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The Interview

Managing Risk with Caroline from Halsey Keetch

Caroline tells us why the city has never been in a more secure place.

If you’re one of those people who think that the financial district is a law unto itself, or that the C-level employees are continuously conspiring about Libor rigging, you’d be wrong. Well, the Libor scandal aside (there are always going to be a few rogues), there is in fact a whole sector that caters to looking after everyone’s financial security and making sure that the city is compliant with regulations and that risk is being managed correctly. Meet Caroline, one of two Directors at Halsey Keetch – a headhunting firm dedicated to exactly that.

“Following the financial crisis in 2008 there has been an absolutely huge shift in how businesses are dealing with us. Some businesses were very welcoming but in general governance and compliance was seen as a necessary evil, something like the health and safety sector, rather than an exciting area of focus, or being essential to business health, but that has now changed dramatically.”

“We inherited a brand a good couple of years ago now. I had worked with the company for about 12 or 13 years at the time and really understood the city and our areas of focus. I was given the opportunity after the passing away of my father to decide what to do with my future and I decided to keep the company going. We’ve been on a bit of a journey deciding what we keep from the old and what we inject it with in regards to our own personality to take it into the future.”

“I always felt quite close to the business. I remember it growing up and I remember Dad started it when I was only small. I remember moving all of Dad’s boxes from home into his first office near Waterloo, I couldn’t tell you the address as he moved from there within a couple of years, it felt so exciting although I don’t think I really had a clue what was going on at the time. He then had offices in Mayfair and we moved over to the city when that was where the majority of our clients were. Ever since then it’s been impossible to move out.”

“As I got older I would be forced to work there in my summer holidays. I wouldn’t do anything, I’d just turn up, go shopping, smoke outside – basically avoid any adult responsibilities. But the company was definitely imprinted on me.”

“We love our branding, it feels like something that we can really relate to”

Starting out in a luxury baby and children’s mail order business, Caroline would put together the luxury brochures by hand and found herself head over heels in love with print.

“Gemma who owned the business had a family and gave me the opportunity to buy it from her. The time wasn’t right and I decided against it, so it closed down.”

“Dad had always said that he thought I would be good at what he did and he was quite determined to get me in the business. I had been left a bit high and dry, so I ended up working for my Dad for 6 months to essentially pay my mortgage, and I guess I just didn’t leave.”

How did Halsey Keetch come to be what it is today?

“Dad started the company back in 1988 - we’re going to be 30 next year, I guess that’s a good opportunity for a party!

He was always a self-starter. He passed his A-levels a year early, he got himself a scholarship to a secondary school, his parents were not wealthy, and he always created opportunity for himself.

He told me a story about how he had gone to work for some real old school guys, one of which became my Godfather, his name was Sir Timothy Hoare – I think he was linked to the C.Hoare banking company – a very old school, wealthy establishment.

They basically ran a head hunting business, which Dad described as the dustiest, least-active business he had ever been in. He joined and their turnover went up over 800% in his first year. That makes it sound amazing, but I think it’s just because he made some money rather than none.

He took that experience and was working in the city at Pete Marwick which is now KPMG. And then he was a founding partner of a massive recruitment business called Michael Page which he founded with Michael and one other guy. He wasn’t a politics man, and actually wasn’t very good at working with other people who had strong ideas, this is when he set up Halsey Consulting as it was then.

Since then we have focussed on these areas longer probably than any other boutique search firm out there. I don’t think you could do it sooner as it didn’t exist before us. We want to focus in on our niche and really add value to organisations in a meaningful way - clearly people are power.

It’s not just about finding someone for a job description and putting a bottom on a seat, it’s the opposite. It’s understanding our clients’ long-term vision, finding people to fit the culture of those organisations, and really understanding where those businesses are heading and the challenges they’re facing.”

And what about the financial sector in general, has it changed much since the financial crisis?

“It became clear in 2008 that there weren’t the right systems controls and frameworks in place. There hadn’t been checks and balances on the behaviours of the people who were making money for these businesses. Essentially they were making money at any cost and everyone felt the blow of that.

As a result of that there has been a major shift in focus and attitude towards the kind of people we deal with. Now they are absolutely fundamentally important to the success and credibility of any organisation that is regulated - so an absolutely dramatic difference over a relatively short timeframe.”

“I ended up working for my Dad for 6 months to essentially pay my mortgage, and I guess I just didn't leave”

Does this mean we wont see things like what happened in 2008?

“There are swings and roundabouts. We are going through a period where we are going through a little bit of an ease of regulation because there is so much work put in place to address the balance.

You could argue that for example the relative stability of our economy after the shock piece of news like Brexit goes to show that some of these frameworks, systems and controls work well as there is a lot of liquidity in the city. It’s not a house of cards any more. The question is of balance, making sure that there isn’t such an onslaught of regulation that businesses cant be profitable and successful.”

You came to us following a difficult time for you, how has it been working with Flourish?

“My Dad had died not all that long before we came to you. It was a statement to ourselves that we were here to stay, nothing happens really fast in the business world. I heard a quote that somebody said; “people radically overestimate what they can achieve in a year, but radically underestimate what they can achieve in ten.” Its about taking that with you with where you go.

We were very proud to have got to the point where we were able to invest in the business in that way and it was a really exciting time for us.

It really felt like working with you in the process as we wanted to put our energy behind it. Since then we have really felt like Halsey Keetch rather than Halsey Consulting, it was a real line in the sand for the business.

We love our branding, it’s something we can really relate to. We feel like we belong to a company, that’s what the brand helped us to do. What I wanted to develop was a place in the hearts and minds of the city as a brand rather than as my Dad had done as a person. I want people to call Halsey Keetch and the association and the loyalty to with our brand rather than a person within that brand.

When we started working together, we were slightly smaller than we are now, we are never going to be huge in terms of our head count, and we don’t want to be, but hopefully in terms of our impact and capabilities we are going to pack a real punch, so our goal is to be THE governance and control search firm in the city.“

How do you find being a woman in the city – something that is traditionally a very male dominated sector?

“I was lucky enough to have been brought up by someone who didn’t have a sexist bone in his body. My Dad didn’t think about diversity issues, ever. Which is unusual as he ran a headhunting firm. He didn’t proudly promote women, he just thought that men and women were the same and should have the same opportunities.

I’ve never had any kind of experience of suffering in that way. That’s not to say it hasn’t been a very real thing in the city, but I think the tide's definitely turning, but that’s not to say that it isn’t still a real issue.

I think some of the issues are deeper such as; how do businesses keep women that they really want in their organisations? How do they manage their careers when there are often children and home issues that will typically affect women more than men?

I don’t find the city unwelcoming in that respect, and I think it’s a time of change and power – I love it there.

On that subject, I was working from home and had a business conversation on the phone. I had my son with me and he was hungry. I though ‘oh God what can I get him?’ I found some of those mini sausages; you know the disgusting, unhealthy things. I said: ‘Have a few of these.’ and found myself talking away. I was on the phone for about 45 minutes, then though ‘Oh my God! Ben, how many of those sausages have you had?’ It was a container of 40 sausages – there were 4 left…

Working and parenting can be a tough balance, man or woman.”