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IT Crafts HR Graham King from Socrates Capital

Podcast | June 30, 2020 | itcraftship |
IT Crafts HR Graham King from Socrates Capital

Do you know what the talent acquisition is really about and how it supports strategic workforce planning? What role it plays in the whole project of sourcing candidates, putting them through the candidate journey and getting them onboarded? Listen to this episode and learn how is it to run recruitment processes both in start-ups and big companies, what skills are essential to operate on a global scale and what are the challenges you have to deal with. 

Maks talks with Graham King, HR Director at Socrates Capital, who spent many years working as Global Talent Acquisition for such companies as Amplify and Thomson Reuters. Graham shares his experience on how to build technology and talent acquisition strategy, and reveals the challenges of putting together one global technology team, and talent acquisition function that could serve that team globally as well. On top of that he shows his insights on why is it crucial to communicate with recruitment partners and to develop partnership through using and sharing data and analytics. 



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A photo of Maks Majer

Maks Majer

Podcast Host

Maks Majer is a software engineer, co-founder, and CEO of ITCraftship, a company that helps both talented developers get a dream job at tech companies all over the world, and companies hire remote software developer superstars. He’s also a remote work advocate and helps startup businesses embrace the remote work culture. Maks is passionate about solving pains and removing obstacles by focusing on good software design and user experience practices. In his free time, he broadens his knowledge of business development as well as focuses on a healthy lifestyle that gives him the energy to get the most of a 24 hour day. You can catch him on LinkedIn.

Graham King

HR Director at Socrates Capital

Graham King is a Global Talent Acquisition and Human Resources Professional with expertise in the US, Europe and Asia with both mature and start-up company experience. He has made an interesting journey from the headhunting, through the fields of talent acquisition to a broader HR sense as well. He’veworked for a number of organizations up until more recently last 5 years he spent with Thomson Reuters as a Head of Global Talent Acquisition, and was responsible for executive recruitment of the entire Tech Division. Last year he moved to Socrates Capital, which is a private equity company investing in financial services assets in Europe.  Director at Socrates Capital

Something that you wish you have known earlier

“It took me a while to really get to grips with the analytic side of things and to see how powerful analytics were. Not only in understanding the talent acquisition process, the candidate sourcing process, the recruitment process, the candidate journey, but equally. So how what we do as talent acquisition professionals hand in hand with our recruitment partners, our hiring managers, our executive leadership, the HR teams that we worked with as well. And I think if I had known earlier how to develop that partnership through using data, through the sharing of data, through the sharing of analytics, that would have certainly helped my career earlier on, that's for sure”.



Hello dear listeners, today I’m speaking with Graham King, a Talent Acquisition Expert who has been responsible for recruitment at companies like Thomson Reuters, Amplify, and currently works as an HR Director at Socrates Capital, a private equity company based in Toronto, Canada.


Hey, good morning Maks. How are you?


Good morning, I’m great, how are you doing?


Yeah, very good, bright sunny morning here in New York City area, so all starting up, I’m ready to roll.


Yeah, thanks for joining me on the podcast today. Well, I’ve been in contact with you for quite a long time, and we’ve been discussing a lot of different things around HR; you have a really impressive track record of working in both big companies and start-ups. Could you tell our listeners more about your background and how you got to where you are now?


Yeah, certainly. I’m originally from the UK, I’m a graduate in German and Economics from the University of Keele in Staffordshire. I went straight from university into recruiting actually, I worked in the UK for about 6 or 7 years in a couple of recruitment agencies and one headhunting firm. And then moved in the early 90s over to New York, where I continued working in the field of headhunting for about another 6 or 7 years before moving in-house of what was then just Reuters and that was in the early 2000s. 

I then worked for a number of organizations, including start-ups, up until more recently last 5 years I spent with Thomson Reuters as a Head of Global Talent Acquisition from a technology perspective. And I’ve recently moved, last year, to Socrates Capital, which is a private equity company investing in financial services assets in Europe. So it’s been an interesting journey, but primarily in the fields of talent acquisition and more recently in a broader HR sense as well.


Yeah, and it is very impressive career track record, also recently at Thomson Reuters where your role was the Global Head of Tech Talent Acquisition, you were also responsible for executive recruitment of the entire Tech Division. So I want to ask was it difficult to operate on a global scale at such a big company and what were the challenges that you had to deal with?


