Partnered with RE since 2015, Walter James are a global executive search and human capital advisory firm specialising in the consumer, retail and life sciences sectors. We sat down with James Absalom to discuss the past year’s achievements, what he’s learnt from it and his key tips for success.
First of all, a huge congratulations for such a fantastic year. To what do you credit your success?
I have to say, although this is a big personal achievement, I truly could not have done it without my team. I think what sets Walter James apart is the cross-selling, fully integrated model that we have implemented. Unlike other executive search companies, we work collaboratively as a unit on every role. Every team member has a vested interest, which fuels success. As an individual, you only have so many hours in the day – if you’re doing everything by yourself, there’s a limit on how much you can achieve. But if you have a very strong and capable team around you, as I do, you can handle a significantly larger volume. We are a team of specialists with inch wide, mile deep knowledge of our niche markets. Thus, by working collaboratively, our access to networks is second to none. This team structure is a fundamental part of Walter James and it is without a doubt the part I am most proud of.
As an individual, how do you make the jump to this high a level of billing?
The key is tirelessness. The biggest faux pas in this industry is thinking you’ve done enough and taking your foot off the gas. Even if I am sitting on a £100,000 month, I am still relentlessly building business and planning how to replicate and grow in the future. Consistency is more important than big deals. My biggest fee was £130,000 for a CFO role in July – but if I had rested on my laurels following this, I certainly would not have achieved what I did this year. Balancing a mix of retainers, shortlists and final candidate fees helps ensure year-long consistency.
Attention to detail and long-term vision are also essential. At Walter James, we think commercially, not transactionally. This means anticipating clients’ needs and finding solutions before they ask for them. Our market is highly saturated so to make your mark in it, you have to be incredibly agile.
What is one challenge that you faced this year?
My biggest learning this year was that disappointing months are inevitable. Whatever the cause, some months may simply not deliver the results you expect. Also, because we work internationally, we have to handle disruption from numerous national and religious holidays. It’s important to adapt to such external circumstances and not let it unsettle you, which links back to my previous point of working relentlessly with long-term vision.
What would be your advice to junior consultants looking to grow and improve?
Be very genuine. I’ve noticed there is a common misconception that when working with senior clients, you can’t tell them bad news. The fact is that everyone is a human being – if you connect with them as people and are always honest and transparent, they will respect you and your work more. Level with them about difficulties instead of trying to cover up the cracks. This will enable you to adapt the strategy as you go, thereby increasing your chances of making a successful placement. You also shouldn’t be afraid to challenge them if you think the brief is problematic. Obviously this requires tact and emotional intelligence, but if you can adopt a truly consultative approach, you set both yourself and the client up for success.
What are the key attributes you look for when hiring?
It’s essential that a potential hire aligns with our core values: agility, tenacity and integrity. We have created a culture of being pertinacious and driven, but in a commercially and emotionally intelligent way. All of my team are completely focused on becoming experts in their field and always having their finger on the pulse. At the same time, they share a collective, entrepreneurial ambition to build their own area and P&L. Another intrinsic aspect of being part of Walter James, is having a real sense of ownership; everyone knows they need to contribute as individuals.
After such a successful year, what does 2019 hold for Walter James?
There are a lot of new hires starting in 2019, which will help the company continue to excel and handle greater volumes of work. I have developed our leadership team, bringing on board a commercial director, operations director and new senior partner for Euromedica, our life sciences division. This increased headcount will allow me to adopt more of a client focused, commercial leadership role.
Otherwise, we hope to continue delivering diverse and innovative talent solutions, working to the highest professional standard, and fostering meaningful, long-term relationships within our networks.