An Interview With The Ceo

An Interview With The Ceo

James Mitra

Welcome back to 40 Minute Mentor the podcast on a mission to raise aspirations and inspire the next generation of category defining founders. From purpose led entrepreneurs to Olympic champions, you’ll learn firsthand from today’s successful leaders on what it takes to be brilliant, all in just 40 minutes. Today, I’m joined by Stuart Packham and CEO of our series sponsor, Alchemist. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Stu for many years, and he’s played an integral role in jbm story from showing me the ropes and Michael Paige to becoming one of our jbm board advisors.

If you’ve been listening to the latest series of 40 Minute Mentor, you will have already heard me sing alchemists praises. And we are really, really lucky to partner with them. So I’m super excited to learn more about their journey, and what the future of Alchemist looks like. So, Stu, this is extra special today. Welcome to 40 Minute Mentor, how are you?

Stuart Packham

Yeah, very well, thank you. And thanks for having me, Mitty,. It’s great to be here. Obviously, known all about 40 Minute Mentor since you kicked it off. So feel very, very privileged to finally be sitting opposite, you get to join the podcast.

James Mitra

It’s a real pleasure, you are not only a great friend of mine in the businesses, but also somebody I’ve looked up to, since the very start of my career, when you, you actually ran one of my first ever training sessions. So we’ll probably talk a bit more about that in a bit. And I should probably say, a little caveat for the listeners that you know, me as mity as the all the team, and a lot of people around the world, but I’m sure our guests might not. So if you’re wondering who Mittyi is it’s me, we are going to dive into your recruitment background, but to help our listeners get to know you a bit better. Why don’t you give us a quick overview of your CV to date?

Stuart Packham

Cool. Well, I’ll try and make this as quick and painless as possible for you. So I think broadly, my entire career has been spent in and around the talent industry. And I’ve covered pretty much every aspect of talent now globally. So whistlestop tour, I joined a technology recruitment business as a raw graduate in London, in 1998. So that allows all the listeners to guess exactly how long I’ve been doing this. I spent a couple of years doing that, and then got a massive opportunity to relocate to Australia. So I moved myself and my young family over to Sydney and joined Michael Paige.

In the technology business, the tech industry in Asia was going through a massive boom at the time. I also timed it brilliantly, because I arrived just as the Sydney Olympics was starting in 2000. Went for two years. It was incredible. It was incredible. And as somebody who doesn’t particularly like the heat, I’m still not 100% sure why I chose Sydney but never mind loved it, when initially on a two year contract and stayed for seven and a half. And really, that’s where my career took off.

So worked my way up from sort of entry level consultant, and Michael Page, left as a director, then transfer back to the UK, where I spent another seven years so worked for Michael page in the UK, which is where I had the pleasure of meeting you fairly early on in my paid pay journey. And so spent seven years and then after Paige had a couple of other iterations in the global recruitment industry, one working for a private equity backed recruitment business. And then the last three or four years of my recruitment career working for other global business Hudson, which interestingly, had another dimension to it, which explains how I ended up in l&d, which was around talent management and organisational psychology. So very much worked my way through, and I was managing director there of the recruitment and executive search businesses,

James Mitra

Thanks to it goes without saying you are a legend of the talent and recruitment space. But I’m interested like what, what got you into it in the first place? Because I know that you were known, I think you were the top biller in Australia. So you would not only be a sensational recruiter, but it’s not one of those industries that you necessarily wake up one day as a 5678 year old ago, I want to I want to work in recruitment. So tell us a bit about how you eventually sort of decided to get into it. And also, for anyone that might be listening, that might be maybe at the beginning of their career, or maybe looking for a change. Why was recruitment so good for you? And why do you think it’s a good industry to get into?

Stuart Packham

Yeah, so a couple of really good questions. So I think, like, like a lot of people recruitment definitely wasn’t on my bucket list of things I wanted to be. I think so. I did a degree in English literature. I had grand aspirations of being a journalist, and realized fairly early on into my university career that I wasn’t particularly good at it. And so when I left university, I had a bit of a, what am I going to do now?