We had a number of challenges at Thomson Reuters. Initially we sort of carved out the technology and operations part of the company, it was separate entity, which really helped us from the control perspective and also helped us to look at it as a one technology company. So rather than viewing the company as having various assets globally and serving various businesses globally, we looked at technology in operations as one unit and came up with a unifying technology strategy which included the unified technology talent acquisition strategy. 

So trying to pull together all those different threads globally and put together one global technology team, and obviously alongside that talent acquisition function that could serve that team globally as well.


These challenges sound really exciting and as a process-oriented person it’s really interesting for me how at Thomson Reuters did you organize a candidate journey and what tools you used to make it more transparent for hiring managers and HR leaders from the company?


Well, first of all we took a really big deep dive into the talent that we had in the organization currently, and we looked at where that level is located and how we could actually scale that talent globally or how we could scale that talent in specific parts of the globe to give us great access to a talent flow. So a flow of talent from a graduate perspective, and from a technical talent perspective in a mid-range senior management and executive level. 

We took a really deep dive into the skills that we had across the globe, the skills that we needed to acquire in the future, and then overlaid that with a sort of map of the globe of where those talents existed outside our organization, so how we could access them, where we probably have the best advantage to accessing that talent as well. So it was a big sort of back-end project to understand of the internal talent market and the external talent market, and then to marry that up and put a talent acquisition strategy together that would help to fuel the organization for the future as well. 

So a lot of the tools we used first of all looking at the populations and understanding where the skills resided globally, where there was sufficient capacity of those skills for us to have access to them, and then really looking at how we can access each of those specific markets to extract the talent and acquire the talent that we needed in the organization. That included looking at sourcing tools that could give us an advantage there, looking at efficiency that we needed to attain from a recruiter perspective to deliver that talent as well. 

So diving very deeply into the metrics, as well as using a number of sourcing tools and tech population assessment tools as well, so a credible global effort from the team we had, that’s for sure.


You also did mention previously that you had a way of experimenting with new tools that you were using, with new technical assessment tools as well on a smaller population in some local offices, and then kind of spreading that out globally. Could you share a bit more about this process and what these tools were that you have been trying?


Yes, we effectively sandboxed a lot of the tools that we wanted to experiment with, wanted to try and gain a competitive advantage in the marketplace with. So part of our talent acquisition strategy was to build a very big functional expertise in Toronto, Canada, where we believed we could set up a talent acquisition function to support the growth with access of a thousand technologies over a 4- to 5-year period. 

So that enabled us to do a totally raw start-up from a talent acquisition perspective, then to put the right assets against recruiting goals that we had, but equally. So then gave us an environment where we could expand, but also we could experiment, we could test tools from a sourcing perspective, from a recruitment delivery perspective, from an analytics perspective, and test a number of tools in what I sort of called a “sandbox” of a recruitment team that initially was 5 people and then grew considerably over the years. 

We could test it in the sandbox in Toronto and then understand how it worked and get kingside of the process. And some projects that we looked at, some tools that we looked at, didn’t work as effectively as we wanted to. So rather than just growing that out on a global scale and failing globally, we were able to test and then sort of kick it out the door when it didn’t work on a local basis, and saved a lot of time and effort, and money by being able to do that rather than going through a full scale implementation of something that really didn’t have the impact that we want, let alone locally to, and then also offset on a global perspective as well. So that gave us a really good advantage to be able to test these things, first of all on a small scale, and then roll out more comprehensively, globally, throughout the parts of the organization as well. 


It sounds really exciting and like a really interesting concept, kind of running as your internal start-up that had their own processes within a sandbox. Kind of like working in a lean model and then seeing how you’re comparing against the results globally and then implementing them across the whole organization. I like it as it sounds very much like a lean start-up approach within a big organization.


Yes, I think we produced the talent acquisition function that really operated in an agile model, along with the agile model that development teams work in as well. So to integrate them in that work flow and to have them operating in that work flow, operating collaboratively, a lot of these tools we tested with the technology, how it merges with our executive leadership hand in hand, so we’d get their buy-in, we’d understand what their experience was like, we’d take their input. So we wouldn’t feel like we were sort of imposing a new candidate journey on them, or a new sourcing tool, or a new way of reviewing resumes, or new way of interviewing, or doing candidate assessments. 

