Jeremy Russon


1. What seemed like an inconsequential decision at the time, but in hindsight turned out to fundamentally reshape your life?

My life seemed fairly mapped out… a law degree and become a lawyer…….or so my Grandparents convinced me for the first twenty odd years of my life – it’s the bit that resonated most in “It’s a Sin”….Ritchie’s father’s comments sounded so familiar !

Anyway, I’m sat outside a tent next to a camp fire having a few “end of day” beers in the grounds of an adult mental institution in Romania, its 1991 and the summer between my second and third years at Uni. I am about three weeks away from starting a placement for a year with a law firm in North London……..and dreading it !!!!

Not an “excited” type of fear but a “I really don’t want to do that” fear…….but it’s what I’ve always wanted…….isn’t it ? Simon Thomas, one of my fellow travellers (more on that later) is a lecturer at the Uni I attend……but not on my course.

We talk it through till the early hours and realise it isn’t actually the placement…’s the whole concept of a career as a lawyer……it just isn’t me AND it never really was !

The outcome was quitting the placement before I started and convincing the University to let me set up and run a charity providing relief to post-Ceaucescu Romania which lead to some decisions around my degree including going for the HR module instead of the Corporate Law one !!!!
The rest is history as they say…..but, the decision to have an extra beer with Simon seemed so insignificant at the time…….

2. At what age did you become an adult? What happened and how did you know?

I am sure it happened before this, but if I had to say one thing it was making the decision to leave my first wife. I’d bumbled along in life for a while just accepting our relationship was what it was……probably without really knowing myself. I knew I wasn’t happy I couldn’t say why……..I probably couldn’t even tell you to this day exactly what it was.

I woke up on the morning that they announced Princess Diana had died – and realised we only get one shot at this so it has to be right. I knew I didn’t want to have kids with her and I knew at some point it would fail…….the easy decision would have let it lead to its natural end.

The adult decision was that (a) that was unfair on both of us and (b) the natural end would have probably involved children and having been through my folks divorce, even though we were shielded from it to a major extent, I never wanted my kids to go through that heartbreak if I could avoid it.

I was 28…………

3. What are the three books that you would unhesitatingly recommend to others? Why?

The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins

RD is a self-confessed atheist but in this book he actually considers the argument from both sides – and indeed agnosticism (which is where I sat when I read it). It’s actually one of the most balanced arguments I’ve seen in the world of religion………particularly considering his own beliefs. Helped me to define a few things…….

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Simples……..I was bought it for my 30th birthday by some friends…..he hard back version. It went on a bookshelf for nearly 10 years……..before someone suggested it. I read it in less than two days……it is a compelling study of values and beliefs that play out through the central character and her fight against the Nazi strategy to destroy any non-fascist propaganda. So good, I have read it 4 times since……similar to the God Delusion, it really helped me to focus on what matters to me.

I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes

The best fictional novel I have ever read…… was gripping, intelligent and so well researched that actually it almost felt like it should have “based on a true story” written on the cover. Reading should sometimes just be about reading…….but I’ve read many authors whose style or use of gimmicks rendered the book useless. This was just a VERY good read !

4. Name a well-known person you admire and explain why you hold them high esteem?

This is someone who wasn’t well known before the start of the Pandemic and who amidst all the shit, shouting, slanging matches and politics has held her head above the parapet constantly and done so in a way that if I was her Dad I would be immensely proud of her ! She has understood the fears and doubts of the various groups and not tried to shout any of them down nor devalue them in any way…….even though, as Chair of Global Public Health at the University of Edinburgh and with a series of awards, publications and experience that would genuinely see her being called “eminent” – she could probably just blind them with science…..literally.

Instead, she has spoken at the level of the “masses” using terminology that we understand and won hearts and minds through empathy and understanding – when so many people have not.

We should really listen to her……In 2018, she spoke publicly about the risk of transmission of disease from animal to human in China……

She is an incredible role model to girls generally as a leading voice in the broader STEM world – and one of my favourite quotes is her line “”Even as a teenager I could see that health was the definition of true wealth”.[

That person, who we will no doubt and rightly see much more of in the future, is Devi Sridhar.

5. If you wrote a ‘user manual’ for how people should interact with you, what would be the most important point in the manual?

If you want me to drive you to Scotland, tell me that’s what you want me to do and let me work out the route. I hated being micro-managed by a couple of people in my career….it was probably also the source of much resentment in my first marriage !

6. What’s one misconception people generally have about you?

That I am a complete and utter extrovert thinker ! Actually, I much prefer to rationalise my thoughts internally and know I am speaking rationally when I respond.

7. Have you always had the same political beliefs? If so, why do you think you have held them so long? If not, what event caused you to change your view?

No – my first two elections I voted Tory……primarily because that was what my folks had voted and their folks before them……and my two elder sisters. My third time of voting I had “grown-up” and had a much better understanding of my own values and what mattered to me.

It wasn’t a single event – more an opportunity to meet some very different people with a range of backgrounds and beliefs…..we call it socially diverse nowadays. That was my four years at Bournemouth Uni…….or moreso the opportunities that time period gave me

In my second year I ran a society whose aim was to raise funds to support the redevelopment of Romania – just after the revolution. I was lucky enough to lead three relief trips to the country and got to really understand deprivation, political corruption and the unwieldy power that the few had over the many in a way that we will never truly understand in the UK. For example, 90% of the country’s total wealth at the end of the revolution was in one building !

