Meet the Team: An interview with Millar Cameron’s Managing Partner
We sat down with Conor O'Callaghan to discuss how Millar Cameron came to be, what’s entailed in the preparation of candidates for the recruitment process at C-suite level and why a small part of him will be forever grateful to the pandemic, for the behavioural legacy it has left behind.
CONOR’S ROLE AS FOUNDING PARTNER
1. What's the story behind how Millar Cameron came to be?
Millar Cameron is my first business, set up because I had an entrepreneurial itch. My grandfather, Millar Cameron, was someone I revered as a child. He worked hard and was a very successful businessman, I thought some of his genes might have rubbed off on me. Although he died when I was a young man, he left an everlasting mark on me.
I had always planned to start a business in my 30s and realized that dream in 2007.
Originally my plan was to take things easy, treat it as a lifestyle business, decompress after 12 hard years in London. Thankfully clients trusted the business and it was not long until I was too busy for myself and thus hired some support. One hire led to another, and we grew from there.
2. What does your role as Managing Partner look like day to day?
What I love about recruitment and executive search is diversity. I do not mean diversity as part of DEI, although this is always at the front of our minds and our work when we conduct recruitment campaigns. The diversity of the role is the myriad of nationalities we are fortunate enough to work with, so far, we have helped over 100 different nationalities find work, it is the rich tapestry of clients Millar Cameron works with, from start up tech firms, to pioneering social enterprises to multinational consumer businesses.
Having said that running a business and having the ambition to grow and improve can be challenging. As much as I love Africa there are easier geographies to scale a search firm.
I continue to enjoy recruitment, so remain working with a number of clients and exploring how we can develop deeper working relationships and source more.
Finding the balance of working on and in the business is a constant, especially as running a boutique firm dictates getting “hands on”.
MILLAR CAMERON’S WORK, PASSION & PROCESS
3. How do you describe Millar Cameron and the work you do?
Millar Cameron has always focused on geographies that mainstream executive search firms tend not to direct their attention to. It was a strategic plan, we wanted to be able to work in markets that were not as saturated as others.
As a business we embrace challenge, from a professional point of view working in the UK and Europe might well have been easier and more profitable, however not as adventurous as the journey Millar Cameron has had. The challenge is not necessarily the geographic markets, often it is more about carrying out global, “borderless” searches when sourcing talent.
Our core focus has always been recruitment, sourcing and recruiting executives and leaders for clients operating in Africa, and other “emerging markets”.
We have developed a number of recruitment related products such as project solutions and interim support. We have developed assessment products to support clients in their decision making when it comes to hiring.
Currently we are reviewing and critiquing other products that are talent related, the ambition is to launch these next year.
4. Millar Cameron is unique in its passion for and focus on roles in sub-Saharan Africa and emerging markets. Do you have a tie to these countries?
Initially there was no real tie to Africa. I studied Latin American studies at university and have always been fascinated by “emerging markets”. There is so much life, energy, and opportunity in the “global south”.
Africa became the focus in 2009 and we love working here. People say that Africa gets “under your skin”, it is an incredible continent with many, many amazing people.
I feel there can be a lot of negative comments made about Africa, there certainly was when we set up the business. Politics, corruption, fraud etc made many former colleagues severely question my judgement. Although there have been some challenges the reality is that the continent is fascinating and far removed from some of the sweeping generalizations that I heard.
Thankfully my children have caught the Africa bug, my dream is that they will dedicate their careers on the continent, as well.
5. Recruiting for senior management, director and C-suite positions requires a unique skill set. How do you prepare your candidates for the recruitment process at this level?
I have worked in Africa and “emerging markets” for over 20 years, ultimately it is the same process for an executive search firm in Europe who are sourcing CFOs into Geneva.
There are however some differences, I feel the level of information we need to share might be higher, we often need to consider geopolitical issues, and support people in understanding wider, familial points such as schooling and housing provision.
Many of our candidates are not regularly practicing resume writing and carrying out interviews, we look for people who are stable and remain in employment for considerable periods of time. As a result, we support people through coaching.
Information is key, it is our responsibility not only to conduct thorough, diligent searches but also to ensure that we provide as much information as possible to our candidates to ensure they can make considered decisions when looking to change roles. The role of recruitment is critical and carries a lot of responsibility. Quality leadership defines the success of an organization, we take our role in the process with the utmost seriousness.
IMPACT IN AFRICA, OPPORTUNITIES & COVID’S LEGACY
6. Is there any one client or partnership which you are most proud? Or feel has had the greatest impact on the communities you are so passionate about?
The list is endless, I have worked in the industry for many years and Millar Cameron has partnered countless fascinating organizations.
Atco Frontec were instrumental in the early days of the business. Their trust in us allowed us to commence building the foundations that Millar Cameron is underpinned by today.
Groupe Socfin, the Belgian tropical farming business was our gateway into agriculture. Through their confidence and our diligence, we continue to support them across Central and West Africa.
The Clinton Development Initiative and their work with smallholder farmers in Rwanda, Tanzania and Malawi makes a real difference to rural communities, improving their yields and their income. I feel privileged to have worked with them.
Poa Internet are an awesome technology business, connecting people digitally in East Africa. What is incredible about Poa is that they focus on the underserved, a truly purpose led business.
7. What do you see as the biggest recruitment opportunity and conversely challenge, currently playing out within the industry?
The business works across a number of industries so I will focus on a few.
Within technology, digital sovereignty is a hot topic in Africa right now, and rightly so. As a result, there is considerable investment being made into digital infrastructure. We are fortunate enough to work with a number of investors and key players in this market.
Food security is front of mind, even more relevant with the sad situation of Ukraine. We are seeing increasing investment being made into agriculture, as African nations are looking to reduce their reliance on imports and feed themselves.
International Development has seen a number of key organizations look to hire leadership talent into Africa instead of the historic trend to have key decision makers being based in Europe or North America.
8. What's the single biggest shift you’ve seen in the industry, as a result of the pandemic?
I think the pandemic has taught all of us some really useful lessons. A part of me will be forever grateful to the pandemic.
Businesswise we have noticed that clients are acting smarter, clients are transforming digitally to remain current. The incidence of travel and the need for “in region meetings” have reduced. Efficiency seems a hot topic, our clients are looking at ways to continuously improve. Welfare is being addressed, many organizations have understood what we have all been through and are focusing on team welfare and looking at ways to improve mental health.
From a recruitment point of view, those clients who continue to embrace working from home gain advantage.
Prior to the pandemic the interview process in Africa could be protracted, flying interviewees and selection panels was a logistical conundrum and time consuming. The pandemic closed the lid on this, due to many of us being “at home”. Post covid and for many roles clients remain fluid in interview processes, understanding that it is not always critical for in person interviews.