Time Stamped Show Notes:
17s: David Winterburn, the managing director of an executive search company called Burns Tempest in Leeds. He was born and bred in Harrogate and now lives in Harrogate.
42s: What is an executive search company? I run a business called Burns Tempest and we are commonly known as head-hunters. We tend to find left-handed astronauts – the unfindable people, those who aren’t actively looking for positions.
1min 2s: How would you find these people? It’s all about the process. We have independent researchers who are experts in their field. They make the initial approach to somebody who fits the brief. We have about 31 steps in the process, it’s fairly sophisticated.
1min 37s: Do you have a sector of expertise? I spend a lot of my time working in the legal sector but over the past 30 years, I’ve worked across every single sector.
2mins 4s: Looking at your age, if you’ve been in this sector 30 years, that’s all you’ve ever done? After my A levels, I was on my way to Manchester university and the chief executive of the co-op, where I was stacking shelves, asked if I would consider being their first management trainee at the age of 18. I turned down university and spent 18 glorious months working in retail, including running 12 Superdrug stores. I drifted into recruitment when I was 19.
3mins 6s: Do you have any regrets for not going to university? I recruited an HR director for a university which worked out very successfully and the main board took me for a meal to thank me for my efforts. They asked me which university I gained my degree from and when I said I didn’t, they said they wouldn’t have used me if they’d known that. I don’t think it’s held me back but all of my children have gone to university.
4mins 4s: Helping people with their jobs must be one of the most rewarding careers but how did you get started? I always had a passion for the recruitment industry. At the age of 13/14 I looked at CVs and found them fascinating and wondered how selection worked. When I was working in retail, my friends were getting 3 weeks off at Christmas and I would get 3 hours off. I thought I would love to get into sales. After 9 failed interviews, the recruitment firm who put me forward said I kept on coming second. They asked me if I wanted to work in recruitment and they would give me a company car. I said I’d love to work in recruitment.
6mins 19s: What was the moment you thought “this is my calling”? My first role in recruitment, which doesn’t always exist in the modern climate, was a VC – Vacancy Controller. I spent 10 hours a day, picking up the phone and speaking to clients, finding vacancies and then giving them to proper consultants. After a year, they realised I was getting commission from each consultant and was earning more than the proper consultants. They promoted me to a recruitment consultant and my earnings went down immediately.
7mins 17s: You must require a lot of creativity to see where different people could fit into a role. How do you stimulate your creativity? I’ve always believed as a head-hunter that I’ve never head-hunted anyone who doesn’t want to be head-hunted and what’s important to me is looking at those transferable skills. If a firm is looking to recruit a senior partner in real estate, then they would want someone who is already in that field. Sometimes, when someone has been out of the market for a few months but wants to return to work, I would need to stimulate that creativity. One thing I enjoy is jigsaw puzzles. It’s the only thing I’ve found in my job that allows me to float away in my own mind, destress and I see 1000-piece puzzles as a challenge each time. I also glue them and frame them, I have over 300 completed. It gives my partner such peace and quiet. It takes me a week or two to complete by doing them an hour every night. I completed a jigsaw which was black and white, my daughter graduated in fine art and I said I would love for her to colour it in for me. As I turned it over to glue it, it collapsed. It was the most difficult jigsaw I’d ever done, and I was proud to complete it a second time.
10mins 26s: What are the key positions you’ve had over the years? When I was 30, I moved into retained head-hunting and that was 10 years after being in general recruitment. Retained head-hunting is a different fee model so we charge a third of the fee up-front, a third on the shortlist and a third on completion. 95% of the UK recruitment industry work on a contingency basis which means they only charge a fee on completion. The service level and the methodology is completely different. When I moved into head-hunting, executive search, I experienced reverse ageism. It was very difficult. I was told by many clients, David you are very young to be doing what you’re doing and I needed to gain credibility quickly. I became altruistic. At one stage, I held 13 job titles simultaneously. At the age of 34 I became the chair of the recruitment and employment confederation which is our governing body and we turnover £35 billion as an industry. I then became chairman of the head-hunting association. Then, I moved on with the collaboration with seven European countries and became president of Europe.
11mins 57s: How do recruiters work together? The market is so diverse. I was sitting next to two individuals – one specialised in zoology recruitment and the other specialised in formula one recruitment. There’s lots of collaboration between these firms.
13mins 3s: Clearly you are quite successful, how have you got there? It’s the actions of the minority that affect the majority. I am proud to work in the recruitment industry and especially proud of the difference it can make to people’s lives. There was one moment when a senior chairman at Heidrick and Struggles gave me some advice “DTRT” – Do The Right Thing. It’s about integrity and honesty, not chasing the money, helping someone just for the sake of it. I won an award which was the first of its kind: the outstanding contribution to the recruitment industry. I don’t have a Ferrari in the garage, but I can sleep at night.
14mins 54s: Who inspires you? Many people say their children inspire them and of course mine do, but many years ago I worked for a charity – the Regular Forces Association and that was fascinating. It helped all the service leaders get back into civvy street and I was introduced to Ben Parkinson. Ben has been on TV, he was Britain’s most badly injured soldier. If you see him now and the challenges he’s taken on, is absolutely unbelievable.
