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Meet the CEO: Yvette Cleland

Title   Yvette Cleland

Meet the CEO: Yvette Cleland

In their summer 2018 Harvard Business Review Article (entitled "Manage Your Work, Manage Your Life") academics, Boris Groysberh and Robin Abrahams state that in order to achieve the mythical work/life balance, leaders must, "Zero in on what really matters" and, "Vigilantly manage their own human capital". There are few leaders within recruitment who exude these principles more than the effervescent Yvette Cleland. Her passion for her business and colleagues is matched by her pride and joy expressed through her family network. Lessons for us all. Cleland honours her parents for giving her a foundation that remains pivotal: "I was born in Belfast and spent the first four years of my life there, because of the 'troubles' we moved to England. I had what I can only describe as an idyllic childhood; we never ever wanted for anything (the greatest type of wealth!)".

Beginning her sales career

Eager to start her working life (and deciding that she didn't want to become an actress badly enough), she left college ("I just did not fit college life") and met a recruitment agency. She reflects, "The interviewed me for a job with Yellow Pages and then offered me a job in the agency (which I turned down because I didn't understand what recruitment was! Oh, the irony)."

Cleland thrived in her sales role with Yellow Pages and then spotted an opportunity to enter the life sciences sector as a medical rep. With two young daughters she was keen to secure a part-time role that paid well enough to buy a car, but she lacked the usual qualifications expected by pharma giant Jansen (part of JNJ). This is where her focus, as the HBR article above mentions, on managing her own human capital drove her to do whatever it took. She reveals, "I studied literally 24/7. I can still see my little two-year-old drawing on my face when I was asleep on the day of the exam with black permanent pen. I had to use a brillo pad to remove the ink and cover with very heavy make-up." She thrived and was promoted to a full-time role. It was here she also saw the value of providing "exceptional" training after receiving that herself in the role. 

"I get to work within an amazing niche market, in an industry that has been a gift to me. I have 100 per cent confidence too that this country will not only survive post-Brexit, but thrive brilliantly"

After a decade in the life sciences sector, she moved into the recruitment sector. In accord with the HBR article again (focusing on what really matters) she explains her motivation: "I wanted to be in control of my own destiny, I wanted to use my pharma knowledge and skills but be more interactive with people. I was a single parent by this time and I wanted my two little girls to have a good life. It was the best move I ever made.

Immersing in the market

She admits that her first three months were tough ("I was absolute rubbish") and realised that to succeed she needed to secure the best candidates. She shares, "It was, as ever, a relationship economy. I knew where good medical reps hung out (because I had been one) so I went and sat in hospitals and watched the reps coming through and one by one found them jobs." Success led to rapid promotion to a leadership position, which initially was a challenge ("I was rubbish") and her rapid rise also caused resentment from those with longer tenures at the business.

Cleland then made the strategic move to join Badenoch and Clarke in 2003. Cleland describes this as, "My greatest period of learning in accounts and finance recruitment. It built my competitive edge." She eventually became executive director in that niche and was also the recipient of great leadership herself. She explains, "My managing director taught me business. He taught me what to look out for in terms of negotiating, cash control, overheads, 'It's not what you bill but what you get paid on'; how to effectively target, build teams and drive a business forward."

The global financial crash from 2007/8 forced Cleland to make some tough decisions and she recalls getting up at 5am and returning home at 8pm each day. It was a period of personal growth, she recalls, "Once we came through that period I felt 100 per cent ready and able to achieve pretty much anything. I was tired though but not broken!"

Returning to life sciences

 By 2012, Cleland felt the call to return to the life sciences sector and joined Clinical Professoinals as managing director. This also gave her the twin additional opportunities of leading a business that worked within the EU and also guiding it to an exit for the existing shareholders. She says, "I had been given a remit by the majority shareholders of Clinical Professionals to scale the business for acquisition. Taking a business from £5.5 million turnover to £18 million turnover today has been quite a journey and the acquisition process was an exceptional learn."

Cleland highlights the importance of ensuring that back office processes and systems are continually developed to achieve success. And indeed the due diligence process in the sale of the business to CPL (the Irish publicaly listed business) was smooth. Cleland emphasises that teamwork is critical, stressing, "I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my colleague and our chief operations officer, Glen Hall, for being such a great and taleented colleague that has allowed me to focus on the front-line work with consultants, clients and candidates."

Prioritising training

Having become the CEO of the business, Cleland is focusing on driving global growth including in the US. She emphasises that creating a culture of true development is vital for success in this quintessential "people business". "Skills and learning are at the heart of everything I do, to this day I still take the Day 1 Training Induction course for new starters, I also do the junior management training so I can connect with our future stars," she explains. She adds that this development extends to the company's candidates, "Three years ago we started skills training for our life sciences graduates. This is a course that we wrote in-house and now we have funded, trained and found first to industry roles for over 100 UK graduates."

I invite Cleland to outline some of the key challenges that the sector faces. She reveals, "Internal talent teams are the biggest challenge now; companies are continuing to build greater road blocks to effective staffing. The irony is that this does not in fact in many cases bring cost efficiencies, but instead means the nimble less cumbersome intelligent businesses are getting to the best candidates first." She adds that all businesses need to attach great importance to the candidate journey in the search for the talent: "The candidate journey and experience are often negative. Some organisations are getting such a poor profile now, candidates refuse to have their details submitted to them."

I also ask about her insights in respect of being a successful leader. She shares, "Understand the people you work with. Appreciate the 'why' we all do what we do. If you can make your business have the feel-good factor, that can be transformational." Outside of work, Cleland invests time in her love of books (instilled by her parents) and her love of animals (another trait from childhood and continued by her two daughters). It remains, however, her two daughters (Brooke and Bea; the latter herself in recruitment too!), partners Andy Asciak, and her beloved parents who are her foundation. She is relishing the future: "I get to work within an amazing niche market, in an industry (recruitment) that has been a gift to me and with people I respect and enjoy. I have 100 per cent confidence too that this country will not only survive post-Brexit, but thrive brilliantly."

Originally published in Recruitment International: