A hire purpose: recruitment industry veteran Giles Daubeney aims to help clients find the perfect fit
Robert Walters COO says while the industry has changed dramatically, people skills are still key
The recruitment industry has come a long way since Giles Daubeney took his first exploratory steps in the sector in Britain in the mid-1980s. Back then, there were no meticulous induction programmes for new joiners, no sophisticated client databases and, to a large extent, no shining example of how to build and operate a successful business model.
“In those days, you were just thrown into the deep end, given a phone book and told to start ringing around,” says the chief operating officer of Robert Walters. “Recruitment was a very new industry, with no great reputation, so everyone was learning on the job and I started at the bottom.
“You might sit in with managers to see how they interviewed people, but there was a lot you had to teach yourself.”
In terms of structure, process and systems, the business has obviously changed dramatically since then. But, as Daubeney is quick to point out, some of the fundamentals remain constant. Success is still based on understanding how to deal with people, in particular realising everyone is different and that one size doesn’t fit all. “In essence, it is a very simple business we are in,” Daubeney says. “You need a client with a vacancy and a candidate looking for job and, ultimately, it is about putting the two together.”
Some of the changes have not been for the better, he says. For instance, the downside of technology is that people have an excuse not to talk to each other, which runs counter to what a recruitment consultant or potential employer should be trying to achieve. “We are in a people business, with an element of sales, too, and must be able to discuss options, develop relationships with senior line managers and give good, professional advice, which the client is going to be grateful for. We must embrace technology to increase efficiency and because it provides many more ways of hiring. But we also have to remember that candidates can do better if they talk to someone about their career.”
Daubeney’s move into recruitment came about more by accident than design. Following in his father’s footsteps, he had initially studied hotel management and was offered a place on a trainee scheme at the Intercontinental Hotel on London’s Park Lane.
However, deciding the money was not great, he opted to try his luck as a sales representative for a travel company. Things were going well, until a minor blemish saw his driving licence suspended – and with it went his job. He took the summer off, contemplated life on the Greek island of Corfu and, on returning home, answered an advert placed by a small recruitment firm, mainly because he had to start again somewhere.
It was a fateful choice, leading to a career of 30 years so far in the sector, 27 of them with Robert Walters, which he joined in 1988. At that time, the firm had one office in central London and Daubeney’s first wage slip showed him to be employee number 34.
Today, there are 53 offices in 24 countries and something like 2,600 employees.
As part of the early expansion, he was asked to move to Amsterdam in 1990 to open an office covering Holland and Belgium. It turned out to be a four-year stay.
“It was the best thing that could have happened to me; living in another country was a great experience and a huge learning curve,” he says. “To this day, it is something I recommend people should do. You learn a lot about yourself and become more resilient, more creative in your ideas and stronger as a person. From a business point of view, I learned to stand on my own two feet, plus how to manage and work with different cultures and nationalities.”
Something else he discovered was that international postings can be quite lonely, especially if you are the boss and things are not going exactly according to plan. As a result, he now makes a point of keeping in weekly contact with key staff overseas and aims to visit twice a year, in part to give them a chance to air frustrations and let off steam.
More generally, his style is to lead from the front, which also means empowering individuals to take responsibility and make decisions. There is a balance to strike between delegating and being supportive. And, not surprisingly, a persistent theme as the company continues to grow is the importance of getting good people and helping them develop their careers.
“At present, our footprint is where we want it to be and any new offices would be in countries where we are already established,” he says. “However, one recruitment discipline we are not in and would consider is healthcare. Like anything, it is about getting the right consultants to do it, but we already have offices in some pretty prime locations where people would be hiring doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals.”
When not circling the globe on business, London-based Daubeney’s off-duty interests centre on family, golf and supporting Arsenal as a season-ticket holder. “These days, I also enjoy cooking. I find it can be very relaxing.”