Everything was done hand in hand with our hiring managers and our executive leadership team, so they were taking along the journey with us, and they feel unrately, so they felt like having input – and they did have an input – into that decision-making process as well. 

So we felt that was important here to keep that collaboration going on both sides as well. You know, I have worked in big companies before, where HR or talent acquisition has rolled out a new technology because they think it’s gonna work, and they rolled it out globally, and then you find that it doesn’t work in India or it doesn’t work as effectively in Europe. 

And then equally so with resume screening tools and interviewing: some of these things look great from an HR perspective, when you put them in perspective of the hiring manager, the hiring manager’s experience, it’s not great, so getting everyone’s buy-in on that we thought were essential and just led to the success of the rollouts of the initiatives we had.


So it sounds like it was part of a bigger strategic transformation of their tech recruiting processes that you focused on. Can you share a bit more of like how did you identify that you need to go through that transformations, what were the main areas of focus for you and what you wanted to achieve there?


Well, one of the things when you go into an organization for the first time you want to learn as much as you can about what they’ve done. You don’t just want to go in and pooh-pooh everything that’s been done before as inefficient. You have some ideas of what you think state-of-the-art looks like, but state-of-the-art for one company in a way of operating for one company may not be ideal for every company, there is no one-size- fits-all solution. 

I think you’ve got to go in very much with your eyes open and not with too many preconceptions of what good or bad looks like. People operate along the way and use processes they’ve used in the past because they worked, unless it was totally dysfunctional, and we found that we had some processes that worked in some parts of the globe and others that totally were leading the business down, were not delivering what the business needed. 

We part things back to basics. We used a lot of data, a lot of analysis. I’m a great believer the data tells you everything that is going on. So you’re looking at levels of data that are very deep within the organization and maybe very granular, from a number of resumes received, from a time to fill, a time to get the first interview, a time from first interview to offer. Things like that, they are telling you about how efficient your process is. 

We really needed to dig into that detail, which we did, and as I say, we didn’t come up so much with a one-size-fits-all solution, but we came up with viable solutions across the globe that gave us a much more robust, a much more consistent recruiting process.


Yes, awesome, that’s very valuable, and for many companies assessing the density of talent with the right skills and experiences is quite a challenge, especially if you need to narrow your search down to a specific location. You’ve mentioned previously also some of the solutions and some of the tools that you used when it comes to sourcing of the candidate. Could you share a bit more about those?


Yes. I mean we chose, if you get back to decision from the technology perspective, we chose Toronto for our scaler. Basically because we believed there was a density of talent there, and a density of skills that we would need as an organization for the future. We knew we got a lot of legacy products, we had a lot of people supporting legacy product with legacy technologies that we would not need in the future. 

So we then had to really work hand in hand with our technology leadership to understand the technology journey for Thomson Reuters: where are we going to be in a 4 years’ time, 5 years’ time, 10 years’ time? What skills don’t we have at the moment, what do we need to acquire to get us there? 

And then we looked at a lot of studies with regard to where these technical skills were, and obviously, when you look at a global basis, you can imagine where the density of the future skills exist… obviously the Silicon Valley’s, the New York’s, the London’s, the Berlin’s, and other big global centers that have great universities that are producing great talent for the future. 

But you got to what then understand, well whether Thomson Reuters, whether my company fits in within the sort of pecking order being able to access that talent. Can we access the best talent going up against the biggest companies, the biggest tech names in the world? Do we have a product sway, do we have technology challenges that would challenge the candidates that we’re looking for, as opposed to the candidate challenges that other companies will offer, the technical challenges they’ll offer? 

So what I am saying in a fact is: can we compete against Google, a Facebook, an Amazon, an Uber? All these great companies doing very innovative things in the field of technology and really are attracting talent because of those challenges. So we had to understand where we could offer the challenges, where we could compete in the marketplace? Where once again we would have a shot in hiring the best people, and after doing a lot of global analysis on locations and possible locations for our tech center, Toronto came out as a place where we would have the most success to build at the type of scale that we needed to sustain the business and to effect the technology transformation that we needed to make as well.


