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Little things can be the key to the biggest successes

CEO Magazine’s CEO of the Year, Mark Nielsen and his team at Talent International have plenty of reasons to be proud of their achievements over the past year - including some major recognition within the industry - but, he says, sometimes it is the handling of some of the smaller day-to-day issues that is the most pleasing.

By anyone’s standards, it has been a really big 12 months for Mark Nielsen and his team at Talent International as they have picked up a series of very impressive awards and seen the business experience record growth. Yet, despite this, Mark says what he is most proud of in his team and the company he heads up as the APAC CEO is how they have navigated a restructure of the people function of the business and their commitment to helping others.

In November 2018, Mark was named CEO Magazine’s CEO of the Year at the seventh Executive of the Year Awards in Sydney while also taking home the Professional Services Executive of the Year Award for good measure.

The award was judged on three key indicators:

  • Strategic policy development and implementation

  • Operational improvements and financial outcomes

  • The culture of the organisation

Mark said he felt the company had performed well in each of these areas throughout FY2017/18, acquiring the remaining 50 per cent of their UK business in May and introducing a new private equity partner in October. He added that in the past year, Talent International achieved record revenue growth of 18 per cent, a 38 per cent increase in EBITDA and now holds the prime market position in four of the Australian and New Zealand markets.

The company was also named HRD’s Employer of the Year. “It was a really big year for us and central to that was the restructuring of the people function of our business where we had everyone in the company involved in helping us redefine our purpose, mission and values,” Mark said. “At the end of this process we came up with our guiding principles which were we give a damn, we lead the way and we strive for better.

“We want people working for us who are highly ambitious, want to be the best in what they do, they understand there is always room to improve and grow and do so with a big heart and compassion.

“Shareholder returns will always be important, but so is a move towards purpose. That is what our staff are saying they want and that is what we are striving to achieve for them. Without that investment, we will never realise what we want to be professionally or personally.”

Mark said central to this shift towards purpose - a necessary step to attract the staff he wants - is the company’s commitment to its in-house Talent RISE program, which is targeted at supporting unemployed youth and has been the recipient of the RCSA CSR Award.

He said initiatives such as Talent RISE had the benefit of helping those who need it the most, while providing his staff of around 200 with opportunities to give back to the community and helping them feel more fulfilled in their work. Talent RISE is offered by Talent International in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Wellington and the UK where feeder and partner organisations provide work-ready people for additional support and training. This can mean everything from helping them write their CV, teaching interview skills, sharing tips to boost confidence and even the right wardrobe for interviews.

The program is designed for 18- to 25-year-olds to place them in tech-related roles and provide ongoing support to ensure retention is high. In 2018, the Talent RISE program placed 80 people in Sydney and Melbourne ,and the goal for the next three years is to place 500.

“This is a valuable program for those we help and almost as valuable for our staff who keep telling us how important this is to them,” Mark said. “I see this is the way of the future for business if they want to attract and keep the best in their field. Give them purpose and they are happy.”

Mark said the most important lesson he had learned as a CEO was the need to listen to your staff, and that means taking the time to have the conversations with them. “To me, listening is so important, but so is keeping a positive demeanour which flows through the office,” he said.

“I also work hard to make sure interactions with my team are positive and I keep any work problems at the office so it doesn’t spill over into my family life.

“I think it’s also critical to learn how to delegate so the CEO is free to drive the business forward and gives the people you are delegating to the chance to learn and grow. “This means they are never staying in their comfort zone and neither are you, which is what you want from a growing business; a desire to move, change and grow.”

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