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The journey we embarked on back in 2001: an interview with Ian Temple

CEO and co-founder of Hydrogen Group

This year our Legal practice is celebrating its 20th anniversary! We’d like to start our series of interviews with Ian Temple, who is the CEO and co-founder of Hydrogen Group. You can watch the full interview below.

Having been with Hydrogen right from the start and launching the legal practice our CEO has excellent insight into how the practice has evolved over the past 20 years and some great stories along the way.

"I became an accountant after university as a way of working with lots of different types of companies, and one really caught my eye. It was one of the fastest-growing companies in the country at the time with a great culture and vibe, and it was a recruitment business. The more I thought about how integral recruitment was to people’s careers and lives, the more I wanted to start my own firm. Since then, we’ve gone from one man in a room hoping his business partner would turn up on the first day to 300+ people globally, which has been quite a journey. I probably made every mistake in the book along the way, but we’ve continued to grow and today, Hydrogen is a well-defined business with a real understanding of what it takes to be successful in this industry.

20 years ago, we were a fast-growing successful business in the finance recruitment sector. What triggered us to get into the legal recruitment market, was that in the same year, two of the top legal recruiters got acquired, so to seize an opportunity in the market, I started interviewing lots of legal recruiters, but I wasn’t overly impressed. Yes, some had backgrounds in law, but I could tell that they weren’t the type of people who would make great recruiters. Therefore we decided to do it differently, in our own Hydrogen way, by building long-term relationships with our clients and candidates.

Legal recruitment until then had typically been very transactional, but our focus is always on people, so we set up our MarketWatch scheme where we keep in touch with people over a long period of time, not just when they are looking for a job or wanting to hire. Embedding this into the DNA of our new legal team was one of the first things we did to differentiate ourselves from the competition. We spent a lot of time studying the market and talking to clients and candidates to find out what they really wanted from a legal recruiter, and then put structures in place, like MarketWatch, to be able to deliver a new proposition.

The things that I am most proud of over our 20 years, are all people related, whether that’s candidates, clients or our own people. In terms of candidates we place, on average we’ve known them for over four years, and some for a decade or more. With clients, on the practice side, there’s a Magic Circle firm we’ve worked with from the beginning and we’re still a top performer for them, and we’ve built whole legal teams from top to bottom for major organisations worldwide. Our Net Promoter Scores are consistently outstanding and the reason for this is our people. If they weren’t happy and successful, they wouldn’t stay with us, and we have an incredibly long tenure in the legal team, which in an industry known for its high turnover is really unique.

Of course, people do move on, I’ve matured enough over the years to accept that, and some of them have gone on to open their own boutique firms and I’m proud of them. But we continually try to improve our employee experience to retain people and keep them happy. We experimented very early on with working from home and it’s quite ironic that post-COVID, we’ve realised that we could have done so much better in terms of the communication we’ve all become accustomed to now. But’s that’s all part of learning from hiccups along the way and developing on the back of them. I always say that our business grows as our people grow, and I’ve seen the legal practice evolve from two or three of us in London, to a global business also operating in APAC, the Middle East, Ireland, the Caribbean and the US. Our people have built those client relationships and taken opportunities in new jurisdictions, developing their careers and developing the practice.

Last year was a big year for us and not just because of COVID. We delisted from the stock market, rectifying one of my biggest mistakes of listing when we were too small and not ready for it. We are now in a great place: a global mid-sized business, big enough to do things really well with full Marketing and IT departments, but small enough to connect with everyone in the business and know who they are. We want to continue to develop as a mid-sized business, building strength and depth in our niches in different territories around the world.

Looking back on my most memorable moments of the last 20 years, listing on the London Stock Exchange was memorable for being such a huge moment for us, but as they say, pride comes before a fall, and it’s also memorable for being the wrong decision – though acknowledging that helps to keep us honest. Aside from corporate milestones, the highlights are all about people and seeing them achieve their goals and develop their careers. Work is such an important part of our lives that it’s wonderful to see people grow, earn more money and maybe buy their first house or start a family. That’s the thing that gets me out of bed in the morning."

Get in touch with us if you would like to discuss business or job opportunities within Legal recruitment.

Posted over 2 years ago
About the author:
Thomas Hartwell

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