So I applied for a whole load of graduate schemes looking at different aspects of business. And I happened to be sitting in a recruiter’s office in Oxford Street, and they basically told me I wasn’t fit for purpose for the job. They were recruiting in a very nice way, but then suggested maybe I’d want to join them and think about career recruitment, which I’d never even heard of as a job and At that point in time, so they suggested I did a day’s work experience to see if I liked it, which I did. And long story short, that’s how I kind of kicked off spending 20 years in the recruitment industry.

So absolute chance. I know a lot of people in my personal network never set out to join the industry, got into it by luck rather than design, and then ended up spending an awful lot of time in it. So so it was, that was kind of the start. And then, and then why if I think about listeners, I think about, particularly the sort of someone looking for a career in business, looking for a starting point, I still think recruitment is an unparalleled career, if you’re looking to get commercial and business skills quickly at a fairly early stage in your career.

So if I think back to situations I would have been in as a 22 year old, sitting in front of very senior people, pitching, negotiating, having commercial conversations, meeting people that in pretty much any other job, I don’t think I’ve ever got in front of. And because it is a job where you are entirely driven by what you’re trying to achieve, you are able to do as much or as little as you want. And I still think it gives you huge commercial exposure really early on. And I recommend it to anyone who is can be a bit of a baptism of fire, as you all know. But at the same time, I just think it is an amazing opportunity.

James Mitra

Yeah, I totally agree with you. And I think you know, it isn’t for everyone. And I think quite quickly you find out in recruitment, within your first few days, weeks months, whether you’re going to love it or hate it. It is a bit of a Marmite career, I think, I would agree. Even if you don’t decide to spend 20 plus years in it, there’s still so much you can learn even from six to 12 months in recruitment. And I certainly, you know, it very much set me up for setting up a business at the age of 25 off the back of you know, the conversations I’ve had with C level execs and these in banks, partners and consultancies that I was having within the first kind of couple of months of my career.

So I totally agree with that your careers, obviously, kind of you had a very successful career, that you kind of progressed into a CEO and leadership roles and then moved into LNG. And you obviously mentioned that there was a kind of segue from the Hudson experience. But do you mind sharing a bit more about why you decided to move into the learning and development space when you did?

Stuart Packham

Yeah, of course. And I think there is a bit of a natural progression. And I know we all talk a little bit about this was my first, this is my first CEO role. So being CEO of alcumus. I’m sure we’ll come on to talk about that a little bit later. But I think for me, having spent time thinking about the natural opportunities that recruitment gave me to see different aspects of talent globally. So from recruiting technology professionals in deep technology specializations, which I did for a number of years, then I got to move into a sort of executive search.

So working much more with C and C minus one level executives on the job search for both really big global brands, but also for scallops, and startups, which was, which was a fascinating experience. So I kind of look at recruitment, executive search. And then what the Hudson experience did for me was, for the first time ever, I know, I realised that was much more of a, I guess, a scientific aspect of recruitment and assessment I hadn’t seen before. So I worked with a group of occupational and organisational psychologists. We were using really, really modern assessment techniques to work to understand how valid a candidate may be for a certain culture or environment. And I never really did that in all of the time.

So it really got me thinking about what other aspects of talent I hadn’t seen. So l&d learning and development for me was kind of a big chunk of the pie chart of talent that I just never saw. I’ve spent most of my career helping individuals and organisations identify their next job, maybe the job after that. But fundamentally, my role ended when they joined the business. So they would walk through the door, they may then go on and use me and my team to recruit people for them. But fundamentally, I had no influence over their career direction.

Once they started the job. I felt something was missing. And what I realised was there was this whole spectrum of talent called Learning and Development, about how people take individuals and teams on journeys through an organisation and help them develop into the next leader, the next manager, the next individual contributor, that I really wanted to be part of, which was why, I guess a shift into learning and development as an area of specialisation made loads of sense for me, and it just needed the right gently to come up in the right organisation.

James Mitra

Wow, that’s, that’s awesome. Yeah, I can really see why you made that move. It makes a lot of sense now, from a CEO perspective, then you you’ve spent three years Alchemist as Group CEO. What was that transition? Like from from kind of MD to CEO role and the P back business? And what were some of the transferable skills from your kind of recruitment career that made that that switch easier?

