Lessons from a Courageous Entrepreneur

I’m pleased to be associated with a leading recruiter – Fiona Wilson, Managing Director, FJ Wilson Talent Services, United Kingdom

FJWTS’ clients are organisations for professionals. They include membership organisations, awarding bodies and learning providers.

Clients use FJWTS’ solutions to help them recruit fresh talent and to make the best use of the talent they already have specifically in senior and mid-level roles.

Previously she worked for Adecco’s professional staffing brands: she was Operations Director of Jonathan Wren, Ajilon, and then of the London 2012 (LOCOG) contract. Before that, she worked for Kelly Services.  Fiona’s early experience in sales was developed at Hobsons, part of the Daily Mail Group, where her clients comprised professional membership bodies, universities, and employers.

Fiona has been a “Pilotlighter” since 2010 (www.pilotlight.org.uk). As part of a ‘Pilotlight team’ Fiona has worked on five programmes helping chief executives of charities and social enterprises to build capacity and make more impact.

How, and when did you first get into the talent industry?

Having worked in education publishing for six years, in 2003 I took a 6-month belated ‘gap year’ experience in India. I did voluntary work whilst taking some time to decide what to do next. I knew I wanted to combine my love of sales with commercial and people management.

A couple of key people in my professional network suggested recruitment. In 2003 I joined Kelly Services as a ‘competency-based hire’ from an assessment centre. My task was to open and manage a new branch in Hammersmith.

You’ve stayed in the industry: what do you like about working in the sector?

I thrive on the degree of changes. For example, change brought about my online development, such as growing connectivity. And change in candidates’ expectations –- for example, the growing importance of employment branding and the demand for flexible and remote working.

I thrive on the degree of changes. For example, change brought about my online development, such as growing connectivity. And change in candidates’ expectations –- for example, the growing importance of employment branding and the demand for flexible and remote working.

Fiona Wilson

I enjoy learning how organisations function and how they revolve around their greatest asset, namely people. The business of talent acquisition is always related with other aspects of organisations, such as their strategy and business plan. I particularly enjoy developing long-term relationships – especially when we become a trusted supplier who is viewed as a specialised extension of an organisation’s HR team.

The biggest buzz comes always from establishing a wonderful two-way match between the employer and the candidate, leading to a durable placement.

Prior to launching FJWTS, you worked for some large employers. What motivated you to launch your own business?

I wanted to maximise the time I spent on the aspects of talent acquisition that I enjoy and minimise the amount spent on administration -– such things as internal meetings and email management. I also didn’t want to devote energy to playing corporate politics or fixating on short-term returns.

I wanted to build a business founded on a strong customer-service model and to work with clients that ‘got’ and suited our model – and to be free to choose to not work with or exit clients that didn’t! 

One further point: the ability to work truly flexibly was never present in my previous career, so I wanted to forge a working life where I, and my team, enjoy this entitlement.

Over the first decade, what have been the main challenges?

The endless drive, commitment, energy and belief that has been required to create something sustainable out of literally nothing! — Our business has never had debt, never accepted any external investment.

Initially, a challenge was to develop the acumen to generate the sufficient cash-flow to meet the needs of a growing business and to scale the balance sheet.

Operationally, I’ve need to work out how to build a business comprised of remote-based workers across the country; to hire and develop a team who can deliver independently of me; and avoid the trap of allowing unnecessary meetings and emails to creep in as we have grown. Part of the solution has been to integrate our internal communications, using in particular video meetings (using Zoom) and messaging (on Skype) to minimise disruption to the working day.

On a personal level I’ve needed to find my own voice, shorn of big-corporate vocabulary. And to withstand the challenges of major life events: bereavements; illnesses; medical operations; miscarriage; and relocating and moving house. And (more positively!) of having a child. 

Through it all I’ve learnt to let go, 100%, of the thought of ever working for another employer.

And what changes in the market have you observed in that time?

At the junior role (aka ‘commodified’) end of the scale, new technology has made it easier for in-house teams to effect their own recruitment. That’s why we don’t deal with junior roles at all. At mid- and senior levels, though, it remains the case that talent agencies can add value.

For example: internal recruiters sometimes attempt to fill a role but then feel dissatisfied with the field they come up with; or they tend to have difficulty discovering passive candidates; or they might be less effective at discovering.

What’s your vision for FJWTS long term?

Throughout the history of our company, we have been inspired by the story of Sophie Macpherson. Her business, SML, sources talent for leading institutions in the art world – employers such Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and the Scottish Gallery. Our vision is to become the equivalent for our sector, which comprises organisations for professionals — membership organizations, awarding bodies, and learning providers.

Outside work, how do you spend your time? What makes you tick?

Anything horse-related is a winner.

I also enjoy going to gigs — mostly electronic rock’n’roll stuff from the ‘80s and early 90s…). And I like camping and visiting places with a beach.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

seven − 5 =