Spotlight on- James Taylor
Updated: Sep 7
We put the spotlight on James Taylor, CEO of award winning recruitment company, Macildowie.
A background into you and your business?
I come from a working-class background where both parents worked their socks off to be able to send me to Loughborough Grammar school. Whilst not a natural academic, I rinsed every last ounce of enjoyment out of my school experience by captaining the Cricket, Golf and Swimming teams.
I have always been incredibly competitive and had a desire to be the best version of me.
I studied accountancy at Northumbria University, realising early on that I didn’t want to pursue accountancy as a career, I left Uni with a 2.2 in Accountancy and felt completely unemployable.
I spent the first 4 m after graduation working behind a bar, loving it, but knowing I wanted a real job. Then in late summer 1997, I joined Macs – after initially being turned down… I got back on the phone and offered to work for free.
23 years down the line and I am still here… and I am not the longest server either…. James S recruited me back then and we’re both still going strong now. In fact, we have a unique relationship, and one that recently we have understood even better having completed INSIGHTS DISCOVERY – we are complete opposites, without ego, who realise that 1+1=3.
People often ask me why I am still here after all these years, Or why I never started on my own. My answer remains the same “I bloody LOVE this place” and I am proud to be the CEO of a business that I have built over all those years.
My philosophy is KISS – keep it simple stupid. We have invested in innovation over the years, always with the intention of helping to simplify what we do in order to help our people to be the best version of themselves.
In fact, I’d define my job as CEO as being the guardian of the brand and maintaining an environment within which everyone can become the Best Version Of You.
I love to win awards, but it’s not about ego, it’s about Macs being recognised for what we do and how we do it. We have won back to back NORA awards these past 2 years. We absolutely do not want Macildowie to be “just another recruitment company” and that is why we look to innovate, to differentiate ourselves in order to be truly distinctive in an overcrowded market place. Working here has felt like “more than just a job” for me… and I believe that we have enhanced our culture to the point where our own great people also feel the same. But ultimately, my biggest driver in life is to make my kids proud.
“I have a dream” – to be the best recruitment company to work with and to work for in the universe…. And I believe that we can achieve that by developing our Value Proposition to such an extent that our customers want to use Macildowie exclusively… We have been working harder than ever on this during the CV19 lockdown.
What top tips do you have for businesses struggling with remote working?
Involve your staff with what and how they want to be communicated with. Use zoom some days to set up a remote team environment. Have the volume on low in order to ensure a certain level of buzz even in the comfort of your own home.
To avoid setting yourself too much to do, which I believe is a massive danger for those working from home, set weekly targets and to-do lists… and then chunk that weekly list down into daily sections.
Recognise that there will be good days and bad days and that some people will struggle more than others - The best thing that we have done is to involve the entire business in an “Insights Light” session – meaning that we now know how our guys look and behave on their good and bad days. And better still, understanding one another’s behavioural preferences means that we’re still able to make decisions and how best to communicate with each other.
We have also given our guys access to an online emotional health assessment diagnostic tool, again to help our people to better understand themselves. Continue to invest in L&D as the level of tacit learning is reduced to zero. Hold at least fortnightly one to ones. We have also held twice weekly lunchtime gym sessions and a Lockdown Ball to keep people involved and connected. The connection is critical, to team members, but also to the Vision of the business.
How has your business adapted to deal with such uncertain times?
We have adapted well. Our Leadership Team were the first to take pay cuts, and a number of senior managers put themselves forward for furlough before we needed to make our tough choices. We have then communicated with staff every step of the way. In the background, we are developing our strategy to ensure that when the market comes back, we hit the ground running and have a new world value proposition to help us to win market share.
What made you choose this career/industry?
It chose me! And I am so glad it did. I have made lifelong friends from working in recruitment and I know that I have helped to change people’s lives by placing them into jobs that they would never have even known about, let alone had access to… I feel very proud of that.
This snippet is from an article I wrote that was published in The Global Recruiter… called a letter to my graduate self.
“Whatever you do though, don’t say that you want a work-life balance, don’t mention 9-5 pm because recruitment in 1997 is a long hours game. You need to be a work hard, play hard character. Candidates can only really speak after work hours so you really start the hard graft at 7 pm… but it’ll be fun, and if you have the mindset that in order to have a career that every single candidate needs to know who you are and what you stand for – then-late-night calling it is fella. It’s the route to success, and there is no substitute.
Recruitment can be a roller-coaster of emotions so enjoy it, join a company who rewards you for your success, where you can be the master of your own destiny, embrace technology before others do, be counter-intuitive in your thinking – don’t just follow the crowd.
Finally, when you reach the big 40 as I have this year you want to be able to look back and be proud of your achievements and the way you behaved so follow your gut instinct and stand by people who are loyal to you. I think you have what it takes James, I just hope you enjoy doing it as much as I have.
There’s no such thing as luck – so work hard, demand more from yourself than your manager does, plan (at least daily) and laugh, laugh lots. You’ll love it!”
What has been your biggest challenge or setback during your career?
