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Client and Candidates at the Core: An Exclusive Interview with Tom Gowing, Managing Director at Morgan Phillips UK

Client and Candidates at the Core: An Exclusive Interview with Tom Gowing, Managing Director at Morgan Phillips UK

An exclusive interview with Tom Gowing, the Managing Director of Morgan Phillips Specialist Recruitment UK. Tom sat down with Lydia from the All-In Recruitment podcast by Manatal to discuss his career journey, industry insights, and the future of recruitment. Let's dive in!

26/06/2024 Back to all articles

We are excited to share an insightful interview with Tom Gowing, Managing Director at Morgan Phillips UK, featured on the All-In Recruitment podcast by Manatal. In this conversation, Tom discusses his career journey, industry trends, and the future of recruitment. Listen to the full podcast interview here.

Lydia: Welcome to the All-In Recruitment podcast by Manatal, where we explore best practices, learnings, and trends with leaders in the recruitment space. If you like our content, please subscribe to our channels on YouTube and Spotify to stay tuned for weekly episodes.

My name is Lydia and our guest today is Tom Gowing of Morgan Phillips Group. Great to have you with us today, Tom.

Tom: Great to be here, Lydia.

Tom’s Journey Towards Becoming the Managing Director

Lydia: So Tom, tell us a little bit about your journey towards becoming the MD of the group.

Tom: I started in recruitment in 2006. It was quite a long time ago. I began my career with an FTSE recruiter in one of their regional offices, recruiting accountants. I managed that office for a few years, then moved to London for bigger opportunities.

I remained at that group for just over 10 years and was a director there. I recruited lawyers and accountants for the most part. Then the opportunity came up to join Morgan Phillips, well, at the time, [it was called] Hudson, and I recruited HR professionals to begin with.

Over the years at Morgan Philips, I took on more responsibility and that’s really where my opportunity to do more came up. As I’ve recruited in different areas over my career, when the opportunities arose to look after those divisions, I was able to take that opportunity and do so.

In recent years, I have been able to move up through the business and now run the Morgan Phillips specialist recruitment brand within the UK. We recruit mid to senior-level positions across a number of different areas such as marketing, legal, sales, technology, data, and HR.

So that’s a very short history of how I’ve ended up where I am.

Identifying and Prioritizing Industry Trends

Lydia: Quite a journey from 2006 towards now. You would have seen so many changes in the market, the businesses, and the whole industry.

Tom: Yes, the industry has changed a lot since 2006. LinkedIn wasn’t really a thing back then. If you wanted to know where a candidate went, you had to ring them and ask them where they were, and then you had to update your database. Now, LinkedIn sends you an email in the morning with that information. It’s quite a change.

But it’s certainly been a journey. With Morgan Phillips, we’re quite a forward-thinking business and try to use digital and data as possible. The pace of change that we’ve found in recent years has been really quick.

Lydia: As an MD, how do you identify and prioritize these key industry trends that have the potential to impact your firm’s growth and success?

Tom: Yes, that's a good question. As recruiters, we've always had quite a privilege in terms of speaking to people in our market, our candidates, and our clients. Those who have made a career from it have had to adapt and realize that you need to listen to what you're being told. You also need to offer that information as well.

I've always tried to think of us as a business sitting at the center of what's effectively live information. We speak to our clients, we speak to our customers, and we hear what they're telling us. We also work out what's going on in our own industry. It's important that we look at what we're being told and then work out from that what the industry trends are going to be because we're often at the forefront of seeing those things.

Really, it's about making sure that you're in touch with your market, your candidates, and your clients, and you're listening to what they have to tell you. Then it's about making the right decisions about what you do next. It's not an exact science; it's something you learn over time.

More recently, I think trends have not always been the same. I've worked through recessions previously and COVID, they've never been the same. The 2008 recession was financial, so we found that it was the finance leaders who got businesses through that period of time. COVID was very different; finances were affected, but it was also a people crisis and we couldn't leave our homes so things had to change in that regard.

Sometimes it was a combination, but often it was the HR side of leadership that had to make big strides forward to help businesses grow at that point. You hear all of this, and you have to assimilate the information and try to act as best you can on it.

Lydia: Indeed. And the intervals within these disruptions are getting shorter and shorter. What is the reaction towards these things? Were they proactive?

