For as long as she can remember, Kelly Quirk has been focused on two things.
Most obvious to anyone who knows the Perth businesswoman is her dream of building a recruitment company that is recognised as a leader on the international stage.
Maybe less obvious to most is her deep desire to leave a lasting legacy.
It’s probably fair to say she has achieved both, although it hasn’t stopped her striving for excellence every day.
As CEO and Group Managing Director of Harrier Human Capital, a Perth management consultancy and outsourcing firm that specialises in recruitment and talent solutions, Kelly heads a team of more than 120 people in a company she saved from near-oblivion seven years ago.
Under her guidance, Harrier has become a multinational, multi-sector organisation specialising in total talent management solutions, professional staffing and technology consulting.
It has been recognised as the leading RPO provider by Seek Sara Awards and Recruitment International in 2018 and 2019 and also in the WA Business News Strategic Partnerships and Professional Services awards, as well as winning a coveted Rising Star award.
Kelly has personally been recognised in the 40Under40 Awards and named in Staffing Industry Analysts’ Global Power 100 – Women in Staffing and International 50 Women of Influence lists for five consecutive years.
It’s a stellar career that almost didn’t happen, as at one stage during her younger years in England’s south it seemed Kelly’s future lay in medicine.
But after completing a six-year degree at the University of Portsmouth, she realised she wasn’t ready to chase her dream of working in an Accident and Emergency department.
After taking time out travelling in South Africa for almost a year, she returned home and applied for a job at the local branch of recruiter Robert Half International.
“In my first year I was the highest billing temp controller in the country and earning 55,000 pounds a year – more than twice what a junior doctor was earning,” Kelly recalls.
She was soon offered a job at London recruitment agency Robert Walters during the dotcom boom, when “extraordinary” amounts of money were on offer.
After a couple of heady years at Robert Walters, Kelly worked in an inhouse recruitment role at a tech start-up before joining Hays in the international side of its solutions business.
She spent six years leading the company’s solution operations in the booming Middle East, Hong Kong and Europe markets before joining Ranstad, which had just taken over Vedior, to look after the integration of its solutions business across the UK, Ireland, Europe and the Middle East.
It was Kelly’s first job as a managing director and coincided with the start of the GFC.
“It was a very brutal time for anyone in senior MD roles and I was there to be a change agent,” she says.
“That sort of experience makes you think about what you want to do, who you want to be and what’s next. At the age of 33 I knew it wasn’t what I wanted to be doing for the next 20 years.”
That’s when Kelly had a conversation with Roslyn Blair, CEO and founder of Alexander Mann Solutions.
“She asked me an important question that became a defining question for me – ‘what will your legacy be?’,” Kelly recalls.
“I couldn’t answer her question because I hadn’t thought about it, but I had reached the age where you have to grow up a bit and realise there’s more to life than buying a house and a car.
“You realise that if this is it for the next 20 years, it isn’t a legacy, it’s an existence.” Kelly was so troubled by the realisation that she resigned from Ranstad the next day.
Some of the largest international recruitment firms chased her to work in Europe but she felt her future was in the Southern Hemisphere.
After providing advice to small Western Australia company Harrier Human Capital, she travelled to Perth for 10 weeks of management consultancy.
“Soon after, they rang me and said ‘would you like to come and work for us?’ and I said ‘no, but I’ll buy your business’.
“In the end we did a deal for me to buy a significant portion of the business with bonus equity if it hit certain goals.”
Kelly says the company was struggling and only had one client - mining giant and energy supplier Chevron, which had less than a year remaining on its contract.
“I could see potential and I thought I could give it a go and if it didn’t work out I could always go back home and call it a mid-life crisis,” she admits.
But seven years later, Harrier boasts more than 120 staff and services some of the biggest companies in Australia.
Under Kelly’s leadership, it has rebuilt, redefined and corporatised its business, creating a high performance culture and transforming itself from a regional resources and mining outsourcing specialist into a multinational, multi-sector organisation that specialises in total talent management solutions, professional staffing and technology and innovation.
Two years after taking over Harrier, Kelly met the man who she would ultimately marry and two years after that, they tied the knot.
“So now I can answer that question about what my legacy will be,” she says. “My legacy will be my marriage and this business.”
Kelly says she has a determination that has served her well during the highs and lows of building and running a company.
“Anyone who knows me, understands that I am really focused on what it takes for us to be successful – on strategy, structure, people, process and technology,” she says.
“I am unrelenting about the quality of our people at Harrier and the quality of our culture.”