Founder, Crew Talent Advisory
1. Do you remember a time when you were happiest as a child? Where were you, who were you with and what were you doing?
Time does funny things to memories. It can become very selective, filtering out the bad and retaining the good. There was a lot of aggression and violence around as a little kid. For a young single parent, 70’s London was a tough place to be for my mum. It’s fair to say that the men in her life weren’t great.
Most of my early memories are of brief events, like going to see Star Wars when it first came out. I think it was also my first time in a cinema. I remember being taken to football matches and having to almost run alongside the hurrying adults as we made our way from the tube to the stadium. They wanted to get a prime spot on the terrace so we had to be quick. The volume of people, the chanting and the smells of the fast-food stalls are still right there.
My best memories though are of being alone in my own world playing with these handmade wooden trucks. I don’t know who made them, but for what seemed like forever, they were my most treasured possessions. I’d set up elaborate construction sites in the garden or in my bedroom and while away the hours, quite happy in my own company.
We moved around a bit though and they got lost in a move somewhere.
2. At what age did you become an adult? What happened, and how did you know?
I think I’ve had a few false starts. I’ve certainly had times where I’ve questioned if being in a certain situation meant that this was the start of adulthood. But being a pallbearer at my dads funeral was probably the point where I felt it. I remember thinking that if this was what it meant then I’d prefer to give it a miss. We’d met for the first time when I was in my mid-twenties, and it was strange for both of us. I broke the ice by saying he owed me 16 years of pocket money. He said he’d have to get it to me later. I’m still waiting.
3. What do you think is true that most people think is false? What do you think is false, that most people think is true?
I think that a leopard can actually change its spots. That people can change. To a large degree, we’re all products of our immediate surroundings & environments. But as those things change, so can we. Some people don’t get to leave the limiting environments that hold them. When you consider the untapped potential that’s out there and then our inability to solve some of the biggest cultural and environmental challenges we face at the moment, to me that’s a tragedy. I’ve gone off topic a little there, but hopefully, it makes sense
I don’t think that the notion of finding something you love and you’ll never do a days work in your life, is true.. I think finding something you’re good at and that you can turn into a career is the way to look at it. Building mastery leads to you holding value which in turn opens doors to opportunity. When you build mastery, I think you then learn to love something, but in a different way.
4. What are the three books that you would unhesitatingly recommend to others? Why?
I try and read a lot. I’ve found that my appetite for books has grown but my capacity or time. to actually read them has dwindled! However, my three recommendations would be;
Biography: Mr 5 Percent – The many lives of Calouste Gulbenkian, the World’s Richest Man, by Jonathan Conlin. The true story of an Armenian born entrepreneur who brokered amazing oil deals around the world as production and distribution became industrialized. He’s said to have personally amassed 5% of the middle east oil production wealth. He founded Shell and Total which are household names today, but he has as you’d imagine a mystique about him, which is described in the book.
Semi Fiction: Midnight in Peking, by Paul French. This is an investigation into an actual murder of a young European woman in Peking in 1937 as Japanese forces move in during the invasion. Although there was little blood at the scene, the woman had been severely beaten & cut, and her internal organs had been removed. The book is a semi-fictional investigation into a real-life murder and vividly recreates the city, the chaos and the fear of invasion by its inhabitants, whilst trying to uncover what happened. It’ll most likely be unlike anything you’ve read previously.
Non Fiction: Thinking Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman. “People have too much confidence in human judgement” It’s kind of an interesting premise, particularly in the recruiting world we live and work in. It’s not the easiest read in that a lot of the dialogue is quite academic, but it’s definitely worth finding some time for.
5. What’s one misconception people generally have about you?
That’s a hard question to answer. Really hard. But I’d guess that people might have preconceptions about me based on my size. Being 6ft 5, 120KG & ex-Military, might give people some ideas about who I am. People might think I’m a stereotypical alpha male “bro” type when I’m really not. As a youngster, I probably was, but not anymore.
6. If you wrote a ‘user manual for how people should interact with you, what would be the most important point in the manual?
Say what’s on your mind. You don’t need to sugarcoat anything, just be straight. I’ve probably heard most things by now, so just say it. I’m a big one for authenticity so just be yourself.
7. When was the last time you felt like an outsider in a group? What/How did you learn?
A client we briefly did some work with. In the beginning, at the pre-sales stage, they seemed great. On the phone and in zoom calls they were awesome and we all felt aligned. Within about 2 weeks of working together, it was clear that we weren’t matched in any way whatsoever. Like we were suddenly speaking two totally different languages. There was suddenly an indescribable gulf in how we were viewing the relationship and the expectations. It was really strange and quite unsettling and something i hadn’t experienced before. I think I learnt that despite best intentions, sometimes things just don’t work out. You need to recognise that, accept it for what it is and move on. Don’t burn bridges.
8. 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?
You know what? For the longest time I never really thought that I had any political leaning. It just wasn’t something I thought about. In hindsight though, I’ve always believed in ideals such as equality, tolerance and fairness. I guess that makes me a bit of a lefty? Which, given that I’d not really had this sort of conscious thought for the longest time, sounds strange to say.
When I look at most of our client base, however, they’re predominantly businesses with a real mission. Whether it’s a social impact tech startup, an EduTech scale up for the elderly or a SaaS company saving the trees one sheet of paper at a time, we feel a real connection to them. Which is a lovely place to be. In tandem with this, things like bullying in any form, whether it’s, racism, sexism or whatever, doesn’t sit well with me. That’s when any of that alpha male that’s kicking around inside comes out.
