Jemma Terry is the Managing Partner for Odgers Berndston (Wales) – the UK’s largest executive search firm for the last three consecutive years, and the only national search firm with a dedicated office in Wales. The company, which celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2016, currently has eight offices throughout the UK and 50 worldwide across 26 different countries.
In addition to her role at Odgers Berndtson, Jemma is a Member of the Prince’s Trust Cymru Council; Governor of the University of South Wales; Director of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama; Director of the Cardiff Business Club; a Member of the CBI Council for Wales and an Ambassador for Pembrokeshire, where she was born and raised.
How did you get to your current position?
After graduating from University of Keele with a degree in Management Science with French, Spanish and Maths (and a year out in Montpellier’s Ecole Superieure de Commerce), I joined the Marks & Spencer Graduate Management Scheme. This provided an invaluable experience across a variety of functions in stores and head office, not to mention insight into what it takes to manage and lead effective teams (something that would help me later in my career).
After almost four years with Marks & Spencer I was frustrated by the pace of progression in such a large organisation, (despite having had a wonderful time there) and so moved into a small firm based in London in what would be my first foray into the world of executive search. Almost ten years and three roles (and promotions) later, I joined Odgers Berndtson in 2006, initially as Principal Consultant. I was appointed Partner in 2008, one of the youngest then and one of the few females in the UK. Since then, I have progressed to the role of Managing Partner (Wales) upon the establishment and growth of the Welsh office and team.
Within your career to date, was there a specific period that you believe helped you to become the successful leader that you are today?
I believe I had a fantastic grounding in commercial, operational, financial and HR training in Marks & Spencer. I did not know what I wanted to do specifically so the breadth, depth and rigour of their training programme, leadership foundations and 360 degree performance reviews were an excellent start. I also think coming back to Wales (I was born and raised in Pembrokeshire) was a fantastic opportunity for me to bring a world class, international executive search firm to Wales and be truly embedded in the fabric of the community for the first time.
Everyone uses the word ‘passionate’ nowadays but this is how I feel about what the team and I do in Wales. Every job we recruit, whether CEO of the Principality Building Society, Permanent Secretary of Welsh Government or Non-Executive for WRU, is terribly important for everyone in Wales and this closeness and deep-rooted meaning brings a completely different dimension to a job like ours, especially as Wales is a small place where everyone is known to everyone else.
Have you always been ambitious?
Yes I have not thought much about this but I have always been naturally competitive (from my Father) and this has translated into all areas of my early life – county sports competitions and academic achievements. I set myself goals and feel a sense of satisfaction when these are reached.
My ambition however is to reach my own potential and aspirations, and also to make a real difference along the way – to my team, our clients and partners, our candidates, and the business as a whole.
What would you say is your greatest achievement in a leadership role?
Since becoming Managing Partner at Odgers Berndtson (Wales), we have enjoyed a number of successes. But it is what we have achieved over the last two years that I am most proud of.
In 2008, when the office was established in Wales, we had ambitious plans to become the executive search partner of choice for Welsh organisations – we have not only achieved that status, we have also become one of the best performing offices in the UK for the Odgers Berndtson group, with the highest repeat business level at 80%.
In 2014 we relocated to new offices at Callaghan Square in Cardiff, and in 2015 we saw record growth for the Welsh office – sales increased by 30% ahead of plan and 56% ahead of the previous year, while our 100% completion rate saw Wales ahead of our other UK offices in this respect.
With regards to your current role, how would you describe your style of leadership?
The executive search industry is highly competitive, exposed, demanding and often pressured as we work to project deadlines. Whilst achieving strong financial results will take you so far, there also needs to be a focus on creating and delivering long-term relationships and value for our clients, candidates, our own business and our partners. This takes a certain approach which is long-term, considered, for the greater good and that is very quality and outcome driven whilst doing what is right.
When I started my career, management was something that was taught and although I was gaining practical insights into effective management techniques, I didn’t have the benefit of previous experience. Of course, that came with time and each role I have had throughout my career since first managing store teams in 1995 has led to further refinement.
This in turn has prompted the need to continue adapting and acquiring new leadership skills.
I am a great believer in practicing what you preach, and I would never expect anyone in my team to do something that I was unwilling to do myself.
But I also think that good leadership is about showing what you are capable of doing as much as it is about listening to those around you and involving them in the decision-making process.
Executive search is a ‘people’ business and it is important to utilise the talents of each of your team – after all, none of us have all the answers all of the time.
When succession planning, what do you look for in the managers and leaders that work for you?
This depends on the role and level but broadly – energy and pace, accountability, high intellect, ability to perform at a very senior level and under pressure effectively and fun.
What would be your top tip to other managers?
Be proud of having high standards and do not compromise these and also it is important to do the right thing in business.
It is not all about income and market share – it is also about feeling what you do is important (we help to change people’s lives) and is fair and honest – your reputation depends on this.
The LMW Team would sincerely like to thank Jemma Terry for this interview.