New Zealanders are entrepreneurs at heart. We have almost 500,000 enterprises in NZ with fewer than 20 employees and Virtue Consulting is one of them. However unlike the 55% of these businesses that will fail to exist past their 10th year, Virtue are 14 year's old this month and still going strong. I sat down with Virtue Consulting's Director Chris Heswall, to have a candid chat about the past 14 years, recruiter life, the highs, the lows and to see what the next 14 years hold for Virtue Consulting and their Skipper.....
14 years in the market place is no mean feat for any business owner, especially in the rapidly changing and highly competitive world of recruitment. Add the cut and thrust of banking and financial markets recruiting to the mix in a global recession and only the strongest survive!
The ability to be resiliant in this industry was paramount. You need to lead from the front, empathize, nurture, teach, impress, disappoint and all that goes in between.
So like all good stories, let’s start at the beginning…
Rewind to 2004
A quick reminder of some major events that happened in 2004….
- Helen Clarke was Prime Minister of NZ
- Scribe’s ‘Stand Up’ was Single of the Year in NZ
- Lance Armstrong win his 6th consecutive Tour De France,
- Google goes PUBLIC and subsequently their co-founders are overnight billionaires
- George W Bush wins second term in US office
- Janet Jackson suffers a ‘wardrobe malfunction’ at the Superbowl
- South Africa were ‘rugby Team of the Year’ (not the All Black’s year!)
Chris Heswall had been a key influencer in the NZ financial services recruitment industry since 1991 and had sold his shares in a private owned recruitment company (Recruitment Solutions) to Australian publically listed entity Chandler McLeod in early 2000. After an enforced break from the market, the pull of the recruitment industry was too strong and he realised that recruitment was his long term career passion.
‘The longer I was out of the market, the more I missed it. Sometimes, you need a bit of reflection time to make sure you’re still in the game for the right reasons”
Opportunities don’t just happen. You create them.
In 2004, Chris saw an opportunity in the Auckland market. He recognised a need for a specialised and bespoke specialist financial services recruitment firm. He had a natural interest in Financial Markets and how they influenced the domestic and global economy.
“When I looked at all walks of life, financial markets make the world go around. It’s one of the common denominators around linking people into wealth, lifestyle and achieving a purpose.”
Strength lies in differences, not similarities
Building key relationships within the domestic Financial Markets would be Virtue’s focus; dealing with respected clients with nationally or globally recognised brands. It was important that the client companies were employers of choice. Offering high quality work environments, challenging career opportunities and above market remuneration for highly motivated candidates would be imperative.
There were a large number of recruitment firms in Auckland at that time. However, many of these agencies had a high turnover of staff and employed inexperienced recruiters. Resulting in a lack of specific industry knowledge and informed advice.
“I saw an opportunity. A place where candidates could engage with experienced recruiters, working for company that gives meaningful and knowledgeable career advice. Where we can discuss real companies, real jobs and real success stories”
So Virtue was born….. however, if you have ever started a company, you would know it isn’t that easy! Chris had the essence of a great company, but a company without a name is not a company at all…
What’s In a Name?
The answer may not lie at the bottom of the bottle but it can’t hurt to check!
Choosing a name that sums up what you are and who you plan to be is no easy task. Especially when you live in a country where there a few hundred thousand SME’s with registered names, plus you have the Australian market to think about…. Initial front runners were Ambition and Career Dynamics, however these were quickly ruled out thanks to restrictions researched on companies.co.nz.
This eureka moment would happen when Chris with lunching with his Accountant/Business Advisor in Whangarei. He knew he wanted a company name that was a statement of an ideal, however coming up with that name was proving more difficult than first thought.
Over some robust discussion and when surveying the wine list, a bottle named Virtu Noble Semillon jumped out at him, so he let it resonate….
- behaviour showing high moral standards.
synonyms: goodness, morality, integrity, worthiness, trustworthiness.
Virtue was a statement of an ideal. Partnering with a Recruiter, Clients and Candidates expect elements of trust, honesty, ethics, confidentiality and the name Virtue summed this up nicely.
The Secret to Success
There are two main types of successful recruiters in New Zealand.
- Large globally owned Recruitment Firms offering multi dimentional services, but transactional cultures with high staff turnover
- Locally owned Recruitment Firms that are industry specific and niche market focussed, employing Recruiters who are subject matter experts and have been in the market a long time.
“Recruitment in terms of size and scale is a great equaliser. People often think it’s a younger person’s game working for global brands with significant resources, but over the years, I’ve realised that it’s time and experience in the NZ market that gives us an edge. It’s taken me 30 years to build a lifetime of trust, knowledge, connectivity, relationships and networks.”
The Personal touch
Virtue understand candidates placed yesterday could end up being tomorrow’s leaders, so it’s important to stay connected with people and evolve relationships through ongoing change and success.
20 years ago, Chris recalls he was in the bathroom prior to an interview and saw a young guy nervously struggling with his tie. Chris asked if everything was ok and the young guy said he was trying to prepare for a very important job interview. Turns out it was actually Chris’s candidate!
This person was a young graduate with good grades and huge potential but not dressed in a suit or tie and his hair was long and scruffy. He had the qualifications and personality, but needed serious honesty and guidance to succeed in the professional world of banking and financial services’ markets.
Chris remembers asking “how much do you want this role and what are you willing to change to get it”. He got a positive and open response, so escorted the young guy off to the hairdresser. He even spotted him with the money to purchase a decent shirt and tie. The candidate nailed the interview, got the job and 20 years later is now CEO within the same company.
These day’s he still entrusts Chris to fill roles within the company, using the same kind of detail, judgement, empathy and service.
Client feedback is the team at Virtue offers a stable platform to do business with. Clients and Candidates can come and talk to the same people year in and year out. This ensures the rapport, trust and intellectual property built up together is not wasted. As market specialists, the team at Virtue have built a technical understanding around the markets Clients’ operate in. Cultures can vary but industries stay the same, so this helps us match the right people into the right roles.
Change is inevitable, growth is optional
The art of recruitment has changed a lot over the past 14 years. In many respects, 10 – 20 years ago, recruiters were seen as time savers. We sifted through the piles of eligable CV’s to match up the best shortlist for any role in the quickest time possible.
In today’s market we are still expected to do that. However, given the major talent shortage in NZ, our key point of difference is to source candidate talent that our clients can’t find themselves. These are the candidates that are not actively looking for positions advertised on job boards. These “passive candidates” are often not actively looking for a role and need to be engaged into the hiring process.
We have developed strategies to find the candidates our clients can’t locate by connecting the dots and thinking outside the usual methods. We rely heavily on our network of past candidates, clients and acquaintances.
These relationships help us find the impossible and the key is the ability to tap into the impossible and earn our fees from creative behaviours.
After 14 years…
“The small successes define what it is to be a great recruiter. We help people make a difference within their lives and I don’t take this ability for granted. It’s a highly confidential and trust based business, where people who meet us, often tell us everything about their lives and current situations. We are privileged to hear so much information in confidence”