At my business, Crew, our first value is to start with kindness. Every interaction with another human starts somewhere, and we think this is the best place to start. I’d hazard a guess that a lot of this comes from my upbringing and early working life. Treat people how you’d like to be treated until you get given a reason not to.
9. What app or tech product have you most recently fallen in love with?
I must be a complete product tart, because every week I’m falling in love with something new. We’re loving Qwilr at the moment. It’s a sales proposal product that allows you to build a microsite for sales proposals. But we actually use them to create web-based PDs and mini careers pages with dynamic, trackable content elements for our customers. There are some creative geniuses in our team so they actually quite enjoy doing them for the clients they’re working with. It’s intriguing to look at the data suite that sits behind it and see where candidates spend their time.
10. What is the best purchase you’ve made recently? Why?
I bought an indoor rowing machine at the beginning of lockdown here in Melbourne. It kept me sane and gave me a physical outlet when the gyms were closed. Rowing’s become my thing this year. I think it’s because the feedback is instantaneous through the data display. You can make changes to your stroke in the moment and try to hit your targets.
11. If you were to own a bar, and you could design it how you wanted, what would it look like?
It’d be like an English pub. Australia’s got some great pubs, but nothing beats the great pubs from home. Maybe it’d be the Ladbroke Arms in Notting Hill, there’s a lot of memories there.
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?
It’s tough because if it’s the final dinner party, do you want to have people who’ll make it a night to remember? But then, it’s the final one, so literally no one’s remembering it. Or do you want people you could stay up all night just gas bagging with? Let’s do that.
Ed Ruscha – my favourite artist of all time. He was a large part of the 60’s pop-art scene along with Warhol, Pollock and Hockney. But he was always more reserved, cooler in my eyes. Less shouty.
Johnny Marr – Johnny would bring good records to listen to between courses. I’d make him bring his guitars and break down some of those classic jangly Smiths tunes. He doesn’t drink normally but given it’s the last one we’re doing, he might be tempted.
Zaha Hadid – I think she’d get on with the others, which is a good start. I’d want to understand how you go from the idea to the finished article with something like the Heydar Aliyev Center? She was an architectural genius. I’d love to hear how she achieved what she did in a male-dominated industry and with mainly male stakeholders as clients.
13. What’s the best piece of professional advice you’ve ever received? Who gave it and when?
“It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice”, a Sergeant in the Army told me this once and it’s stuck ever since. “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”, he told me that one as well.
A more recent one that’s stuck was Mikkel Svane the CEO of Zendesk at a town hall in 2017, “More sales fixes everything”. He was talking about Zendesk’s revenue targets and how hitting $1Bn in sales gave them the freedom to try new things, acquire other businesses etc. In 2020 they did $1.08 Bn. They’re a phenomenal business.
14. What decision makes you say, “What was I thinking??” when you look back on your career?
Selling refinancing. Cold call sales to mums and dads with mortgages. At dinner time. It was my first job out of the Army, I tried really hard for about 2 months, but it just wasn’t me, it was all so alien. Plus my manager and I weren’t suited. I think it was him that wondered what I was thinking.
15. What hiring heuristic do you generally go with?
Our approach as a business is that good hiring starts with good planning. Couple this with our leading value, start with kindness, and it kind of sums up how we operate. So this means we have some pretty simple rules of thumb. Get the role brief right (know what you’re hiring for and how to qualify it when you see it) and then get the right (inbound or outbound) message in front of the right people (potential candidates). Then test and adjust your channels and messaging until you get the desired results. We’ve built a pretty formidable library of inbound channels over the last couple of years. So for a software engineering role, we’d probably be using over 50 inbound channels to drive candidate traffic. We like planning. A lot.
16. Have you ever been the weakest member of a team? How did you handle it?
After the debacle of selling refinancing, my first real job after the military was selling real estate, commission only. I’d never really sold before & it was way harder than I expected. In truth, I didn’t know what to expect. The office was full of experienced agents and I was brand new to sales. I’d gone from being highly technically competent and getting consistently good reviews in the military to being the noob who knew nothing and had to ask for help every 5 minutes.
At first, I didn’t handle it well at all. The discomfort was really unsettling and it made me question everything. All the decisions I’d made, I questioned. All the advice I was being given, seemed stupid. At the time, it was a horrible time. But tough times pass and the discomfort eases. In hindsight, I’m glad I went through it because it makes me appreciate where life is now, but that’s the beauty of hindsight I guess.
17. What’s one industry challenge you don’t actually think will ever get solved?
There’s plenty of challenges in our industry. It’s actually one of the best things about what we do. We call it people-based problem-solving. Every industry has its nuance, every country has its cultural differences and every generation thinks about the world differently. It’s what makes what we do, so interesting. To me anyway. I think the inherent biases within people won’t ever get solved. How can they? Should they? If none of us had biases would that make what we do easier or harder? Good questions.
18. Do you have a secret tip, tool or trick that’s contributed to your success?
Not really. Stay curious, stay open-minded and go hard. I want to squeeze every last drop out of life. Which means I’m usually all in on something or not at all. I don’t really do half measures if you know what I mean?
19. If you could add a question for the next person to answer, what would it be?
If money wasn’t an object and knowing what you know now about life – what job would you most like to have if you were starting your career again?
20. Who would you recommend to do the next 20 Questions With … ?
Troy Hammond. A strange cat that one. Blazes his own trail. Could be interesting.
Thank you to Simon McSorley for taking 20 Questions for The Brainfood Tribune. Make sure to follow Simon on LinkedIn