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The architect of head-hunting

Published on Friday, 11 Nov 2011
Gina Mclellan
Managing director, recruitment and contracting (Asia), Talent2
Photo: Berton Chang

Gina McLellan is managing director for recruitment and contracting in Asia at Talent2, where her responsibilities include people management, operations, sales, financial management, commercial strategy and business plan accountability.

But it was not always thus – McLellan began her professional life as an architect, and holds a bachelor of design studies and a bachelor of architecture from Australia’s University of Queensland.

For McClellan, however, the two professions are highly complementary, and being trained to think creatively has helped her become a non-traditional recruitment consultant.

“To tell the truth, I actually think that is one of the things that has allowed me to become successful,” she says. “In architecture, you spend a lot of time finding solutions. You can pretty much employ that anywhere. I’m not a standard recruiter, I didn’t come to the industry with a preconceived notion of what that meant. I came with a very open mind.”

McLellan graduated in 1992, and had her own design studio by the age of 26. But feeling the need to do something different, she took a job in pharmaceutical sales and marketing – which taught her a lot about business management and sales strategy.

From there, she was offered a job in Melbourne with recruitment consultants Morgan & Banks, becoming their general manager in Queensland at the age of 33. McLellan moved to Hong Kong in 2006 with a job at the firm that later became Hudson, with her one-year-old daughter in tow. “I didn’t know anybody, but it just seemed like a fantastic opportunity, not just for myself but for her. I was a single mum. It’s just been the best thing I ever did,” she says.

Finding that the Hong Kong recruitment market was so closely tied to the ups and downs of the financial markets was something of a surprise, McLellan says. “If it’s a boom, we’re booming. If it’s a downturn, we’re having challenges. So probably the most difficult thing is the external market,” she says.

McLellan has a particular interest in work-life integration and women in leadership, and just as she enjoyed watching architectural projects unfold, so does she derive similar satisfaction from seeing careers take flight.

“A really nice part of my career has been watching the young women leaders in this business come to the fore,” she says. “I guess it’s something I’ve promoted in my management style. I like to absolutely accommodate more life-work balance.”

It is part of her long-term vision for Talent2, which includes planning a global leadership programme and exploring the possibility of setting up mentorship for young women.

McLellan, who is now married, says weekends are for her daughter, now six. “She’s my absolute priority. I’m never in the office on the weekends.”

With other outside commitments, such as being on the board of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and being an avid art collector, she doesn’t have much time for herself.

“I think a lot of women struggle with that – it’s often difficult to get individual time. And I do think that’s really important from a rejuvenation perspective, especially when your job is dealing with people.

“Work can consume anybody. I’ve seen so many people wake up at some stage in their career and go, ‘What for?’”

Her own coping strategy is to be mindful of the pitfalls of imbalance. She regularly takes time to think about her priorities, and ensuring she is focused on what is important.

“I do think Gen Y does have something to teach us. I think their attitude to balancing their career versus what they want to achieve personally – [this] absolutely offers a lesson for us.”

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