By Glenn Baker.
Running marathons requires a mountain of stamina; the ability to smash through pain barriers. Sharon Davies is a recent convert. In the past two years the 35-year old has competed in seven leading marathons – including Melbourne, Paris, and in LA, where she made the top seven percent of all women finishers.
Sharon’s business career has required stamina too – and there have been considerable challenges and pain along her journey.
And what a journey. It started early in 1999, when she was just 19, with summer camp in the US and nannying in the UK.
A year later, back home in Auckland, Sharon was offered a consulting role at a temping agency, “building a desk from scratch within the advertising industry”.
“They handed me a newspaper and told me to start [cold] calling,” she recalls, “It’s funny how fate can play such a hand in your life, because the nice man at the very first agency I called said ‘yes, send one of your candidates’, and they hired her! How easy was that?”
It was the start of a two year working relationship with that particular agency and a job for Sharon setting up a brand new business: Big Splash – a specialist agency that designed, wrote and booked adverts for companies wanting staff; compelling ads addressing specific target markets.
Fate would play another hand from that first cold call too. The ‘nice man’ was owner Paul Ballantyne who, after working together on Big Splash, became her first husband in 2007.
“You just never know where those first encounters in life can lead!”
Sharon and Paul introduced Big Splash to Australia in 2006. “I took my best staff member; we flew to Melbourne, rented an apartment and started calling,” recalls Sharon.
Today that business is one of five in the group Sharon owns. Two businesses come under the Talent Propeller brand – the brand that’s commanded the bulk of her attention in recent years.
Talent Propeller has been an evolution, explains Sharon. Big Splash was born in a ‘candidate short recruitment market’. Lots of jobs, not many candidates. But when the GFC redundancies hit the market, the reverse applied. They could see the need to diversify.
The way in which companies recruit had also been evolving. Launched in 2009, and in Melbourne the same year, Talent Propeller would be the technology at the forefront of that change – cloud delivered software solutions and personalised services making it less expensive and time consuming to recruit the right employees.
“We streamline the whole recruitment process,” says Sharon, “and help companies make smarter decisions around who they take on. We’re unique in that we’ve paired technology with our service and industry expertise; our service is three-dimensional and transparent. Companies can see exactly what’s going on with their recruitment.”
Service makes up a large part of Talent Propeller’s offering, adds Sharon. “We’re a ‘pick ‘in mix’ – we analyse a company’s recruitment process and tailor a package that specifically fits them.”
Businesses of all sizes can plug into Talent Propeller’s cloud recruitment software to manage job applications. Candidates are ranked in order of suitability as they apply. “Hiring managers can instantly see who the best people are, and make a connection,” says Sharon.
Talent Propeller has introduced a hands-on service, which allows employers to be completely hands-off until the interview stage. They receive a short-list, long-list and a ‘declined’ list – all vetted via Sharon’s own recruitment industry experience.
And rather than judge candidates solely by their resumés, which Sharon says is still common, she’ll look for potential and attitude. “In some cases, just because someone hasn’t done a particular job before, doesn’t mean they’re incapable of doing it.
“We need to be less one-dimensional about assessing people; consider competencies and personality profiles as well as resumés to get a much broader picture.”
Sharon’s world turned upside down in 2011 when Paul passed away after a seven-month battle with cancer. She was now virtually flying solo, and felt it important to throw herself back into the business after just six weeks – after all, the livelihoods of her 25 staff depend on it.
Sharon took up marathon running initially to help clear her headspace and deal with losing the love of her life. Then after 12 months things suddenly hit home for Sharon. Where to from here?
“We had to either stay where we were, or evolve – and that was up to me backing myself,” she says. It was time to move forward. “And that’s when it got a little scary.”
Today Sharon splits her time between Auckland and Melbourne. The business progresses through developing new versions of the software. Evolution comes faster in the technology game, she says. “I already have the next six releases worked out in my head.”
Growth comes fast too. In the past 12 months revenues have grown by 450 percent. “There now seems to be more people willing to look beyond traditional methods of recruiting,” Sharon says. She puts it down to doing things better, smarter and differently. “We’re breaking the mould.”
Sharon loves what she does. “I have an absolute passion for both the industry and the technology. I love seeing an idea come to life through technology, rolling it out to market and seeing it impact positively on businesses.”
Feedback suggests she’s on the right track.
Although Sharon recently remarried, she pretty much still drives the business herself “on instinct” and admits she has no formal advisors.
“But we do have this ‘yes’ business culture,” she says. “I tell my team to just say yes, because you have no idea what opportunities will come if you do.
“I’m a rule-breaker, I don’t like structure or red tape. So I say yes; then we sit down and work out how it can be done.”
A flat work culture that feeds from the top down helps. Ideas and excitement are encouraged. High standards are set and expected, as is efficiency.
“It’s important people here are happy, fulfilled, achieving and successful,” says Sharon.
The next model she’s working towards in the evolution of recruitment is an online repository of candidates and their skills, which employers can tap into for specific positions. The aim is to reduce a four-to-six week process down to just a couple of hours. “So a candidate could be walking down a street and be sent a matched job profile and contact on screen.”
Sharon has advice for other business owners looking to succeed. First, don’t be so focused on your goals that you wear blinkers and miss peripheral opportunities. “Things evolve, so stay agile; it comes back to saying ‘yes’.”
Second, understand that business ownership is hard work and not a nine-to-five thing. “It takes grit, determination and stamina to bring that idea to life.”
There’s that stamina word again.
Glenn Baker is editor of NZBusiness.
August 27, 2015