Spotlight on- Chris Huffen
Updated: Jun 5
We put the spotlight on Chris Huffen, Regional Managing Director for outstanding recruitment agency, Macildowie.
A background into you and your business?
We’re a recruitment business based across the Midlands and Home Counties and have been established for 26 years! We recruit across most professional office functions and have been on a real growth journey over the past 10 years!
I left University in 2008 (right before the world went pop) having studied Economics and spent a couple of years in a sales role before joining Macildowie as a trainee and going back to square 1 in my career. From there, I worked in our Leicester office covering Finance and Accountancy roles until, after 4 years, I relocated to Milton Keynes to open our newest office. To date, it’s the most challenging thing I’ve done in my career but a huge learning curve for me that really stood me in good stead to go forwards.
Once established, I moved back to manage the Accounting and Finance team in Leicester, taking it from a team of 3 to a team of 10 in 2 years and earning a promotion to Associate Director (I’d set myself a goal of achieving this by the time I was 30 and the promotion panel happened 5 days after my 31st birthday… not that I was counting…). After another great year with that team, I got the tap from our CEO to take on a new role in new geography, leading our flagship Nottingham operation in a newly created Regional MD role. I’ve been there 12 months and loved every single minute of the new challenge!
What has been your strategy for your business during corona?
We’ve focused on building lifelong customer relationships. It’s a unique time when people aren’t really recruiting but whilst working from home, have more bandwidth to speak and are desperate for insight into the market. Rather than being tactical salespeople the strategy we’ve built has been all about considered and relational engagement.
What top tips do you have for businesses struggling with remote working?
Don’t focus on the hours you need to work. Normal rules of efficiency seem to have gone out the window. Build a day plan every day and focus on delivering outputs. Once that’s completed, close the laptop and make the most of this time as we might not get it again. You will be amazed at how much your mind will shift when you are focused on being productive rather than watching the clock until it’s time to log off.
Alongside that, keep fit and leave the house for a walk before and after work. It’s a small change but it will feel like arriving somewhere new to work and getting home in the evening.
How has your business adapted to deal with such uncertain times?
We’re all working from home and are running team meetings and morning kick-offs on zoom. As well as the obligatory Friday Beers and Quiz on zoom, we’re also running 3 HIIT workout sessions a week for staff, access to an online training platform, a Lockdown ball for them and their families and have set up workshops on self-reflection and Mindfulness.
There has been so much we’ve learnt as a business and are really excited to integrate some of it into our future plans to keep us as one of the best businesses to work for in the UK.
What made you choose this career/industry?
I was actually what’s called a “spec in”. I was looking for a new job and registered with a recruitment agency who specialise in sales recruitment (at the time, Macildowie just did Finance, HR and Procurement). They sent my CV speculatively to my first boss at Macildowie who must have seen something he liked and called me in for a meeting. I went for the first interview not really having a clue how recruitment worked but fell in love with the business and everyone I met. The energy, the ethics and the collective determination to be better was palpable. Despite not having a clue what it was all about, I got a second interview and an offer and went back in as a trainee. I also took a pay cut to join but knew going back to square 1 would pay off in the long term.
What has been your biggest challenge or setback during your career?
Opening the Milton Keynes office was the biggest challenge. I took on the new office as my first role as a manager and due to a combination of factors, ended up having 6 managers in 18 months. That made it really tough to get the support I probably needed and I ended up making a lot of mistakes and learning the hard way. It was the first thing I’d done that I hadn’t succeeded at to the level I wanted and it really hit my confidence. Our CEO was amazing at recognising this and really went out of his way to get me back on track. The next biggest challenge was moving to the Regional MD role in Nottingham. So much of what happened in Milton Keynes meant I was a lot more prepared for the challenge of a new office and had a load of experience to draw on to keep focused when things seem tough.
If any, can you tell us more about how you overcame those setbacks?
Focusing on what I enjoyed and what elements I could control were 2 of the most important aspects. I’m a confidence animal and when things don’t go well, it really throws me off.
We had an excellent Business Coach who did some work with us called John Walton. During a 1 to 1 session he spoke to me about using the “positive opposite”. The concept that every time things felt like they were slipping, focus on what good would come from it (what had we learnt, where would we be better, what would we do differently). This reframing of situations really helped.
