We can’t think of a better way than kicking off the year with our very beloved “On The Spotlight Series”. René Johnson, our partner in INAC Australia is our fourth guest. With an impressive track record, René has a lot of stories to share with us all, and from what we have discovered, he is quite the adventurous one.
Why Executive Search? And if you didn’t end up in Executive Search, what would you have ended up choosing instead?
My career started in audit at PwC. From there I moved into various GM, Company Secretary and Board roles in advertising, film production and finally magazine publishing. With memories and anecdotes to last a lifetime (picking up the phone one night in the film company office and Sean Connery was on the other end of the line…. I didn’t need to ask who was calling when I heard his voice!). I wanted a new challenge, and that saw me embark on a new journey. Executive search is the culmination of all that.
I think search consultants need colour and variety in their background to be able to add value to clients and relate to candidates. I believe in investing in people, helping candidates get great jobs and helping clients get great employees.
I had my chance to follow the pro-surfer dream in the late 70’s and early 80’s, but my fascination with business was too strong.
Executive Search is all about meeting and establishing a connection with people. With so many years of experience, what three pieces of advice would you give the younger generation that is now starting to create their own path?
Learn from those around you in particular older executives. We have learnt in 2020 that a flexible work environment is important to a lot of people and adds a lot of value to their work/life balance. But the value of hands-on experience working alongside people cannot be easily replicated. You’ll always learn more by being around peers and mentors, in person.
Build your networks early and build them strong. Those people will grow with you and they will become your clients in the future.
Don’t burn bridges! As Maya Angelou said, “at the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.”
The pandemic has dramatically changed the way Executive Search professional and firms operate, it has led to huge changes and accelerated some of the trends that were already in the horizon. What do you think Executive Search will be like in the future?
I may have more grey hairs than some, but I truly believe you cannot replace the authentic connection you make with a face-to-face interaction. Virtual meetings have, in a way, revolutionised the workplace for a large percent of the population. It has made meetings and collaborating more accessible and time efficient. However, in the future I hope Executives and Board members don’t get lazy by defaulting to doing meetings via video. You see so much more when you meet with someone in person. Appointing a candidate via a completely virtual process can desensitise the process. The value add of search consultants being able to understand and get a sense of someone’s personality and style in real life, is irreplaceable.
Technology will continue to play a significant part in the search process (definitely in the research stage) into the future… But I hope we continue to interview face to face… I honestly think it’s where we add value.
A little bird told us that you’re a surf enthusiast. Do you want to share with us how it all started?
I grew up in England and had summer holidays with my parents in a town called St Ives. I was at the beach one day when I saw an Aussie in the water on a wooden body board. He let me have a go on it and I was immediately bitten by the surf bug.
After emigrating to Australia we lived by the beach and I bought my first surfboard at 14. I’m 65 now and haven’t stopped surfing since.
In 1978 and 1979 I took some time off after University to surf my way around the world. Highlights being, surfing all the classic spots in Hawaii, Indonesia, France, Spain and Portugal (my friend and I surfed the now famous big wave spot Nazaré in Portugal in 1978… Long before it became famous and now infamous)… And on my travels I took a 6 week job as a lifeguard right back where I started my journey, on the beach at St Ives in the UK.
Besides surfing, how do you find your balance between your professional life and your personal life?
It will come as no surprise that I try to catch a wave or two whenever the surf conditions are good. And when the waves aren’t right I like to play golf and travel. Prior to COVID, I would travel on average once a week, somewhere in Australia to meet with clients and candidates. Australia is a big country and it’s an ongoing adventure getting to explore new corners of it.
You have helped so many finding their dream job, do you feel that they have helped you find something in life as well?
Working with such a diverse array of clients has helped broaden my horizons. I feel like I get educated every day. We are so lucky to be doing a job where we are stimulated by new challenges and opportunities on a daily basis. There are many people out there that are not so lucky.
INAC has been part of your life for so many years now. How has this “relationship” shaped your professional path?
Australia is physically so far away from Europe, North & South America, being part of a strong network of overseas search firms helps us feel connected.
INAC as an organisation constantly changes and morphs, and there’s no better example than the way INAC has, during the COVID situation, been highly proactive in engaging members in interesting issues that help re-shape our own businesses.
There’s an exciting yet challenging job ahead of us to continue to build the network.
What has been, so far, the biggest life lesson you received?
Quite a few along the way I must confess!
The one that resonates most with me is that “there’s a gift in everythin”… Sometimes you have to look hard to find it, but be assured it’s there…. Out of adversity springs hope and new opportunity.