Tom: Yes, you’re right. I think anyone in recruitment would be lying if they said that in March of 2020, with COVID, they were sitting there thinking, “Yeah, this will be okay.” I think everyone had that moment where they thought this was going to be a major disruption. The world seemed to be imploding.

Particularly if you were a recruiter working in the UK, in a regional market or a London market, you would rarely place people without them having met the client face to face. It wasn’t a regular occurrence; it was the minority of the opportunities you’d work on where perhaps you were bringing someone from abroad or if you worked in an international market. So there was a massive shift just in that regard.

What amazed me was how quickly it happened. People reacted very quickly, pivoted very quickly, and started to act accordingly. Although it was a very tough period and clearly not something anyone wants to repeat, some of the changes have been quite positive after the hardships and I think it will be around for a long time.

Client and Candidates: the Center of Everything You Do

Lydia: You talked about making sure that you're constantly in touch with the clients to understand what the trends would be that will affect both your firm as well as the client. So, building those relationships is absolutely vital.

How do you ensure that your firm delivers top-notch service to both clients, as well as the candidates that you bring in?

Tom: I believe it’s a fairly straightforward answer.

In this industry, you must realize that it’s entirely people-led. You have to place your client and your candidate at the center of everything you do. Every decision you make, whether it’s a small daily decision or a more significant strategic one, you have to consider how it’s going to impact either the client or the candidate, or indeed both.

You have to make decisions based on whether it’s going to make the experience better, faster, or more efficient. It has to satisfy all of those criteria.

You won’t get it right all the time, but as long as you’re looking at things and making sure that you’re doing it for the right reasons and to provide a better service to your customers (if you want to call your clients and candidates genuinely customers), then you probably won’t go too far wrong.

Lydia: In the different fields that you’ve looked at, including traditional as well as technology (where there are plenty of different niche roles that you need to attract people for), what are some strategies or best practices that you’ve found particularly effective when it comes to attracting passive candidates?

Tom: Yes, we as a business, are always looking to attract the best people for the job and we do that in a number of ways. We advertise in the right places, both for the actual jobs we’re working on, and also produce literature, podcasts, and other materials that might educate and interest audiences.

We focus on our consultants being experts in their fields. We like to think that a client or a candidate can speak to one of our team members about their career or the person they need to hire and offer them real-life advice.

We also have something called the Club 5000. This is a group of professionals that we invite to join. For that, we do networking events, produce white papers, offer various benefits, send out monthly newsletters, and more. It’s aimed at more senior-level leaders to create an environment where they can network and meet like-minded people.

From time to time, we’ll identify some of those leaders who could possibly refer or recommend people within their network to us. This helps us build a professional network outside of more traditional things like LinkedIn. It’s something that we control but also find really valuable because it allows us to cultivate relationships with those people.

When we’re working on a particularly interesting opportunity within a sector, we approach the people we know within the Club from that sector. They may then put it in front of someone they know, and so on. So it’s a means of us gaining referrals and also building out a network of people where there’s mutual benefit.

Lydia: Yes, experience within the community, so to speak. Something that can grow organically and also be beneficial to the business.

Tom: Absolutely. We want our candidates to fill roles, that’s what we’re here to do. But it’s important to take time to offer something back to your candidates and clients. Otherwise, it becomes a less two-way relationship and more transactional.

Where we’ve found greater success is where we’ve built long-term lasting relationships with people that benefit them in all forms of their professionalism, as well as us as a business growing.

The Key to Sustainable Recruitment Growth

Lydia: That’s a great example of how long-term strategic investment is an investment of time, effort, and people. So, how do you balance short-term financial goals with long-term strategic investments such as this to ensure sustainable growth for your recruiting?

Tom: I think we always invest in those longer-term relationships where we can. The reality is that at times, we work for clients who are not frequent recruiters. We do a piece of work for them and then move on. That’s the reality.

My role is to ensure that my team in the UK has all the tools available to them so they can confidently go out into their markets, speak to their customers, and find the best people. If we do that consistently enough, I think we’ll be able to satisfy both short-term and long-term goals.

You’re right, every month is a sales role. It’s a sales industry. So every month, you’ve got a number to hit every quarter and every year. But sometimes you need to take the time to look back over those months, quarters, and years then realize the things you were doing along the way that have contributed to where the business is now.

I probably spend about 20% of my time thinking longer-term and more like 80% thinking about the foreseeable few months in the future.