Yeah, that sounds really awesome and a very good approach to identifying the right place for where to set up, especially in a such a competitive space. You also mentioned during our earlier conversations that when companies want to build something bigger, they need to ideally put people together physically in one place. What was Thomson Reuters’ idea about building a local tech community when remote work becomes more popular?


Well, obviously we went all in a one technology center, one brand-new technology center for the future in Toronto. However, we realized that we have extremely good talent elsewhere within the organization, and we decided to concentrate on a number of locations where we could have physical locations. We felt that locating our development teams and our technology teams close to our product teams and equally so close to our customers was important for us. 

So you’d find clusters of technologies globally centered around where our key customers would be located. So we found that that was very much a model we were comfortable with. 

I obviously left Thomson Reuters before the pandemic hit, so it’ll be interesting to see how they are working together now, obviously a lot of them not even physically going into an office. I would suspect though that the tools that we have these days, like we’re using today, remote webcasting, Slack channels, Microsoft Teams, all the collaboration software that is available at the moment, we’re still unable to come this to function at a very high level. 

We went all in with a brand-new location and that was more based on talent rather than specifically bringing people together in a physical building. Although, obviously, it then embodied itself this one physical building in Toronto. However, I really do feel that the pandemic over the last few months is really throwing us interesting questions. Companies are continually working well, they’re continuing to function, they’re continuing to function effectively. 

I see that in my role at the moment analyzing the portfolio of companies that we were looking at, and currently have under our management, so companies are continuing to function, so remote work is working, the technologies that we developed to enable remote collaboration, remote work are working. 

So I think it throws out some really interesting future questions. I think companies will sit back and say… 

Well, I’ll give you an example: where I work at the moment there’s a very large, sixty-, seventy-storey tower, that’s one of the biggest investment banks of builds. And I’m sure at the moment, I know for certain it’s only partially occupied. I wonder what that’s going to look like in the future when an organization understands that it doesn’t need 70 floors of people going into a location every single day to work. Has work efficiently through the pandemic and through the crisis, so it’s going to throw some very, very interesting questions indeed, I think.


Absolutely. And especially that this remote work situation isn’t a normal remote work situation, we have to work with kids at home, with our spouses, with other members of the family sometimes and it causes other challenges as well. Schools are closed and many of the locations, so parents need to spend time homeschooling the kids and helping them with the education. If companies can still be productive, if a place can still be productive that only means that the remote works in normal times can work even better.


Yes, I think – as strange as it sounds – we have been preparing for this sort of event unwillingly or unwittingly preparing for this over the years. I know for myself I worked practically remotely for the last 3 years of my 5 years’ time at Thomson Reuters, just basically because I didn’t have staff at the New York office, my team was scattered around the globe. So it meant very little sense for me to go in every day and sit in an office where there was nobody to work with, there was no tech leadership at New York office, tech leadership was scattered across the globe in London, Toronto, Chicago, all over the world. 

So there was no reason for me to go into that office, I work remotely practically for 3 years and I’d like to think that very efficiently, so the transition to working from home permanently for me wasn’t a problem. But I think people with families and people juggling a work-life balance if they’re working for this sort of situation for a number of years and the tools that we now have, the technology tools we have to enable this certainly allow us to make a seamless transition, a relatively seamless transition to this new normal. 


Yes, absolutely. You have more than 30 years’ experience as an HR professional. Was it hard to get where you are now? And did you have any mentors who supported you along the way?


I’d like to think it’s been a struggle, but I’ve certainly had a number of mentors, a number of people I’ve looked up to and learned from in the past, that’s for sure. I think you go through different phases in your career. While I certainly have been on the sort of outside as a recruiter and headhunter, then going inside on to the in-house side, working in big companies and working in start-ups, I’ve certainly learned things as I’ve gone along the way. 

Mentors… I’ve had CEOs, I think about one in particular, Steven Smith, who was the CEO of Amplify. I also worked with Steven at Thomson Reuters where he was Head of Mobile Media there as well. People identify a great influence on my career, they’ve helped guide me, helped to improve my communication style, improve my sort of presentation style. I’ve had mentors that have helped me with the analytics side, even though I was an economist, I felt I had a really good grasp of analytics earlier in my career, I’ve looked on and leveraged the help of people and learned from people that helped me understand how to better use analytics and better use technology in my role as I’ve developed as well. Yes, a lot of people have helped me along the way, that’s for sure. 


