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Interview: Harry Hewson, Managing Director

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Harry Hewson speaks candidly about his career in recruitment with Camino Partners so far; from the challenges to the many successes and what the future might hold.

What was it like first joining Camino as a graduate? 

When I first joined it was wicked… we were in a tiny room, 4-5 of us in the business, everyone got on really well, we learnt from people who had been doing it for absolutely ages and everyone worked really closely together. It was really buzzy and you had the typical old school stuff out; we had the whiteboards and everyone was focused on hitting targets. It was really exciting for me working in an office for the first time after working in pubs and stuff for most of my life and while I was at university.

What made you choose Camino as the company to begin your career?

There were a few reasons why I initially decided to join Camino.

Firstly, the business was very small; there were only three other people in the business, so you were going to get a lot of opportunities. The other recruitment companies I was interviewing at I was going to be a trainee recruiter for a very long time as they were much bigger, at Camino I was able to join them at the start of their journey and progress with them. 

You had a great mix of people to learn from too, Camino was the third business Alan had set up, so I thought they’re small and this guy would only be doing it if it's a good company because he knows his stuff. Then you had two people, Sachin and Matt, who were younger and really driven but had worked with Alan before, so I thought they’re only going to work with him if they’ve enjoyed working with him before and they must get on really well. That dynamic was really attractive to me. 

Sachin was actually quite salesy and made me come to interview face to face the same day we initially spoke. I don’t think I initially fully understood what it was that Camino did, of course I had done my research as you can imagine a grad would but that wasn’t the sell - it was the people! As well as their experience, they were all really nice people, I’d interviewed at a lot of places and some people you just didn’t click with as well, whereas I remember thinking these guys are pretty good humans. The product itself probably wasn’t as sexy as some of the other places I had been interviewing at but for me the people were more important. I also remember talking to Matt about travelling and him wooing me with doing that! 

They then moved very quickly to offer me which probably added to the reason I was keen to accept. As a candidate I think it makes you feel that they’ve seen the value in you! 

What made you choose recruitment? 

My best mate actually did History with me at university and he was doing recruitment at Hayes. He had said he thought I’d be good at it but recommended joining a smaller business. He spoke about the good and bad elements so I knew what to expect but he said that working in a company like Hayes, it was too much of a machine to progress quickly. 

There were also circumstantial factors, I graduated from Portsmouth University just after the 2013 recession, I didn’t really like school or university so I thought what can I do. 

What were your initial aims or goals?

I wanted to know how quickly I would progress but there were also a couple of other people who joined at the same time as me and basically from day one there was a bit of competition. This was helped by the fact it was a really good set up, three directors with three trainees, we were all trying to become consultants and bill as quickly as possible. It was made pretty clear that they wanted managers as soon as possible, so I guess we had that goal from day one. 

Within eighteen months I was looking after a small team and I was always really focused on doing that. My initial aim was to get my credit cards paid off and then after that start moving up the ladder. 

What was it like when you first started managing a team? 

One thing I found difficult at first was that I was quite good friends with the people I was then going to manage... one of the guys did leave straight away… no not because of me… we’re still good friends now and he wanted to leave recruitment anyway, he promised it wasn’t me. 

The trickiest bit was balancing managing a team and your billings. Luckily we had really good trainers, including a lady called Sarah Mason from S3, who was amazing. We also had really good support from Alan, Matt and Sachin. 

I really enjoyed it, I think I always have enjoyed working with people and that was another opportunity in a different way. Although some may think recruiters who do well are often lone wolves, I don’t enjoy being on my own, I like being collaborative which Camino really encourages. You could easily be a recruiter and have a much less stressful life I think, but I like the way that Camino is more inclusive than that; there’s no lone billers who come in and do what they want. 

Everyone you are in contact with speaks very highly of you, what’s your key to success there? 

Firstly, I’m sure there are definitely some people who wouldn’t give me amazing testimonials just because everyone isn’t amazing all the time. For example, earlier on in my career, one candidate wasn’t happy with the time it took for me to provide interview feedback. But when you get bad feedback that's the best way to learn and it made me appreciate it; yes, you might be spinning lots of plates but the job application process is really important to the individuals that are going through it. There's a lot of emotional investment in interviews. The important thing when you receive bad feedback is how you take that on and develop from it. 

Having said that there are practical ways to help you get more positive feedback, I always think about getting feedback throughout the process. I’m thinking if they say great things about me to someone else, then they’ll want to work with me. It’s about thinking long term and how you’re branding yourself to your network... and theirs! The best roles you pick up is when you get a message saying they were recommended to you.

But for me and Camino I think it has been about staying in touch with a tight niche as much as possible, from just finance people in tech for the past year to just finance into recruitment prior to that. 