Lydia: In technology, as you said, your team needs the tools in order to be able to go out and achieve these goals. Technology has significantly impacted all industries, including the recruitment landscape. So, how do you embrace these changes for the recruitment and consulting process?

Tom: Yes, technology has indeed changed the way people do many things, and recruitment has been hugely impacted. A few years ago, people might have thought that AI would make recruiters obsolete, but that hasn’t been the case. Recruiters are quite good at adapting and turning technology that could potentially make them extinct into something that makes them more efficient.

LinkedIn is a great example. A decade ago, recruitment firms were probably panicked about the idea of a large online database where everyone could see everything. But now, it’s an essential tool for recruiters.

In terms of AI and other tools, I think it’s important to view them not as making life easier, but as allowing people to do more and improve efficiency. The aim should be to maximize opportunities rather than just save time.

It’s exciting to see what’s around the corner because there could be technologies coming out very soon that could really change things in some respects.

Lydia: One of the biggest draws from technology has to be data. AI today is all about decision-making. It's a mandatory element within the decision-making process in any business. So, what's your approach at Morgan Phillips towards using data and analytics to make strategic decisions?

Tom: Internally and externally, particularly for our clients, we have a talent management team at Morgan Phillips. This team works with businesses on the development of their future leaders, among other things, and this is all data-driven.

As part of our recruitment service, we can put people through various forms of assessments, including psychometrics developed specifically by ourselves. These assessments measure a number of different facets in people, depending on their level and the type of role they’re looking to fulfill.

We also often incorporate these assessments into the recruitment process for more niche or C-level mandates. We’ve found that putting data behind these decisions, especially for pivotal roles or potential future leaders, has proven to be very successful. It’s not just about opinions or personal preferences; it’s about using concrete data to make informed decisions.

Predicting the Future of Work

Lydia: Privacy and data security are indeed critical concerns in today's digital age. So, how do you ensure candidate information is safeguarded throughout this process?

Tom: We use a number of different measures to ensure data security, as all businesses do. A few of these include single sign-on, multi-factor authentication, and hosting our data in a certified, government-approved secure data center.

We have also adopted all necessary GDPR policies and beyond, both locally in the UK and globally where different regulations apply. Different jurisdictions have different requirements, which we adhere to.

To access our systems, you need a username and password. Our access rights are audited regularly to ensure they remain correct. We also have our own in-house monitoring as well as external third-party intrusion detection.

It's unfortunate, but in today's landscape, you have to be extremely careful when dealing with people's personal data. We take this very seriously and take a lot of precautions to ensure data security.

Lydia: The rise of remote work and the gig economy, especially since COVID, has led to a decentralized workforce. So, how has your recruitment approach adapted to these changing preferences of both clients and candidates?

Tom: If you had asked me about this six months or a year ago, my answer probably would have been quite different. I think we're now moving into an era where businesses are shifting back to a hybrid model. Six months or 12 months ago, many people were still working remotely.

Initially, during COVID, everything was turned on its head. In the technology sector, for example, removing all geographical requirements meant you suddenly had a pool of candidates from a much wider area. Now, however, businesses are realising that collaboration is really important and they want people in the office working together.

I’ve been to hundreds of offices in my time to visit different clients. And I must admit, now it’s almost like a bit of a battleground. The office has suddenly become a really important place that needs to encourage people to work collaboratively.

Even if you’re working from home, the office environment is different because people have the opportunity to work from home. So it’s a really interesting one, and I don’t think it’s over yet.

Certainly, speaking to our colleagues in Europe, it seems that they’ve returned much more to an office environment. The UK seems to be hanging on maybe more, maybe a bit harder to the idea of working from home. But it’s interesting; I think it will continue to change over the next 6-12-18 month

Listening to Clients, Customers, and Candidates

Lydia: Going into the different strategic initiatives that we've had for a while now and the newer things that are probably in the pipeline, how do you assess the success and the effectiveness of these initiatives?

Tom: Assessing the success and effectiveness of strategic initiatives can indeed be challenging. We try to put data behind our assessments, looking at the outcomes of specific activities and the opportunities that arise from them. However, it's a much broader question than that.

We place utmost importance on the candidate and client experience. We're always striving to make our clients' lives better and easier, and the same goes for our candidates. If we're finding that the feedback we're getting from our customers is positive, then we'll look at improving further upon that.