Stuart Packham

Let me sort of unpack that a little bit to try and give the clearest answer I can, without going off on a massive tangent, I think the shift from managing director in a corporate business, to a CEO in a private equity backed SME, was actually a much bigger shift than I thought it was going to be. For a whole range of reasons. I think it was my first real opportunity to be the buck stops with me, I am the CEO, and realising for the first time actually, in my career, that I reported to a board and investors. But the decisions were on me, so and fairly early on, I’d always had every other job I’ve ever had, I’d had a boss, and had somebody above me, whether that was the CEO, whether that was the group managing director, who fundamentally the buck stopped with them, even though I was in a senior role.

Whereas shifting into the CEO role at what was interact at the time, before we became Alchemist, I think I suddenly realised there was this whole Wow, this is on me. So this is now on me, I people are looking to me, both from our investors, and from the team to be the person that sets the strategy puts the plan in place, but fundamentally makes the end decision. And so that was quite tough. That was actually quite tough. And it took me some time to kind of, to get my head around that. And I think it was also really the first opportunity I’d had in my career to work closely with investors.

So not only was I becoming a CEO, for the first time, I was now working for what am with investment directors from our private equity firm, who’d invested money into the firm. And so I was responsible for being the person that they put into that seat to help steer the business forward and grow it. So that was a kind of took a little bit of dawning once the first 90 days out the way to go. Actually, I’m in this and it’s on me, and I’ve got I’ve got to help make the decisions. But if I try and answer the second part of your question around, what transferable skills came from my previous career, and I don’t think it’s necessarily just recruitment, I think it’s probably the roles I’d held in those other organisations. First and foremost, I can talk about some behaviours and the second is about people.

Whether you are an entry level consultant, whether you’re a director, whether you’re a managing director, whether you’re the CEO, for me, fundamentally, this is what I try and carry through every job I’ve ever done. You can’t do it by yourself. And so really, really quickly, I realised that actually, is I need a really good team around me here. And this is all going to, but our success or failure is gonna be built around people, and how I can engage with that group of people. And then what talent do we need to bring into the business? I think I think that’s one, that’s probably the overarching factor. And then I think when I think about transferable skills, I think about the really those sounds really, really obvious.

But I think they’re worth stating, I think I’d spent mindset, they fundamentally our customers are not that different to customers in organisations that come from senior HR stakeholders, Sydney, at the senior business leaders, I’d spent most of my career running organisations where they were our, our customer. So in learning and development, the customer stakeholder didn’t change. So that gave me comfort and context. I think the other part for me, if I look internally, and once again, sounds a little bit corny, but listening was something I’d been trained to do in recruitment, believe it or not, rather than just talking. And the the older networks, the old adage, you’ve got two ears, one mouth, so you should be listening twice as much as you’re talking, actually realised, coming into the job. I just needed to listen. And I needed to listen to as many people as I could. So both internally and externally,

James Mitra

so important, and on the people. So I think the people piece is just so critical, isn’t it as a CEO, as a founder, myself, and as somebody that has helped me a lot on the people side of our business over the years, it can’t be underestimated. You know how much exposure you get in recruitment and how useful that can be as you kind of progress through your career. There’s going to be a lot of people listening to this that I think have aspirations to be a CEO or perhaps are relatively new CEOs or potentially early stage founders.

You haven’t done the job for so what have you found and the reason I ask this is that I think it’s important to not just talk about all the good stuff, but also be honest about the harder lots of jobs to give a realistic perception to those that want to progress in their careers. So what would you say has been the most difficult part of of your role as CEO and Alchemist? And was there anything particular? Or are there any particular piece of advice that you’d give others that might be in that kind of hot seat right now, maybe for the first time, or perhaps things that help you get up the learning curve quicker?

Stuart Packham

Yeah, that’s so so I could probably fill three episodes of 40 Minute Mentor with things that are found heart and things that I’ve learned, I’m just going to lift out of it a little bit, the COVID period, if that’s okay, and maybe maybe we’ll talk about that separately, because I think bear in mind that I joined a business as a CEO in October 2019, just before the pandemic hit. So my my early experience, my first earliest versus being a CEO, was somewhat different than it may be anticipated them to be so. So I’ll just park that to one side for set Mittsy, if that’s okay.

But I think fundamentally, what’s been really difficult, I think, I think for me, suddenly being responsible for an end to end business. So if I strip back the jobs that I’ve done historically, yes, there are people leadership, yes, the senior leadership, yes, they have an element of strategy, and an element of operational management. But for the first time, when you are the CEO, you are responsible for everything. So and particularly in an SME, you don’t necessarily have an army of people around you, who are at that point in time functional experts. So you don’t have a beautifully organised organisation chart. So actually, I found myself quite early on getting involved in things I was not an expert in.

