Going it Alone
Friday, October 28th, 2016

UP CLOSE - How Siân Goodson left a leading recruitment firm to set up her own executive search business with a difference

Goodson Thomas only launched in July 2015, but in a little over twelve months it has received executive search assignments from some of Wales' leading businesses and public sector organisations including the Principality Building Society, National Theatre Wales, the National Museum Wales and the Care Council for Wales. With offices in Cardiff and London and a growing network of associates, the future is looking bright for this 'boutique' executive search firm.

As a principal consultant for leading international blue chip recruitment firm Odgers Berndtson, Siân Goodson was riding high at the top of her profession. But while Siân was one of only two fee earners at the business' Wales practice and helped it deliver a record year in 2014-15, she was keen for a new challenge.

"I recognised a gap in the market for a business that not only provided professional services to aid executive hires, but that could also aid organisations in their wider organisational development, leadership development and governance work," she says.

Siân had always dreamed of working for herself so, with a plan in mind she left her job to launch her own business and in July 2015 Goodson Thomas was born. Goodson Thomas was set up to provide executive search services for organisations in the commercial, public and not-for-profit sectors that are looking to recruit senior executive and non-executive positions. But what sets it apart from other executive search firms is that it delivers leadership development projects for those clients as well.

"I wanted to establish a business that could credibly compete with the blue chip companies but offer something different," she says. "I'm passionate about helping organisations develop from within, through successful leadership development and succession planning, and I was aware of the growing demand for a results-oriented, strategic and flexible service that could help organisations bridge the gap between talent sourcing and talent maximisation."

Early success

Key to the firm's early success was the support and guidance of two respected non-executive directors, Laura McAllister and Chris Brindley. Professor McAllister CBE is a well-known figure in Wales; a former footballer who captained the national women's team, turned politician turned academic, she currently works at the Wales Governance Centre at Cardiff University.

Chris Brindley is a prominent UK business leader and a leading authority on performance management who until recently was MD of Metro Bank, the first new high-street bank to launch in the UK for 150 years. Both share a passion for sport - Laura is former chair of Sport Wales while Chris is a non-exec director of a number of bodies, including the Rugby Football League Board and the Manchester Football Association - and have each worked closely with elite athletes, something they see as an inspiration for success in business.

This, coupled with their extensive experience of working in senior positions and undertaking complex and challenging assignments on behalf of clients, gave them a unique perspective that helped turn Siân's vision for Goodson Thomas into reality. A string of prestigious executive search assignments soon followed for some of Wales' biggest private and public sector organisations, and Goodson Thomas quickly became a serious challenger in a competitive market.

Siân credits the key to Goodson Thomas' early success to practising what you preach. "Our business is all about searching for and harnessing the best talent," she says. "As we have grown our network of non-exec directors and associates, we have done so with three key principles in mind: Do they convincingly share a passion for the business' goals? Do they possess strong, highly engaging inter-personal skills and an inquisitive mind? Do they demonstrate real skill in the analysis and reporting of industry trends and people?

"We have purposefully not designed a standard induction or training programme," she continues. "Any new associate or recruit will be briefed on the company's vision, values, approach and behaviours. These are critically important as collectively, they help define us and set us apart from your typical recruitment business. We are constantly evolving and want to ensure that we are less process-led or constrained by traditional models, and more agile, flexible, adaptable. No business should shy away from the need to continually learn and develop."

Developing while helping businesses develop

It might seem an odd approach for an executive headhunter, but Siân is a big advocate of organisations recruiting top talent from within. "When I engage with any client one of the first things I look at is the extent to which they have already got good people or talent within their own organisation," she explains. "I always ask up front what their internal talent looks like. They will of course have a view of their own but I would always recommend we consider internal candidates.

"We carry out a mapping exercise where we investigate the quality of talent available within an organisation to provide an objective view," she adds. "It might be that the 'higher-ups' have not considered a potential internal candidate - often until an opportunity comes up they simply do not see the person in that light."

Another important part of the Goodson Thomas service is ensuring a new hire is the right fit for the organisation, right down to the blend of personalities in the team. "We work with our clients to analyse the composition of the management team to get a feel not just for their backgrounds and skillsets but also their behavioural tendencies," Siân explains. "For example, are they extrovert or introvert, team orientated or independent minded? This analysis helps inform our thinking about what type of person they need to recruit to complement the team.

"We offer psychometric profiling, and often clients will take advantage of that service if they are torn between two candidates," Goodson continues. "I have seen it with both public and private sector clients. They will invest in it to get a better feel for the qualities that will be a good fit for their team, culturally and behaviourally. We think this is incredibly important, especially at senior level; lots of people can do the 'doing' but it's how it's done that's just as important; manners, leadership style, personality."

It is this focus on talent and business development that sets Goodson Thomas apart from its competitors, according to Siân.

The future

As with many 21st century business sectors, recruitment is changing rapidly, and is particularly susceptible to outside influences. Yet when Siân considers Goodson Thomas' own future, all the signs are positive. The business has recently completed a hugely successful first year of rapid growth, during which it has successfully delivered assignments 83 per cent above target. It recently employed a new executive assistant, moved in to new office premises in a central Cardiff location and invested in a new CRM system. Yet despite this, Siân still describes the business as a start-up that is "proudly boutique in nature".

"My ambition from the outset was to grow an entity, but to maintain a boutique offering and establish ourselves as the go-to business for executive search and talent development services," she says. "I feel we have done that while offering a fresh perspective; our people are not career consultants, they have walked the walk at the top level.

"We understand the realities of the boardroom," she concludes, "the growing pains of change, turnaround and growth and the significance of culture and values. This equips us with a deep appreciation of our clients' needs and what it takes to achieve success through strong senior talent."

A version of this article was originally published by The Global Recruiter

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