Sometimes, what you're not told is probably the most valuable. We ask for feedback quite regularly from people to find out what works for them. For example, our talent guides used to be done in assessment centers. With COVID, we had to respond very quickly to the market and pivot to a digital approach. Now, we're finding that customers like the digital approach but also want some in-person interaction, so we've adapted to that.

You've just got to be flexible and listen to your customers and candidates, making sure you're reacting to what they want. It's a long-winded answer, but it's a difficult question. It's really hard to know exactly what works best, but if you have that flexibility and willingness to adapt, you're on the right track.

Lydia: Indeed, it is a constant process of discovery, especially post-COVID. We’re not entirely settled yet, and every region has its own pattern.

Tom: Definitely. There's a saying by an American businessman years ago that goes something like, "Half the money you spend on advertising is wasted, I just don't know which half." This sums up the challenge in business, particularly in an area like recruitment that moves so quickly and involves so many initiatives at any one time.

You sometimes have to pause and work out which initiatives are working and which ones aren't. It's important not to fall into the trap of repeating actions just because "we've always done it this way." Instead, we should strive to mix things up and do things differently.

For example, when we had to digitize processes for the talent business due to COVID-19 restrictions, and now moving towards a more hybrid approach, it was all about adapting to the changing circumstances and needs. Now, we're in a place where we can ask, "What do people want?" And if people want a combination of digital and in-person interactions, that's what we provide.

This principle of adaptability and responsiveness to changing needs should be applied across all aspects of the business.

Lydia: Having the option to choose between different modes of interaction or even a combination of them can indeed be advantageous for everyone involved.

Tom: Technology does support a wide range of options and possibilities. While it doesn't mean we should use all of them, it certainly provides us with numerous opportunities. There's no excuse for not changing, assessing our options, and striving to stay ahead of the game in this tech-enabled world.

Lydia: And experimental mindset, but at the same time, also execution.

Tom: Absolutely, yeah.

Lydia: So, looking ahead, Tom, what excites you the most about the future of recruitment? We’ve covered AI, and we’re still seeing the benefits and the disruption that AI is causing. Everything has become elevated in terms of the role of recruiting as well.

But what’s your opinion about the future of recruitment? What’s the most exciting thing?

Tom: I suppose you can probably break that into two and I think Artificial Intelligence is probably the feature of the landscape at the moment and will continue to be so. People have written off recruitment a couple of times with LinkedIn and stuff like that. So, I don't think it's going to go anywhere, per se. But I think it'd be very different.

What excites me is probably the pace at which we're able to change the business and try new things, develop new products, go to market, and engage our customers in a different way. That's never been faster. And I think that's really exciting. The ability to effectively help more businesses find the best people and help people find the job that's ideal for them is what excites me. That's why I went into recruitment in the first instance. And I don't think fundamentally that's shifted 17-ish years on. But the scale at which you can do it now and the pace at which you can do it is entirely different.

The challenge with all of that will be making sure that the human element isn't lost. Amongst all of the digitalization of things and the technologies that are available, I do think that recruiters for some time will have a place because we can provide that human touch, that human element to what we do.

And I think in more conflicts, that's probably where we try to find ourselves at that crossroads between wanting to be innovative, digital, and technology-driven, whilst also having a human touch there to mean that we provide a level of service that is better than something that can be provided by AI, effectively.

Lydia: And community building is one of those things that ensures that touch. By the way, how old is the community that you built? When did it start?

Tom: Well, when Hudson was bought by Morgan Phillips, it existed then. So, to my knowledge, it's at least five years in the making. Charles Murray, who's the CEO, has been within the staffing industry for probably more years than he'd like me to mention.

He's quite a visionary when it comes to the next ideas and I think this is something that he'd wanted to do for a while. So when he started Morgan Phillips, it was something that he brought in really quickly because he wanted that senior network. To our knowledge, I'm sure there are companies out there that do similar things.

I think, to my knowledge, it's probably almost unique. Not entirely, but as close as you can probably get.

Lydia: Thank you very much, Tom, for your time and your insights. It's been extremely valuable and generous of you to share all this information with us and your knowledge. So, drop us your contact details for the audience listening who wants to continue the conversation.

Tom: If anyone wants to pick up a conversation, feel free to email me. So that’s: tom.gowing@morganphilips.com

Lydia: Excellent. Thank you so much, Tom.