So and having to pretty much think on my feet and learn fast around aspects of financial management of running a business. Now I had an interim CFO that was helping me out, which was great. But I’d never been that exposed, I’d run p&l as before. But I never had to get to that level. I never really had to think about things like cash flow previously, because of work for bigger businesses. But that was managed for me. So I think I found that quite challenging. There were aspects of a once again, this may be particular to being a private equity backed business, I found that whilst I was responsible for running the business, and was the CEO of the business, I think running a private equity backed board was a whole new experience for me.

So a whole new experience. And fortunately, and I’m happy to say this on air, our investors have been fantastic. They are incredibly supportive. And they’re a really good group of people to work with, which made that transition easier. But I must admit, there were times when I thought, I don’t really know what I’m doing here. And when you come out of a job where you kind of do it inside out, that’s quite hard.

James Mitra

Yeah. Well, I’m sure our listeners will really appreciate your your candor. And you’re admitting that because I think it’s safe to say that everybody has moments of impostor syndrome creeping in and you know, where you do question your, your life decisions. But sometimes that’s what being at the top is all about. It’s about pushing yourself outside your comfort zone and seeing how you fare in those sorts of new environments. And I think the best CEOs that I know the ones that are, they embrace those challenges there actually admit when they might have a gap. And then they look to try and fill that and all sort of upskill themselves.

Stuart Packham

I think maybe you’ve just put something in my head actually, the if I think that to the second part of your question, which I’ll come to in a second round. Any advice I might give around it? What can you do to help bridge that gap or fill that gap, but I also think it’s worth just putting out there that as in terms of CEO experienced the CEO over the last 18 months, we are now Alchemist, as you’ll see. But actually the hardest thing that I guess I’ve been trying to lead as the CEO of the business is integrating and merging together to small businesses to create Alchemist.

So Alchemist started out life as interact, and Apex training and development to businesses invested in by the same investor, for a whole myriad of reasons. main one being COVID, the integration process was slow to get off the ground. But for the last 18 months, myself, the most senior management team and the rest of the organisation have been working to create what is now Alchemist. And once again, I feel like you know me pretty well, but the listeners probably don’t. I’m the first one to say I’ve put myself out there as I don’t know quite what I’m doing all the time.

This has been an experience that I’ve never been through before. So taking two well established small businesses with real loyalty, and putting them together to create one brand new business has been a fascinating but somewhat terrifying experience as CEO, I must admit, and we are, we are a long way through that. But we are by no means finished. But I think I think as an experienced m&a As a CEO would not a lot of experience has been just absolutely fascinating.

James Mitra

Ultimately to do Do you have any particular tips there that you want to just share quickly before we move

Stuart Packham

on to? I think there’s an app. So I guess, given the title of the podcast, don’t, the best advice I can give, the best advice I can give on this topic is don’t try and do it by yourself, and surround yourself with people that you trust, who can be mentors, guides, advisors, who have been there done it, and are happy to share that experience with you. Because otherwise you will spend countless nights just worrying or overthinking, what do I do next, when I can pretty much guarantee there will be people out there that have seen it before. So I’ve been really fortunate in I mean, me to talk to you about staff, there are, but also I’ve been very fortunate, I’ve got a chairman, who I work closely with who has is a very, very experienced chairman, who’s done a number of scale ups. His advice and guidance has been fantastic.

Our investors, obviously are used to doing this stuff. So they never seem to lose them. They’re always good people to talk to, but also, I think just the power of your network. It don’t, I must admit, I’ve never really had to test my network quite as much as I have in the last three years. What I mean by that is, I’ve spent all of my career trying to build a network, that’s a two way street that has got people like you in it, that you can turn to and go to, you know, what, what would you do in this situation. And that network has been absolutely invaluable to me, and has been so helpful. I think the other thing I’d probably suggest is, and just think about is as you build your team, think about the people that you’re hiring around you whether that’s people like in my situation where I joined the business and there were, there was already talent there that I could identify and work with and shape into into roles.

