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Tips & Advice

5 Minutes with Talent Director Leighton Howl

Marketing Ambassador, Ashan Marambe sits down with The Pond's Creative & Design Recruitment Talent Director, Leighton Howl, to reflect on the past year, find out what’s in-store for 2020 and what he's up to over the summer break.


You’ve been in the recruitment game for a while…13 years to be exact. Looking back, what are 3 big highlights from the last few years?

"Continuing to place people that stick – 4.2 years is The Pond’s recruitment average as of the end of this year. If we recruited the wrong people that lasted only a year, it would be a waste of time - and who would want to pay a fee for that!"

"Growth, we’ve grown from 8 employees to 12. We are not exactly a FAST 50 company on the cover of Idealog but we are heading in the right direction."

"A very diverse list of clients, initially we started in agencies but corporate is now a big space that we play in. We now service all types of businesses with quality recruits. It has continued to be a winning formula post-2016."


You’ve got a lot of diverse clients, who were your favourite ten in 2019? 

"They are all a pleasure to do recruitment projects for, but ten that jump out would be Pushpay, Bobux, EnableMe, UP Education, CFFC, Republik, Uno Loco, Chemistry, Capiche & DDB."


Where do you think The Pond is headed in the next 3 years?

"To be honest, the theme is growth. We want to get to 18-20 employees and stay a specialised high-end service lead recruitment firm in the three key hubs of Digital & Tech, Creative & Design, Marketing & Media. We are currently at 12 and hiring again, we also want to get more focus nationwide and push into the regional cities more. We love a trip to Hamilton and windy Wellington. As Mr Shane Jones says, “there’s growth in the regions” - we tend to agree."


The Pond is championing transformational talent. In your opinion, what is it and why is this so crucial?

"Businesses want people who can create change, to improve what they do, keeping them competitive and on the edge of the new. We feel a lot of these “transformational types” fall into the three areas we specialise in: Creative, Digital and Marketing. It’s a new position we have promoted over the last 18 months when acquiring and representing talent. We want to attract the best, and top candidates want the best service from us and the best employment opportunities, freelance or full-time, in growing businesses who are driving change."


What are the biggest opportunities on the horizon at The Pond right now?

"Two things, the Digital & Tech sector, and Recruitment Services." 

"Digital & Tech is short on talent nationwide so if you’ve got top talent offshore coming home or immigrating then clients in the sector want to talk turkey."

"The second big opportunity is actually recruitment, it is back and in fashion globally more than ever. Work-life balance is in Vogue along with remote working, talent is on the move across countries and visa regulations are changing weekly. Then there is the ‘wellbeing at work’ movement, along with the huge focus on ‘culture and employment brand’, add LinkedIn into the mix, a voice and media channel for all this change, and you’ve got a very happy playing field for the business of recruitment and HR. "

"To add to this, businesses in this changing landscape are finding it too hard to recruit direct and they are slowly realising that employing people to do it themselves internally is an expensive overhead when finding quality new employees is a hard task that requires the best people doing it (That would be us of course)."


What sets The Pond apart from other specialist recruiters?

"Our recruitment retention rate of 4.2 years. We are the only recruiter in NZ that has one, and we are proud to say when you recruit through us, your new recruit should last 4.2 years. It’s all about the result that mirrors the outlay on the fee."


You deal with a lot of agencies, what are some of the challenges’ agencies are experiencing in today’s market?

"At the present time a flat economy, with a conservative government at the helm and continued marketing budget claw back from AUS owned businesses operating in NZ. Also, lumpy revenue streams as many retainers are gone and everything has become project-based. I also see too many agencies where their point of difference is doing it cheaper than the person down the road."


How do you measure business success?

"With a calculator firstly, as the numbers don’t lie. If the numbers work, it should work for everyone attached to it. Also, by running a business which supports growth for everyone working in it and for external clients who engage with it."


Who is the smartest person you know personally? Why?

"Many names, but my wife gets the gold medal. She’s a thinker, listener, supporter, sounding board and provides clear air around the hurdles we often encounter as owners of a small recruitment firm."


What made you decide to change from an advertising agency Art Director to a recruitment agency owner?

"It was a bit of an accident really; I was freelancing with CD Sue Worthington in Auckland and we set up a collective with 8 other senior advertising creatives who were also freelancing. After 1 year I ended up helping the other 8 find work and it went from a self-help collective to a micro business that needed running part-time as the list of represented creatives (we got to 50 quickly) wanted more service, work and all-round career representation (no LinkedIn back then, just a landline). "

"The business got called The Pond. Why? Because when I was a young lad I went to a country primary school with a large freshwater pond (lake maybe) next door, all the kids would go there after school and swim, build huts, raft, play with our pets, ride horses, climb trees, eel, make weapons, fish, pick fruit, shoot targets and hang out. Then we got picked up on a horse or walked home for dinner, there were no cell phones - so you just turned up, that was 1985."


What are two things that horse racing and recruitment have in common?

"Like people, every horse is different. And like horses, you don’t often know what people are really thinking."


What have you got planned for Summer 2020?

"4 weeks out of Auckland. Kids. Horses. Exercise. Trout Fishing. Wakeboarding (not me, the kids). Golf. Swimming in New Zealand’s biggest Pond – Kinloch Taupo."


You’ve been given an elephant at work. You can’t give it away or sell it. What would you do with the elephant?

"Move it to the Auckland Domain ASAP, no doubt it will be hungry and want a swim. With the Auckland Council unable to mow the street berms I would imagine the domain trees need some work done too. Then call the Auckland Zoo and get an expert on board to work out plan B."


If you could go to any festival in the world tomorrow, which one would it be?

"Any festival with a food or wine theme (Toast Martinborough is classic). Also, keen on Ascot in England."


How many people are using Facebook in Auckland at 2:30 pm on a Friday?

"Too many, lunch usually finishes at around 1:30 pm."


And finally, what do you want to achieve in 2020? A personal and a business example would be nice. 

"On a business stage, I'd love to hit our winter KPI sales target with all the recruitment team and then shout all the staff all to Queenstown for 3 nights in early August – Yes!"

"And to add the racehorse we gave away to 12 lucky clients at our Christmas party develops into a lovely animal who can run fast and put smiles on the faces of all the new owners. Yes, yes, yes"

"On a personal note, spend more time with my two girls."


About The Pond

The Pond is New Zealand’s number one specialist recruiter in the Creative, Digital, and Marketing sectors, operating nationwide. The Pond is committed to finding the best creative, digital, and marketing talent in the market, people that last the distance and help transform businesses.

Creative. Digital. Marketing. Recruitment.