Chapter2 Talent: Building the right team | Fieldfisher
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Chapter2 Talent: Building the right team



United Kingdom

Leo Harrison, Founder of talent acquisition specialists Chapter2 Talent, discusses building a company using an innovative embedded talent model and tech-based solutions.

Listen to the podcast recording of this discussion: 



As a nearly 42-year old dad of two, this is the second chapter in my career – hence the name 'Chapter2'.

I started this business because when I was the global COO of a very fast-growing advertising agency, one of the biggest growing pains and cost lines we had was talent acquisition.

Having been the client of what I felt was essentially a transactional and very expensive service, I wanted to solve that problem.

I believe there are lots of companies out there that want to scale really quickly and are paying a fortune for it when they don't need to.

At Chapter2, we blend embedded talent acquisition solutions with technology and content creation to create a place where candidates want to come and work.

Going it alone

I spent 15 years working for an incredible entrepreneur who helped develop me into the businessman I am today but I always thought, what if I can do this on my own?

The perfect moment came when the business I was working for was acquired by a US firm and I got the opportunity to pass the baton on.

I had a lot of responsibilities – two kids, a mortgage – but I think at a certain point you have to back yourself.

I came up with the proposition of Chapter2 when I was at my previous company; I'd tested it, so I knew it worked.

The first thing I did was set up the website. I was calling favours in from everybody I'd ever helped in my past, asking them to help me build a website. Our first attempt was awful!

I launched Chapter2 in February 2020 and then literally three weeks later we went into lockdown.

I ended up in a pretty rough place. I'd been on a great salary in a company that loved me, and I loved it, and I'd left it to go and do something that had hit a brick wall straight away.

Lockdown reflections

Even though Covid was a massive shock, I thought, what I do have is time.

The benefit of the position I was in was that, while everybody else was cutting costs, I had no costs – it was me and a presentation, and a website I'd strung together.

While everyone else was looking inward and trying to make cuts, I was looking outward and I thought, I still want to do this.

So I turned my attention to pushing out content on LinkedIn, inviting people to come and talk to me about talent acquisition and employer branding – I would record these meetings and use them as content to create awareness through LinkedIn, Instagram, all the social media platforms.

When things started to come back after Covid restrictions started to ease, I had contacts and relationships.

So I used this as a kind of strategy, but it was still really hard. From February 2020 all the way through to October 2020, it was silent.

I will never forget in June 2020, I was sitting in the garden with my wife and my kids running around me, and I said "I just don't think it's the right time, I think I'm going to phone my old boss and ask if they'll have me back."

My wife, who is the CEO of an accounting business, said, "I've got your back, you don't need to worry about this. Why don't you just see it through to the end of the year?". I'll never forget that support. She gave me those six months where I could just keep persisting with the business.

The first step

In October 2020, one of the people I did a podcast with approached me and invited me to pitch to provide talent acquisition consultancy.

This was my chance, so I brought in people to help me with the pitch. I brought in a company that helped me scale and deliver services in partnership with them, to help me white label their solution and rebrand it. I was leaning on my whole network to help me string together the proposition.

As a responsible person, I didn't want to hire anyone until I knew I had a viable business and could offer people a secure job.

I threw my heart and soul into that pitch. We were up against some of the biggest competitors in talent acquisition, with hundreds of staff. The client saw through all the strings I had behind my pitch, but they believed in the proposition and what I could do.

They gave us the opportunity to complete a one-year trial, which then turned into a multi-year contract, and they are still our client today.

The path to growth

What that appointment did was it gave us oxygen, i.e. cash, to be able to do stuff with. As soon as I had cash coming in, it was like having a seed investment.

I treat Chapter2 as my third child – it eats first. I didn't pay myself a salary for the first two years. All the profit that came out, I just invested straight back in.

I hired highly qualified people and paid them really well to do their jobs. If the client wanted a senior person, I would hire just above the seniority they asked for to make sure they smashed the job.

That gave us really good credibility with our clients. It minimised our margin, but I wasn't worried about that – I was more worried about our top line growth.

When the nightmare of 2020 finished and 2021 rolled around, everything went berserk. Everyone was hiring.

Because of the situation I'd been in, Chapter2 wasn't a wounded business that had been beaten up by Covid. We were a new business that had just won its first client, had cash and could see this tsunami of work coming.

We doubled down on content and marketing and I hired salespeople. Over six months, we went from four people to 70 people.

There were a lot of growing pains, but we scaled the business up and I followed my methodology of reinvesting back into the business and following client demand.

It's not just about finding the right capability and cultural fit for Chapter2 – our model puts people inside our client's worlds, to be embedded talent, so they've got to have our clients' values and culture as well.

The Chapter2 approach

We have learnt to buy our own products from ourselves. We have an internal talent acquisition team who are constantly talking to candidates, sifting out people who we think have the right capabilities, qualities and culture for us.

We push out a lot of content to attract people that may be interested in working with us. I try to create a window into my clients' businesses that will inspire people.

Every time we win a new client, we mobilise a dedicated implementation team. We also have an implementation methodology to discover and learn about our clients' worlds, understanding what their key requirements are and then implementing the KPIs and monitoring performance.

Continuing to grow the company

In my previous role, I realised I was most comfortable working with a team of a couple of hundred people. Once you get beyond that number, it gets a bit less personal and you end up looking at spreadsheets more than you do looking people in the eye and having coffee with them.

I had to think about what type and size of company is going to allow me to perform at my best.

Chapter2 started out very small, just me, and now we're at 74 people, hoping to get to 100 soon. So I think about the future maturity of the business in those terms.

Having the right senior team

The biggest lesson I've learned is, when you are growing a business, the people who are in your senior leadership team (SLT) might not be in your SLT in five years' time. That doesn't mean they're bad, it just means the company is different now.

As the company grows you do have to be quite brutal about who is able to step up with you on that growth trajectory. The people that can't or won't step up will still have a job for life with me, but you need a team around you to help to get you to your ultimate goal and take that next step.

I think founders or CEOs should be focused on looking at the team around them and thinking about whether they need to upgrade it to meet the needs of the business as it grows. It's a really important lesson to learn.

You need to identify what you don't know and build a team around you to fill those knowledge gaps and make time to reanalyse those gaps as the business continues to grows.

I knew when I came into talent acquisition that I didn’t have any first-hand experience of being a recruitment agent. I knew how to run a business and I kind of knew the model I wanted, but I wasn't a practitioner or expert. So I hired the right people that do have the required knowledge and expertise.

The market

Even though talent acquisition sits in quite a warm place, in the sense that it's about people and culture, it's also a brutal world. The people who are running it are focused on profit and loss and see recruitment as an overhead.

So when they need you, they will pay a fortune. But when they don't need you, you're fired.

The pendulum swings so aggressively. So that's why our model allows us to mobilise talent into other locations if needed, without the expensive, messy process of putting people out of work. People can go and be incubated in another business and be available if and when things get better.

The future

Longer term, I want to continue to build a talent consultancy business that helps our clients attract and retain some of the best talent in the industry.

If we can build a talent consultancy that offers a unique proposition, which we believe it does, combined with a global footprint, we should be able to scale to 500 people in the next eight years.

Looking back

If I could go back to my home office in June 2020 when I was thinking about packing it all in, I'd want to tell myself it's going to be alright, keep going.

If you've genuinely got evidence that your product is needed and unique, the only other thing you have to get right is the timing.

Leo Harrison was in conversation with Fieldfisher Corporate Associate Josh Cronin, as part of London Tech Week 2023.