Or as you start to go out to the outside world and build your team. Really think about what it is you need, not just in terms of skills, but in terms of behaviour and culture. Have a think about what what you’re trying to do because those people will be invaluable in helping guide you through those difficult times.

James Mitra

Such good advice to you. Thank you. Thank you very much. I feel like we’ve teased our listeners with snippets of the alchemist story, but I feel like now is the perfect time to come in and talk a bit more about the business. So for anyone that hasn’t heard of Alchemist before, can you give us your elevator pitch and explain how your approach to l&d is different to maybe other businesses out there?

Stuart Packham

Yeah, and I’m going to try and do this without it sounding like an elevator pitch. I also know that my team will be listening to this or hopefully listening to this and critiquing it. So the most nervous I will be out of the entire 14. So what is Alchemist Alchemist as I’ve referenced in the previous section, is the coming together of two small independent learning brands interact. And apex. And Alchemist is fundamentally about a blend. So an alchemy is all about blending elements together. So what do we do we create learning experiences for customers, typically large, complex enterprise organisations on a global basis going through some form of transformation.

So that’s our typical customer. And we blend together different modes of learning, from interactive, through experiential, and into some really, really cool immersive stuff, to create learning journeys and learning experiences that are entirely designed in the context of our customer. And that’s what makes us different. So there are lots of I mean, the learning and development history is massively overboard, like lots of other things in our space. But what we’ve really feel and felt is missing is a truly personalised approach to learning and the ability to work with a customer to truly understand that the problems or opportunities they have within the organisation, and to use 60 odd years worth of learning experience and different modes, to create solutions that genuinely work and put the human and the learner in the middle. That’s so important.

Everything we design is human centred, and has the learner right in the middle of it with clear outcomes in mind that sound a little bit like a sales pitch. And obviously, I’m very, very biased. But if I look across, if I look at what we are capable of doing, there are so many people, you can go out there and you can go and buy off the shelf content, you can go and buy licenses to bite size, digital learning, and learning is changing as fast as any other industry. But fundamentally, every single human being on Earth learns differently.

So for us to truly serve our audience, we have to we have to be in a position to build experiences that talk to different audiences at the right time in the right way with the right mode. Awesome. I love that and it’s pretty cool. It’s hard to say on a call like this, but we do do some really cool stuff. And we do some things that truly, genuinely make a difference. And that that to me that’s where we take pride for No,

James Mitra

I love it. I mean, I’ve seen sort of secondhand, just indirectly, through our conversation, just, you know how much the eye can see the passion that you show for what you do. And also, you know, the success you’ve had in the last few years, which is been amazing to sort of see the evolution of the business. So, and we’ve talked that you work with some big household brands, the likes of Skye, Barclays, NHS, Coca Cola, so incredible companies that are your clients, what are your personal highlights, then for the last sort of three years? What what’s really stood out to you and from where the business has been and where it’s come to now?

Stuart Packham

Yeah, it’s a really good question that we’ve had maybe now is a time for me to just drop the big COVID word in, because if whilst people may look at this and think, hang on, why is he just referencing COVID? On the highlights, there is a method to my madness here. I think there’s a few things as COVID here in March 2020, we were two businesses that predominantly delivered everything we did face to face. So 98% of what we did across the two businesses was face to face learning delivery.

COVID wiped that market out for us pretty much overnight. So there was a real, a real strong possibility that we would not survive, unless we made the decision to pivot. And we pivoted. And we made a decision collectively as a group, to embrace what we saw as an opportunity to transform our business faster. And we made the shift to digital and virtual learning pretty much within two weeks. And our customer supported us on that journey and believed in us. So we were able to turn not only survive, through what was for our industry devastating. But we were able to come out the other side as a completely different business, that knew how to deliver learning in a completely different way. And I can only take a small amount of credit for what we achieved, because fundamentally, if the team hadn’t jumped into action, when we’re all sitting in our homes in lockdown, to think about how we do this, and our customers hadn’t supported us, we would never have done it.

But fundamentally, the thing I look at is, we have managed, we managed to do that. And we’ve set ourselves up for success in the future, proving we can do things a complete different way. So I think that’s one thing. The second I think I’d like to reference is the fact that we have managed to come out as a brand new brand, we have taken two organisations with different cultures, different ways of working different names, both with a load of heritage. And thanks to the support of add a marketing and the wider senior management team, we have managed to come out of that with something we’re all incredibly proud of passionate about, and gives us another platform to grow from.