Awesome. I think that the people we work with, and we surround ourselves with really kind of define how we grow in our roles and where we get in our careers as well.


Yes, I think it’s not just the CEOs. I’ve mentioned going to the CEOs I’ve worked with and the one I’m currently working with and I’ve worked previously as well, he’s been a great mentor, a great person to work with, but it’s equally so with the team I’ve worked with, the team I put together: their enthusiasm, their ability to analyze and to want to get better at what they’re doing from a recruitment perspective, they’ve helped me improve as both a manager, but also as a talent acquisition professional as well. I owe a great deep vote of thanks to those individuals who have helped me, my team over the years, have helped me to get where I am today as well.


Yes, amazing. And I was also wondering what differences do you see when comparing the recruitment from the beginnings of your career to how it looks right now, how the experiences that you’re seeing look right now?


[laugh] Yes, this may not be familiar to a lot of the younger listeners tuning into this podcast, but when I’ve started out candidate files and client files were kept in card boxes. 

I used to have… it literally was like… [laugh] not even good to say roller because people won’t even understand what that is anymore, but you would have candidate files so you would actually flick through candidates, you’d look at them and you’d look at what their background was and then if you wanted to go a little bit detailed, you’d go into the sort of resume file that you’d have somewhere, it was only indexed by alphabet and things like that. 

The same with your job: you had job cards, so when you had a job that you’d be working on that be written on a card and it’ll tell you the skills you were looking for and a client and contact details of the client. I worked on that initially for probably… that system… for about 2 years, and then it finally became automated. It is obviously in the late 80s. 

If I look at the way search is done today, the way that online databases work, the way that online HRIS works, talent acquisition systems, it’s come a very long way since then. I’m pleased to say it’s much more enjoyable process than making… letting your fingers do the working through the card file, and that’s for sure.


It was nice to take this short trip in time with you and with that experience that you have with talent acquisition at scale. I would like to know what do you wish to had known earlier and any tips for recruiters and HR people from different companies that could improve their work?


I think for me… it took me a while to really get to grips with the analytic side of things and to see how powerful analytics were. Not only in understanding the talent acquisition process, the candidate sourcing process, the recruitment process, the candidate journey, but equally. So how what we do as talent acquisition professionals hand in hand with our recruitment partners, our hiring managers, our executive leadership, the HR teams that we worked with as well. And I think if I had known earlier how to develop that partnership through using data, through the sharing of data, through the sharing of analytics, that would have certainly helped my career earlier on, that’s for sure. 

And I think it’s certainly something that talent acquisition individual people starting now, and they should really get a fundamental understanding of it. We’re all very focused on our journey, and our journey is… take the job order from a hiring manager, go out there, source the candidates, put them through the candidate journey and get to the offer, get them onboarded. 

And we’re all… I’m not gonna say obsessed, but that’s fundamentally what we do on a day-to-day basis. But it’s understanding how we communicate with our recruitment partners, our hiring managers, our executive leadership, our HR leadership, how we partner with those individuals to take them in the journey and let them understand what our journey is. 

I think for a long time HR and talent acquisition, even though they were part of the same function, they weren’t all reading from the same hymn sheet, and I think certainly over the last 10 years we’ve seen things being called together more and their understanding of what the talent acquisition team does, how it does it, and exchanging that information, how talent acquisition plays in this strategic workforce planning, and how it plays a key role in functions like that, projects like that. I think that is something that people really have started to understand, what the value of a great talent acquisition function is.


Absolutely. This is really great for people who want to look from a different perspective at the hiring and what is important there, so thank you very much for that. Thank you for everything that you’ve shared with me today and with all the listeners. Because I think that your broad experience will help others get a better understanding of what important focuses and what important areas in HR have to be implemented on a larger scale from an expert like you and experienced HR expert as you, and a talent acquisition expert. Thank you a lot for joining me today on this podcast episode.


Not at all Max, thank you for having me on and hopefully it’s been of use to your listeners as well. Happy to be able to do that today. Thank you!


Absolutely, I’m sure it will be. Great talking to you again and have a great day.


You, too, Max. All the best now, cheers!