I realised the distribution of that wealth could truly make this country great – but the power even then was held by a very right wing government that was full of self-serving individuals with no morals.

I an not a raging left-wing Corbynite – indeed, for the first time in my adult life with him in power I actually considered an alternative vote – but I do believe that more wealth should be distributed and that those who can afford to should pay more.

8. What is that thing which is OK to ask you about, but which other people are wary to do so?

Debbie, my lovely wife, being diagnosed with cancer in 2012 and going through some of the most horrific treatments known to mankind. If it wasn’t in a medical environment every person that treated her would be charged with attempted murder !

But, we lived through it, our daughters lived through……we all have a story to tell that could help other people….and I’d say the experience brought us even closer together as a family.

9. What is your most prized possession? What’s the story behind it?

A cricket bat ! It was my grandfather’s first bat so is probably from the 1920s……he gave it to me the last time I saw him alive. We’d also argued at length that day about my father who I hadn’t seen in 15 years……but it was the strength and character of the man that even after that disagreement he still gave me this. I believe he knew at that point it would be the last time we saw each other.

10. What’s your favourite meal? Can you say why?

Sunday roast ! Its not about the food but it’s the one day of the week where we sit as a family and catch up properly with one rule “No screens”……it always shas been in my life from when I was a boy and Debbie, my wife, also had the same. It doesn’t actually have to be a full roast…….it might just be beans on toast…..but we still call it Sunday roast because it is the most important point of the week

11. If you were to own a bar, and you could design it how you wanted, what would it look like?

It would be very simple……..and serve good beer and wine ! Probably a bit like the lapa in Debbie’s aunties place in Jo’burg. Brickwork with a wicker covering…….but some of the most amazing conversations with great people……because that is what makes a great bar……the mirrors, music and shit is just fluff !

12. Aside from family & friends, if you could invite any 3 people - living or dead - to your final dinner party before the end of the world, who would they be and why?

My maternal grandfather Leslie Hillsdon, who died before I was born. He was an engineer who maintained the swimming pools in the royal residences in London from the 1920s till his death in the 1960s…….sure there are some amazing stories in there and of course, I’d love to have met him !

Hani German teacher at school for five years. One of the kindest and most compassionate and empathetic people I have ever met. He could genuinely have done anything in life he wanted to – he was such a talented guy in so many senses – but his passion was education. There aren’t enough teachers with that passion now – and that isn’t a reflection on them, it’s a comment about the education system and the teaching role nowaday…too much admin vs teaching time destroys the passion. I’d love to hear his thoughts on the system and profession now.

Gordon Ramsay – at least I know it would be one fucking good meal !

13. What’s the best piece of professional advice you’ve ever received?

The head isn’t always the right decision-making tool……sometimes it’s your heart because that is where your values lie.

14. Can you give an example of a time when you had to learn the lesson the hard way?

Ambiguity is used by disingenuous people……for their own purposes.

In 2008 I was an Associate Director with a business where my part of the business was new but my small team was across two offices – which meant as a family we could move to a different part of the country where essentially we would get more space, live in the countryside, etc.

Due to the impending recession, I had concerns about the commitment to the new part of the business by the FD and Co-owner – and asked him directly if they were committed fully before I relocated my family……and he said they were !

Ten days after moving he called me in and told me my role had been made redundant – just four weeks after the commitment conversation……which I raised ! His response was that he hadn’t said they were committed to me, just the new part of the business………technically right, but given it was a team of only four people and he knew why I was asking it was an arsehole thing to do.

I was out of work for a long period, having moved away from where most recruitment jobs were at time (London) at the height of the global recession ! I now ensure that there is no ambiguity around my questioning – particularly where the wider impact is on my family.

15. What’s the one bad quality you wouldn’t mind in a colleague? Why?

Being an Arsenal fan – because if I can overcome that prejudice I can overcome anything !

16. What hiring heuristic do you generally go with?

I’ll probably get crucified for this but I take my gut feel and then try to disprove it ! So if I think, wow this person is coming across really well, I’ll look to find questions that will dispel that.

17. What’s one industry challenge you don’t actually think will ever get solved?

Tech buyers falling for marketing spin and acronyms rather than focussing on products that actually solve their problem

18. Name one person from your professional life who has had an extraordinary impact on your career. What did they do and what did you learn from that person?

Mark Bull, my former HRD at Anders Elite.

He taught me that empathy, understanding, honesty, openness, self-awareness and humility are all key leadership traits. He primarily taught me this because he was by far the worst “leader” I have ever met and displayed NONE of those traits.

The most difficult period of my professional career without a doubt – I never knew whether he would support me or just abandon me or worse, take an idea and resurface it a couple of months later as his……and I promised never to forget that !

19. If you could add a question for the next person to answer, what would it be?

Who In our industry would make a great Prime Minister (or equivalent role in your country) ?

20. Who would you recommend to do the next 20 Questions With … ?

Someone not in HR/TA………I reckon we’d learn a lot from Martin Gwynne, for example, who has just retired from a CEO role with GIST and was the 5th most senior person globally in their parent company Linde Gases. If anyone in HR wanted to find out how important our role is in a large, very commercial business, they could really learn a lot from Martin!

Thank you to Jeremy Russon for taking 20 Questions for The Brainfood Tribune.

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