So I look at that. And I think, wow, that’s to come out of COVID, to then re-platform, two businesses and relaunch really, really proud of that. And I think I think the third thing, and anyone that knows me will, will understand what I’m saying this is my team. And I say my team, our team around me both at a senior management level, so we’ve hired a lot of people. So back 18 months ago, we were half the size we are now and we are still growing. But we could not have done this. And we wouldn’t be where we are without the commitment of the people that have been in the business for a long time, and have come on this journey with us, and are absolutely front and centre in that journey. And then the people that have joined us from the outside world on the journey, and that have believed in and still believe in where we’re heading and what we’re trying to do, and fundamentally have created a brand new culture with a brand new business.

James Mitra

Amazing. There’s two things particularly want to pick up on that. And then thanks for sharing. And it really is, it’s awesome to hear particularly in these sorts of times just how the business continues to grow. It’s gone from strength to strength. And I think that’s a message that we want to promote at this point where there’s a lot of doom and gloom kicking about on the topic of hiring actually, I mean, this is something that comes up time and time again, on the podcast, you know how to hire, how difficult hiring is and how to retain great talent and the importance of that, you have a slight advantage to that given the number of years you’ve spent in the recruitment space. But how have you gone about approaching hiring an alchemist and and what advice you have for anyone listening that might be a founder or CEO or leader in a company that that is struggling with? You know, recruitment?

Stuart Packham

Yeah, that’s a really good question. And the irony is, whilst you’d think I have a huge advantage, because I spent 20 odd years in recruitment, actually, I found the experience of being on the other side of the fence. And being the person that is, I guess, ultimately responsible for driving talent acquisition strategy, very different beast. So it’s a very different beast. So I think I think the probably the single biggest piece of advice I could give us two things, actually two piece of advice.

Number one, know when to bring a partner in, know when to go outside and find a recruitment or talent partner that buys into your vision, buys into what you’re trying to do, and can support you on that journey. Me, because for years and years and years, I guess I built my career on that. So I had to trust that that was the implicitly the right thing to do. So working with an external partner, so no partners on identifying particularly strategic talent that you’re looking to hire. Otherwise, you can spend an awful lot of time if you don’t have the processes, procedures and brand, you may know how to do it, but doing it’s really hard. So use a partner. And then I think the other thing that I probably recommend is really set your aspirations quite high about what you’re trying to achieve.

So it sounds like a real throwaway cliche, but don’t compromise, just because you really, really need to hire, don’t just hire the first person that you come across, if it takes you a bit longer, take a bit longer go out and invest the time in finding the best talent you possibly can find for your organisation. Now, obviously, they need to you need to find people that fit your culture, fit your vision, but and have the skills to do the job, but don’t compromise would be my answer. Because when you’re in an SME environment, every single person is critical. And that hire, you’ll make a big investment, you make a big investment, and that person’s got to be the right person.

James Mitra

Yeah, 100%. And I’ve seen it from all sides, you know, from home for JBM, for working with our clients that are kind of small startups, you know, the unbelievable impact getting hiring, right can have on a company, and the hugely negative connotations that come with making hiring mistakes. And we all make them like it’s certainly just because we’ve worked in the industry a long time doesn’t mean we haven’t made mistakes and won’t make more I’m sure that is the case, because it’s really difficult. But I think it is very wise advice to be, you know, just very, very considered and deliberate in what you’re doing and thoughtful, and take your time over it to make sure you get it right because it can make and break companies at the end of the day, I just

Stuart Packham

want to pick up on something you said. And I think it’s really important, which is we all get it wrong. We all fund we will all no matter how much experience you’ve got of hiring, we will make decisions that ended up not working. And that’s okay. So that’s okay, because no recruitment process in the world is bulletproof. And fundamentally, we are dealing, we are humans, and we’re hiring humans. And it’s not until you put them into the mix that you fundamentally know how that’s going to work.

But I think just the advice on that would be if you know you’ve got it wrong, do something about it for everybody’s sake. That’s not just for your sake, not for the businesses sake, but for the other individual to if it’s wrong, and an SMA, you know, it’s wrong. You can see it, there’s no hiding. So I think my advice would just be if you know, get just deal with it, even no matter how painful it may be, it will be the right thing to do in the long term.