More specifically, when building relationships I try to be as authentic as possible. When I was in sales previously I would try to be a slightly different person, this ‘business person’. Whereas, in recruitment everyone is mostly themselves; you talk about your hobbies, your passions, you share vulnerabilities. Sharing your humility with people, whether you’re having a great time or not; if you share that with candidates they will sympathise with you and they will want you to do well! 

As your career progressed at Camino, was leading a team a natural step for you? 

I have always wanted to lead a team so in a way it was a natural step and I knew I had many good traits but I also knew I had some other traits I needed to change. For example, I know when I first started managing I could be a little too direct. I think in many ways directness is needed to make people better but I had to learn how impatient I could be at times. I also wasn’t very organised when I first became a manager and that is absolutely key. 

Perhaps selfishly I like to feel like I have helped someone else ‘get good’ and progress. I wanted to become a Manager because I wanted to have an impact on people. Also I think in recruitment in order to be successful it needs to be a collective and there needs to be teamwork. 

During Covid you took the time to check-in on everyone, even those outside of your team. What was your experience of the lockdowns and how did you insure Camino bounced back? 

The pandemic was awful but I loved it in that working from home I got to see my partner a lot more, it’s been amazing to keep that flexibility since we’ve come back. I also managed to get loads more done but because people just weren’t hiring, I was working really long hours and not getting much from it which was really hard, so I probably should have worked less hours and kept on top of my mental health better because otherwise you just get burnt out. 

I actually really enjoyed bringing people closer together in the business. It was really tricky jumping on calls and trying to motivate people, when we knew there were jobs at threat. We were completely transparent with people around the figures and profitability, so they knew and we knew if the company carried on losing that amount of money on a monthly basis then the business couldn’t stay in existence for long. On a call with the team, at the back of your mind you’re thinking this person could well be looking for another job, they’re probably not enjoying what they’re doing and I can’t give them any help from my experience because I’ve not done this before. So you think, what can I do to support them; you literally just try to find out how things are for them, even how things are working from home in a practical sense. For example, we found out some people were just sitting on their bed at home.

The main thing was talking to people, showing everyone's going through similar things and just helping and guiding people; I moved from touching base with even Senior people once a week, maybe twice a week, to speaking to them virtually everyday and then having three structured meetings per week. I tried to relate to people at an emotional level, which was probably awkward at the start but everyone pretty much felt the same things so I just made sure I shared what I was going through too. I think that changed the way the business works now and also changed individuals, now everyone really deeply cares for each other and the business. Camino could have furloughed 95% of people and generated the same revenue but they didn’t and they gave their support to people and people appreciate that. 

Recruitment is tough. What do you think is the most important thing in creating a good working environment and safeguarding well-being at work? 

I think the most important thing is understanding people’s situations. Everyone has their own stuff going on. Everyone needs to be pushed to get better but if they’ve got a blocker going on then it’s going to affect them in the wrong way. If you know their situation you know how to manage them at different times. 

You need to give everyone the right tools to be successful, train them properly and get them set up. I think that means people are going to enjoy work much more. And communication is key again! When I first started managing people I definitely didn’t do that enough, you can’t just have meetings you need to talk to them throughout the day to get to know their day to day. 

You were instrumental in re-branding and creating Camino Search, what was your thought behind this? 

We have recruited finance and support staff into recruitment companies for years. I wanted to do something different, I knew that we could grow the business to a certain size by doing that but we can grow a lot quicker and grow internationally if we started working with cool tech brands. There's so much investment going into that space at the moment and because of the investment that means there are naturally cycles where companies change ownership, which means typically every time a company changes ownership you’ll get a new finance leader. That's why I saw such a great opportunity in that space and I was genuinely really excited about going into it, so was Oliver and so was Sachin and Matt. There were also some synergies with candidates we work with, so there were some candidates we could pull over from the past and I obviously had an understanding of how to recruit for finance because I’d done that for a number of years so it seemed like the right fit. 

I was able to reach out to a lot of people I knew in investment and then because we started doing business development just before covid, it was a really interesting time to do it and we found that it was a lot easier to pick up business in the tech space than it was recruitment because of the recurring revenue models of a lot of tech companies. We focused on initially picking up ten good clients that were going to pay us fees and then focused on good repeat business from those firms. Often businesses get to a certain size and they get an internal recruitment function, so it's about collaborating with them as well. A lot of the CFO’s I had worked with in the past were now working in tech enabled businesses so it was good for me to be able to lead with them relationships.

What do you think is next for Camino Partners? 

We’ve just hired a new marketing person so obviously marketing is going to fly through the roof. I think that we’re just trying to grow now, we’ve flirted with this size for quite a while but we’ve now got the best group of graduates and billers that we’ve ever had so I think we can really scale over the next few years. We are also looking to grow internationally, we’ve just hired someone called Barney, who's placing finance people into businesses in New York which is something we’ve done a bit before. 

I think the main aim for the next few years is to turn the five great team leaders we have into great managers and then turn the great billers we’ve got into team leaders and managers as well and then we will see where we go from there!