place. We are the ‘go to’ brand for Investment led tech firms and startups and we’ve built a reputation for being knowledgeable and thought leading.
Me: For 2 years I’ve been tracking the US market, and making sure we’re not going to make mistakes others have. Setting up in new territories is also not new to me. In my 21 years in recruitment I’ve launched successful businesses in The Netherlands, Singapore, Japan, Australia, China, Hong Kong and of course, the UK.
2. The UK team seems to be going from strength to strength, so why is the CEO taking on this hands on role?
This is Explore Groups biggest investment in our history and I’m committed to ensuring its success!
We have been able to grow our revenue by over 100% in the past 3 years and the leadership team in the UK is more than capable of overseeing the smooth running of the business there. Priority number one for me, before expanding to the USA was that the existing business was able to continue to thrive - and with Courtenay Isaacs, our UK Director and his senior leadership team - backed up by Sian Owen, (our influential future guru) and Birju Shah (our financial stability guru!) he will be able to ensure the UK grows year on year offering development opportunities for all our staff.
My plan is to be in NYC for just 8-12 months if I can, leaving the NYC business in the safe hands of the chosen few to build it into something sensational!
3. Why has it taken Explore group 13 years to make an international step?
For 10 years Explore Group was focussed on building the business so it could stand on its own two feet before entering new markets. It’s not just geographic presence that indicates success, the careers of our people have to be clearly mapped and stable before we take on risk.
USA has actually been in the pipeline since 2015 - it was clear from our client’s requests that there is a service need out there. We got our hands burnt some years ago when we swiftly opened a satellite office in Manchester, with little or no thought into our model or people, and were forced to close that down shortly afterwards. A relatively small mistake, but a massive learn.
We actually set up our NYC office from London in November 2017, and have been working with clients since that time. The insights gained have been invaluable - it will, in my view, be the reason we will hit the ground running rather than walking.
4. What do you see as the biggest opportunity? How will you ride the wave?
Startups! For Explore Group to have as big a business by ‘revenue generated’ as the UK entity by 2021, we’re going to be investing in relationships with Startup businesses who we will be able to back and then ultimately grow alongside each other
We don’t just take jobs on and send CVs or resumes - we’re interested in the story, the journey a candidate can go on with our clients. We won’t only work with startups though, some of our clients are household names in the UK, and they want us to help in the East Coast locations too. We know how to service the larger client - in truth, they may have more systems and process to work with, but they tend to want what the smaller business owners want in terms of a recruiter – one who actually understands the business needs and goals. We’re proud of our training and development, and we expect that to be a real advantage in USA where it appears some companies rely on the ‘spray and pray’ strategy of years gone by.
5. What do you foresee as the biggest threats - what’s the survival plan?
Staffing! The earliest people we hire to help us launch will likely be the leaders of the future. I make no apology for being extremely specific when it comes to those first 5-10 USA Explorers. If we can’t find the right staff with the right attitude and aptitude for growth and high service - then we’re going to struggle to survive later down the line.
Beyond that - being small and nimble in our first 18 months, means we’ll be able to adjust and react quickly to external changes such as market pace, political undulation, global recession and those economic surprises you can never predict.
6. You’ve only been at Explore yourself shy of 2 years, what made you join?
Yes, 2 years flew by in the blink of an eye, it’s been busy! I actually came on board in the capacity of consultant. I know the owners of Explore from many moons ago, and they’re friends of mine from when we worked together for another business. They had some imaginative and ambitious plans to take Explore Group to the next level (mid-sized, 100-150 people), and asked if I’d advise them on whether it was feasible. From day one the thing which struck me was the core DNA, the personality of the brand - cut any of the 40 or so staff and they’d bleed team work, energy, old school ambition - something you find less and less in recruitment nowadays and a testament to the leadership team. There was, in truth, a lot of ‘rough edges’ which could be smoothed out, but those were infrastructure and process - the personality of a business cannot be changed so easily, so I jumped on board and the rest as they say will be history!
7. It’s a while since you have recruited yourself, how do you stay in touch with modern approaches and engaging a millennial workforce?
Ha ha, that’s a very diplomatic question to ask an old timer! So yeah, I am an old guy with potentially old ideas on how ‘recruitment used to be’. I see so many examples of that amongst my peers in the industry, and it makes me chuckle to be honest. I have always been interested in innovation when it comes to recruitment businesses and how they operate. When some of the dinosaurs were suggesting that LinkedIn would never take off 15 years ago, I made a point of understanding it, using it and mastering it, just in case. The same with plug in/third party offerings - today we’re used to having a separate contract with lots of providers of software which makes our jobs easier, but it wasn’t always like that - I was always open to new ideas and remain that way. I’m intrigued by it, and I’m ready to get my hands dirty. On the phone, doing the job of a recruiter from day one, contributing to the revenue and seeing first-hand how best to do the job. I also have a great team of young, and less young talent who’ll always keep me in my place and tell me what I don’t know!
8. What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt in your career?
My biggest personal lesson I’ve learned in my career has been to trust my own ability and trust the people who know more than I do. Throughout my career I have been developed and pushed to learn more to achieve more. In 2001-2004 I waded through one of the worst recessions we’ve known in the industry. While others at my level were leaving or talking negatively about how bad it was / that things had changed, I decided to tough it out. I trusted the word and the talent of the leaders above me and decided to believe in their vision. This ended up with me coming through the other side a much better leader, having learned how to ’stick in there’ and do my job to a far higher standard. Mind-set is everything - be faithful to your own ambitions and in the end, you’ll reap the rewards.
9. If Explore Group were a person, how would you describe its personality?
Loyal, fun and hardworking
10. This will be your first time being a resident of NYC, what are you most looking forward to/ how are you going to adapt?
That's right - I've been looking forward to actually living in NYC for months now. I don't think I’ll need to adapt too much though - I’ve got used to setting up in new countries now - I find it fun and interesting anyway. This should be a piece of cake compared to other moves I've made as I’ve spent probably 6 months in NYC on and off over the past 3 years as my Fiancé lives there, we’re both looking forward to it. I guess making fewer flights (and suffering less jet lag) excites me, but the first things I intend to do will include joining a football (soccer) team, finding some Squash partners and moving into a bigger apartment in West Village!
Explore Group are currently looking to meet entrepreneurial, ambitious and talented Tech recruiters to join at the inception of the New York office. You will be fundamental players in the growth of the NY Team whilst making a career move that will be a launch pad for anything you want in the future. Contact Marcus (firstname.lastname@example.org), Sian (email@example.com), Stacey (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Steph (email@example.com) to find out more!
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