James Mitra

I completely agree. 100%. Thanks to you. And just just the last couple of questions before we get to the end it you talked about the big C, the dreaded C I feel like we’re not supposed to really talk about that too much by know how critical and challenging that part of the story was for you. And we’re now going into more uncertainty with a with a global recession. How are you preparing the business for for that? And what advice do you have given you’ve come from, you know, being a CEO through one sort of challenging times to another, any particular advice for for anyone listening that’s about to navigate this, maybe for the first time?

Stuart Packham

I think first and foremost, Don’t bury your head in the sand and pretend it’s not happening. So I think would be the first thing and I said the same when COVID here and I’m gonna say the same thing again now, which is there is a saying which has moved towards the tension. Now fundamentally, none of us right now know what the impact is going to be of the big are on our it, whether it’s learning development industry, whether it’s recruitment industry with his executive search, but I think fundamentally don’t ignore it, and start to build a bit of a risk plan in the background.

Because the one thing that we all got caught out with I think a little bit by COVID was we didn’t see it coming. And we certainly didn’t see it coming to the extent it impacted our businesses. Now, whilst we don’t know what the impact of a economic slowdown will be, we can at least do a bit of forward planning. So at least put in some contingency plans. If you’re running an SME, for example, knowing what your cash position is, knowing what your debt position is for your customers, making sure that your for pipelines solid and contracts are really obvious things.

But if you’re doing that now, you’re protecting yourself for six to nine months out. So I think it’s it’s working to have a bit of a plan in the background, which is to say if this happens to this level, or how’s the business going to cope, but also I think the flip side of that is if your mark if you can still see opportunity, and you can afford to do it. This is another great platform to grow from because Fundamentally, if people get lost and panic, if you are thinking strategically the right way about growth, there will still be plenty of opportunities for us to step into.

So I think for us, alchemist, we’re kind of going into, whilst I have one, I err on what’s going on in macro economics. I’m still very focused on how we grow this business next year. And we will do it step by step. And we will do it carefully. But we will grow.

James Mitra

Love it. That’s what we want to hear positivity focus, what does that look like then see what’s next year 2023. And beyond what things have you got to look forward to?

Stuart Packham

So what have we got to look forward to. So I think on a macro scale, we want to keep our growth rates up with kind of growing top line 40% year on year, and I want to try and maintain that. I think we want to continue to build capability in the organisation. So I feel confident we’ve got the right senior team in place, we now need to make sure that that senior team is supported by the right number and the right capability. So there’s there’ll be more organisational growth next year, we’re just about to kick off a really, really interesting partnership between Alchemist, the University of Exeter, and Innovate UK.

So we’ve just had funding approved for a knowledge transfer partnership, which we’re going to run, I’m setting an extra today, we’re going to run it out of here. And it is fundamentally I won’t bore you with all the details now. But this could be a real game changer, because we are going to be working with the University and a research associate for on a two year program, to look at how we can build diagnostic tools to be able to work out the best blend of learning for an organisation. Now, no one’s done that yet. Whether or not we can fully achieve it. Who knows, we’d love to think we could. But it’s a massive opportunity. So we will be up and running on that program next year.

James Mitra

Sounds very exciting. See, well goes that saying we’ve got got fingers firmly crossed for the year ahead. But I have no doubt it’s going to be another great one for you and the alchemist team. Before we bring this to a close, I would be remiss of me not to talk about your relationship with JVM, you know, we’ve obviously been very, very lucky to have you as a board advisor or mentor to me for a number of years. And now you’re also taught to me that mentor sponsors, which has been a wonderful partnership, before we got to put your events or can you just share with our listeners a bit about why you decided to come on board as a as an advisor. And perhaps just to add to that, just just how that’s beneficial to you. Maybe for anyone else that’s listening, that is thinking about adding portfolio, a career or adding, you know, advisory type gigs to their day job. Why is that useful to you as a CEO of a company?