COVID-19 … it’s unprecedented, it’s scary, there are seemingly no answers, no timelines. As CEO I am doing my best to navigate through this guided by the 2 principles we set out at the very beginning – we will make decisions initially to safeguard the health of our Macildowie team members and their families and we will make decisions with the long term health of the business and people’s jobs.
Only 10 weeks ago, economic forecasters were suggesting that this would be a V-shaped recession. That rhetoric is long gone, and now the experts are saying that it will be a U shaped or at worst an L shaped recovery.
These unprecedented times mean that as business leaders we are having to learn as we go along. The sheer pace of change means that the support / back-office functions have never ever been busier or under so much pressure.
As a YELLOW (insights discovery personality type) my strength is innovation, not attention to detail so I find these times incredibly challenging personally… I gain energy from being around others and my natural state is to be a collaborator…. Collaborating over ZOOM isn’t the same as being in a room surrounded by colleagues…
If any, can you tell us more about how you overcame those setbacks?
At the time of writing, we’re still living through it, we continue to communicate and base our decisions on our 2 guiding principles:
Next, we quickly set out and communicated our 6 point Business MO and established a new normal for running the operational side of the business with 3 weekly one hour Ops Meetings to ensure we’re on top of the data and able to make decisions quickly. Our agenda is:
Well-Being - Employees – how do ensure engagement and retention at an incredibly challenging and stressful time?
Secure Revenue – keeping close relationships with the candidates and clients where we have made successful placements.
Generate Revenue – ensure that we continue to develop relationships and invest in marketing in order to reach our customers. Pivot our Value Proposition to add more value to both candidates and clients.
What can we do that we have not done before which will:
-Generate revenue in the short to medium term
-Position us to optimise the expected uptick in the market
Agree our Internal and External Communication
Everyone knows what is expected of them, we have kept the meetings consistent and in line with the MO above.
A mentor of mine gave me the best piece of advice when this all began in March – “people will remember how you made them feel”.
Without really knowing, I made my best ever decision to email every staff member on the day that the schools were closed with a “don’t worry” message. I am a single father myself, I have enjoyed my extra time with Eva and Charlie during the lockdown, being their maths teacher, being the chef! I didn’t want anyone at Macs stressing about getting the job done…
What is an important initiative that you feel passionate about in your role?
Being the guardian of the company culture.
I was recently told by a relatively recent hire from a competitor… “JT, most of our people would walk through walls for you”…. I am not sure if he’s right. But it makes me very happy that someone I hold in high regard, feels that way, having been here for less than a year.
What do you think gave you the drive and determination to succeed?
In life generally – my parents and my kids. I want to make them all proud.
I am motivated by not letting people down which can be stressful. Being driven by a fear of failure rather than an enjoyment of winning means that sometimes we don’t live in the moment…
What is the biggest lesson that you’ve learnt along the way?
Trust and integrity… are critical to building a winning culture. Looking back on 23 years I am able to say that I can look myself in the mirror as my own biggest critic and stand by the decisions that I have made, as they have been made with integrity.
I am also a huge believer in “Hire great people and get out of their way”…. whilst letting them know you’re on hand to support when needed.
Biggest lesson = trust your gut instinct… in work and play!
What three tips would you give to those starting their careers?
Choose a career that you are passionate about, If you believe in something do it, be courageous, don’t over complicate work (or life in general for that matter), communicate upwards effectively, be someone that your boss can rely on for solutions not more problems (he or she will have enough of those as it is) and be a team player.
What is your advice to people who are wanting to start a business?
Hire attitude, train skill
Build a relationship with a recruitment consultant who understands you and what makes you tick
Make sure you can articulate your dream… dreams make people stop and listen… mission statements switch people off. Build a support network, a group of people you can turn to for critical, constructive advice – not a bunch of “yes” people.
What is the best bit of advice that you have ever been given?
My dad… just used to say to me “EFFUT”… he was making a point that my natural ability as a swimmer meant that I didn’t train hard… one day, everyone went past me….
Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard!
What’s one key leadership lesson you’ve learned along the way?
Plan for the worst, expect the best…
What would your advice be to someone managing a team?
Invest in personality profiling…. Use the science available to you to help you to best understand what their good and bad days look and feel like… management is not and never will be one size fits all… when things go well… it’s down to them… when they go badly … it’s your fault!
I am a huge fan of a Values-based approach to teamwork. Setting the vision for the team and the behaviours we must adhere to in order to be the best version of ourselves individually and collectively. I am a fan of piercing clarity and I believe MASSIVELY that staff are more engaged if they know what is expected of them. Every. Single. Day.
So much so, that my kids and I even set our own family values and rules of engagement:
What’s the best part of your job?
I love my job. FULL STOP. But the best bit, without a doubt, is watching people join us with no prior recruitment experience, learn the job from people who also joined with no experience who then go on to be market leaders. I love seeing people join, flourish, buy their first car, their first house and then go on to get married and have kids.
What’s the worst part of your job?
I hate chairing meetings because I like to be more involved in the actual discussion rather than the person responsible for keeping to time and making sure everyone has their say… I like to let ideas take shape… meaning that if I’m not careful we can run overtime.
When I look back on my career, I’d like to be remembered for being a good bloke, a great friend, and as a Leader who had integrity.