16mins 6s: What are the upsides and downsides of running your own business? This is my third business in 15 years and my last I hope. I started in 2005 and my clients said why not go it alone. I left the security and started my own business. It is difficult, challenging, risky. Also, it’s one of those experiences you need to do. Day one was my biggest challenge; having all the IT equipment delivered and going to pick up the phone to my IT director but I didn’t have one of course, it was me. I’ve worked as a mentor for over 70 startups as well. It’s not something you should go into if you value security.
17mins 50s: 80% of businesses fail in the first 5 years, can anyone do it? I did a TV interview some years ago about entrepreneurship and it was about whether they were born or made or if it was characteristics. For me, a successful entrepreneur is someone who is passionate about what they do. There are so many things to be afraid of, you could never get out of bed. If you go into it with due diligence and that it’s an itch that needs to be scratched. Incubation is amazing. I used to work with Leeds City College for their school of entrepreneurship. We brought in over 65 start-up businesses over a 3-year period. Probably 10% of those failed. So, 90% succeeded, but it’s not for everybody. It’s about figuring out if entrepreneurship is your passion, but sometimes you can be an entrepreneur as an employee without the risk.
20mins 8s: You’re a qualified life coach? Yes, you have to be qualified to be a life coach. 15 years ago, I worked with a company and met an individual who used a life coach and I’d never heard of it. He used it for transformational coaching, and I asked him what session he was on, he said session 78. I investigated it and found be was being conned by someone who professed to be a coach. I investigated how to become a life coach and signed up at Newcastle college for a certificate in life coaching and then went on to do a diploma in it. I did this whilst I was working and once I’d completed the diploma, I had to do 90 hours of free life coaching with 15 different clients. I adored it. It takes up 20% of my time in business as well. Seeing the transformation over, usually, a 6 session and 6 month period, is something I find so amazing.
21mins 47s: Which sectors do you help people in? It is multi-sector. Traditionally it is more middle management. Some of the areas of development that they are seeking could be confidence, improving their networking skills, interpersonal skills at work. Most commonly, I find there are incongruencies – their values don’t align with the organisation. Some years ago, in the states, the biggest birthday present you got at the age of 18 was a life coach!
23mins 20s: We want to hear where you’ve screwed up in your working life. When I first became a recruitment consultant, I specialised in sales recruitment. I travelled round the country, 60/70,000 miles a year. I worked very long hours and one evening, I had a 7pm interview. He didn’t show up and I called him at 7:15, 7:30, 7:45 and 8pm. My voicemail messages were becoming more deranged saying, “where are you”, “I’m missing my family thanks to you”, “You could’ve called me”. It was sheer naivety. I went home feeling incredibly annoyed at him. The next day, he called me and said, “I’m really sorry, my wife died yesterday”. That taught me a lot about patience.
24mins 53s: What advice would you give to people wanting to make it in the head-hunting executive search recruitment world? I think you need to do it because you truly love people and you love changing people’s lives positively. For me, recruitment is a job where I get paid to make friends. It’s still not a career of choice, you don’t get loads of kids saying they want to be recruiters. It is a sales job and you will have targets. There are also two variables: candidates and clients. There are no other jobs where you have two variables. In the first two years, people decide if they will stay in the job for life or move out of it.
26mins 31s: What is your best investment? Laser eye surgery. I wore contact lenses for 17 years and with glasses on, I still felt blind as a bat. I was scared because of all the disclaimers but it was worth it when I woke up in the morning. Other than that, self-development courses. Tony Robbins is a fascinating guru and coach. He has a show called “I am not your guru” and books as well. I went on a 3-day course where he did 40 hours of training!
29mins 33s: What should people know who are engaging someone like you? It’s only suitable if you have a business-critical role so it tends to be senior roles with £50,000- £1 million salary. It has to be a role that is quite difficult to fill. If you have an easy role to fill, you could go to a recruiter with a database and it can be done quite quickly. Executive search is an investment. It’s about finding you have the best person for that position. I always joke that the only assignment I deal with is for left-handed astronauts with size 6 feet and red and yellow ties because those are the briefs that my clients give me. It is a different fee model. You will be committing to 1/3 of the fee when we begin. You will the right person for that job that will last for many years to come. When you are going to use a head-hunter, don’t forget to ask about their completions; so many people that operate at senior level who take 1/3 of the fee and never get through to completion.
31mins 58s: What’s the highest salary you’ve ever dealt with? I interviewed a gentleman many years ago who was on a basic salary and commission. He explained it as 2+2; £2 million basic plus £2 million bonus.
32 mins 57s: What is the average salary band? Most of my work is between £80-150,000 so average is about £120,000. I’ve seen people who earn £50,000 who are more adept to what they do than people who earn 3 times as much. I had a dream when I was younger: to interview someone who was earning 6 figures because I thought it would be magical. The first time I interviewed someone who was earning that much, when I was 21, I was slightly shocked they were just a normal person.
33mins 58s: Have you had any profound changes? I ran the London marathon some years ago and I’m in a fairly sedentary job. I had a moment last year when I turned 49 in September, where I realised that I was overweight. I realised I’d been getting overweight for some years and not noticed, so, I’ve been working on my own routine involving a lot of treadmill work. I’m running a marathon every week over 5 days. Little by little, I’m seeing the changes and I love doing it.
35mins 37s: What is your morning routine? My alarm goes off between 5-5:15am. I exercise before work and after work, I mix it up. It’s important to have time with family as well. I used to be an owl and I had to turn myself into a lark. My son wanted to see a horror movie at 10pm and I managed it but I’m usually in bed by 9pm. It’s not about working long hours, it’s about having a balance.