Stuart Packham

Yeah, good question. So I can answer the first bit really easily what why did I decide to come and join you and JVM as a board advisor, because I fundamentally and passionately believe in what you’re trying to do. And from when I worked with you at Michael Page, to when I wasn’t, I wasn’t necessarily able to work with you directly. I followed your journey, I’ve been pretty close to your journey. And I strongly believe that the way you do business is the right way. And the way you treat people is the right way. So I have a strong personal belief in what you’re trying to do at JVM. So when I was able to join isn’t. So when I was able to and allowed to join you, obviously, it was a no brainer for me. But also it does have does have another side to it too, which is when you get to a certain point in your career, personal development, opportunities become less obvious.

So it becomes less about going on a course, it becomes less about learning a specific skill. For me, what being an advisor has been is allowed me to stay connected to an industry I love. So executive search recruitment and what you’re doing in SOS. So I love the industry. And if I’m going to stay in, keep one toe in it, I’d rather do that with you. And it’s allowed me to do that. I think the other bit is it allows me to maybe use some of my experiences, skills where ultimately I’m not responsible. So I get to share some of my knowledge. But also I learn stuff too. I sit and talk to you about things that are going on within your business. And I learned from it. So it is a two way street.

James Mitra

Amazing. Now, thanks to you. We’re very grateful to have you on the journey. And I personally am hugely grateful for your mentorship over the years. And I guess you know, speaking of the wider partnership just wanted to touch on why alchemists were interested in in sponsor unfortunate mentor. I’d love just to touch on that and see what some of the results have been since we started on it because I for one and really enjoyed getting to know the business better and sort of the collaboration we’ve had. So be great. Just to talk a bit about that before we close.

Stuart Packham

Yeah, of course. So I think for us, we’re in a stage of our evolution, where helping promote our brand alongside other brands that are purpose LED is really important to us. I think so Alchemist and JBM feel like two brands that go nicely together. So I think that was part of it. I think secondly, the topic of what you talk about in the podcast, the importance of mentorship, the importance of future talent. That’s what we’re all about. You may look at it from its JBM through a slightly different lens do we do but in learning and development, so much of what we do is helping people achieve their career ambitions. And so it was a really obvious thing for us to want to be involved in.

But we wanted to do it in it’s the topics you pick the guests, you have a slightly different, it’s not just the norm. It’s not how to write a CV, how to do a job interview. It’s fundamentally about giving real world advice to people that are aspiring to be entrepreneurs, founders, leaders of the future. So it’s a really, really nice dovetail relationship for us as a business and for what you’re trying to do. And I think what have we seen so far? I mean, our marketing team here have worked quite closely with yours. I think we’ve seen an uptick in traffic, for example, on a really simple level.

But also we’ve been trying to produce content that every time an episode comes out, we are trying to give a lens on that too. And that seems to have that seems to work really well, just in terms of creating momentum.

James Mitra

Amazing. Yeah. And it’s been awesome to see the content off the back of the partnership. And yeah, well, long may it continue. Thank you again, for your support of 40 minute mentoring. It’s much appreciated. Well, it’s always a pleasure chatting, Stu.

I’m very much looking forward to catching up again, in person before too long. But thank you so much for coming on the podcast to share with our listeners a bit more about your own personal story and the journey you’ve been on with Alchemist. I know it’s been a full on but very exciting for us. And I’m sure that the year ahead is going to be your best yet. So thanks again.

Stuart Packham

Thanks, Mitty, It has been a pleasure.

James Mitra

And that’s everything for us today. I hope you really enjoyed getting to know Stu and our Series sponsors a little bit better. To find out more about Alchemist. Make sure you follow the links in our show notes. Plus, don’t forget to subscribe and leave us a review on your favourite podcast platform.

We’re back next Wednesday with a special 10 year anniversary episode, in which I will share my top 10 lessons that I’ve learned from starting and running JBM over the last decade. I really hope you enjoy it and I can’t wait to hear what you think. Have a fantastic week and I’ll see you again next Wednesday.

Subscribe Today

Sign up for the latest thinking in learning and development.

Subscription Form

Welcome to our new identity. We are now Alchemist.

Apex and Interact, our heritage brands have come together to create something new and exciting. 

Our new website is the perfect place to explore what we have to offer. 

Alchemist- one team, one culture, and one pool of associates, all with unlimited potential. 

Welcome to our new identity. We are now Alchemist.

Apex and Interact, our heritage brands have come together to create something new and exciting. 

Our new website is the perfect place to explore what we have to offer. 

Alchemist- one team, one culture, and one pool of associates, all with unlimited potential.