I also had to reflect a lot on how I worked with others to get the best from them. Tools like Insights and MBTI helped me understand people are driven and motivated in a lot of different ways and a one size fits all management approach is never the right one.
What is an important initiative that you feel passionate about in your role?
We have a concept called “ CEO of your own desk”. It’s one of the things I was spoken to about when I joined the business and essentially encourages each member of staff to view their work with the autonomy and the urgency a CEO does. This means we get people thinking really innovatively and a lot of our best ideas are driven from the floor. It also means our people hold each other to account more as any good leader would do with their peers.
Effectively, each consultant is in charge of their performance, career and development and our role is to help facilitate what they want to achieve and help make sure they are aspiring to achieve everything they can (or reframe them to more realistic goals in some cases… not a bad problem to have!).
What is your advice to people who are wanting to start a business?
Don’t do it. Take a look at the Macildowie Work For Us page and come and be CEO of your own desk… Failing that, take your time making decisions and make sure you hire people who compliment your culture and vision, rather than a group of mini me’s.
What do you think gave you the drive and determination to succeed?
My drive and motivation has definitely changed over the years. Initially, I just wanted to be one of the best. I picked top performers who were a few years ahead of me and tried to make sure I out billed them. That then evolved to focusing on my external competitors and working to develop the best relationships with customers that I could do. As I moved into management, the focus moved to delivering through my people and enabling them to get the same excitement and rush I got from placing candidates. The further up the business I’ve gone, the more I’ve got into the strategic element of running a chunk of business, taking a more complete picture and really enjoying working with a group of leaders who share the same vision for the company.
What is the biggest lesson that you’ve learnt along the way?
Control what you can control, don’t worry about what you can’t and focus on the positive in every situation.
What three tips would you give to those starting their careers?
Get to know what makes people tick and learn to adapt your communication to get the best from them.
Be the hardest worker in the room right from day one. Putting the graft in at the start will make it easier to become more efficient and enable you to then take on more responsibility. It doesn’t mean you’ll be able to work less as you progress but will help you learn and get there quickly.
Learn from everyone you work with. If you get on with them or not, if they are senior or junior to you, everyone has something to teach you. I’m still amazed at how much I have learnt from people who have worked for me, as well as some of the best and worst leaders I’ve worked under.
What is the best bit of advice that you have ever been given?
Plan your day. I’ve had so much great advice of the years but I’m very easily distracted or get carried away with new ideas and hate detail.
I got taught early in my career to plan my days and weeks meticulously and still use the same format to make sure I do everything I need to. It’s a basic one but it has saved me from so much unproductive time.
What advice do you have for people aiming for leadership positions?
Firstly, everyone is motivated and views situations differently. A lot of the time, your first instinct will be the wrong one so take time to seek advice and get buy-in on an idea. People will appreciate you doing that a lot more and will start to view you as a leader, even without the job title (I didn’t do this and it made it a lot harder to win people over once I had the job title).
What’s one key leadership lesson you’ve learned along the way?
Be comfortable not having all the answers and getting it wrong sometimes. Own those mistakes and have the humility to engage your teams in decisions. I used to think my Manager knew everything and when I became a Manager I thought my AD knew everything. I’m now a Regional MD and I’m pretty sure my CEO knows everything… right?
What would your advice be to someone managing a team?
Get to know your team on a personal level and take a genuine interest in them where possible. Reward them for things they don’t expect to be rewarded for. It’s amazing how much a spontaneous bottle of wine at the end of a week, or even just taking them for a beer early on a Friday can mean to someone as a thank you.
It’s a cliché but never ask someone to do something you aren’t willing to do and don’t set standards you don’t stick to.
What’s the best part of your job?
The people I work with. Colleagues, candidates, clients. All of them.
What’s the worst part of your job?
Process and policy. It’s such a necessary part of running a great business and we have an amazing support team who do most of the heavy lifting. It just normally involves detail and spreadsheets which doesn’t excite me… BUT is so important and if that’s all I have to moan about, it can’t be that bad.
Do you believe there is some sort of pattern or formula to becoming a successful entrepreneur?
Sometimes it’s ‘right place, right time’ so it could boil down to luck, but my first manager at Macildowie used to say “the harder you work, the luckier you get”.
Thanks so much to Chris for chatting with us, you can check out Macildowie, here!