Interview: Peta Hay of Saxton Bampfylde

‘The way Scotland does business resonated with us’

Peta Hay 2The distinct smell of fresh paint and newly-applied plaster permeates the air at 46 Melville Street. It is undergoing a major refurbishment, rewiring and all, and once complete will provide accommodation befitting its Georgian heritage.

It is home to one of the latest recruits to an already competitive headhunting sector in Edinburgh. Saxton Bampfylde has had clients in the city for some years, but this is its first permanent office and for Peta Hay it represents a new start for the firm and for herself.

Her role as head of the firm’s Scotland practice and its consumer retail business comes after a career in the supermarket trade with Tesco and Asda Walmart. It is a shift of sorts, though her job was largely in human resources and talent spotting.

Her work introduced her to one of the firm’s founders, Stephen Bampfylde, and his ambition to open an office in Scotland coincided with her own wish to return home.

“I was ready to do something completely different and it seemed a great opportunity,” says the 41-year-old mother of two. Her husband John has established an art gallery in Falkland.

Bringing her retail experience to her new job means she has a UK-wide brief in addition to her plans to build on the firm’s Scottish foundations.

She explains: “There is a perception that we are new here, but in fact we have had clients in Scotland for a long time. Even so, we were working at a disadvantage, operationally, and having an office here does show a commitment to Scotland. It also means I am not always worrying about missing the first flight out of Heathrow!”

The company was fortunate to acquire premises in the run-up to the independence referendum when property was being offered a little more cheaply as few companies were committing to Scotland. She says the firm would have come north whichever way the vote went because it recognised that Scotland is a different market.

“It has a different set of rules and systems,” says Mrs Hay, “education, legal, government, and it is important for those of us in the business of finding people to understand those differences and not to underestimate them.”

She acknowledges the presence of so many competitors jostling for attention and that each one will claim to be somehow unique. Saxton Bampfylde can at least least claim to be unusual by being an employee-owned firm, and it is clear that she will play on this in pitching for clients.

“Scottish Enterprise says a lot of firms in Scotland are considering doing it. The way Scotland is doing business therefore resonated with us.

“It will matter to people because the way we do business internally means we are doing it for the collective good of our firm. Because we own the firm we will move heaven and earth for clients and we also have a team of researchers who work for one client at a time. Of course, it also makes us more expensive, but by the time we have finished the search we are confident we have gone far more deeply into it.”

She adds that she has been a client of headhunters, so is a firm advocate of the message she is giving. The company can also back up its claims with figures showing it has a 98% success rate for hires against an industry average of 68%.

Saxton Bampfylde was set up 1986 and has worked with FTSE 100 companies and blue-chip multinationals, government and academia to foundation trust hospitals, arts institutions and not-for-profit organisations.

Mrs Hay, now one of its 70 partners, intends to build on this client base and has already had some success hiring for Napier University, the National Museums of Scotland, the new V&A in Dundee and in the energy sector. She is working with Betty’s and Taylor’s, the tea and coffee firm, in Harrogate.

Her own career began with Tesco as a graduate and she progressed into a number of senior roles including store director and growth of the hypermarket format in Scotland and North England. She became group talent director, accountable and in 2012 she was approached by Asda Walmart to join as group talent & diversity director.

Despite the excitement of her new challenge she looks back fondly at her time in the supermarket business, not least working for Sir Terry Leahy at Tesco, and she retains a close watch on the current plans to revive its fortunes.

“People say to me that I must be glad to be out of it, but the dominant feeling for me is one of deep sadness at what has happened to a great company,” she says. “I am sure it will be great again. These things are cyclical. I learned a lot at Tesco and will always be grateful.”

She was hired by Saxton Bampfylde last March and the Edinburgh office opened in November. Six of her expected complement of 8-10 staff are now in place and she reveals that the firm is already thinking of opening another office in Scotland.

She finds that candidates are attracted to Scotland’s standard of living, ease of getting about and the lower cost of property. “Yes, the M8 and the trains can be a nightmare at times, but they are nothing like commuting in London,” she says, clearly speaking from experience.

She plays down recent fears that the Scottish Government’s new land and buildings transaction tax will penalise the higher bracket homebuyer.

“There is no evidence at present to suggest it will, but any relocation is a big consideration and companies need to continue to review a total package to attract the best candidates,” she says.

Clients are becoming more demanding in terms of diversity – gender, ethnic and mobility. She says: “The private sector is under pressure from customers, shareholders and employees. It was a big part of my job at Walmart and will continue for all the right reasons.”

Among other trends she detects in the employment market are a greater willingness to change sectors and more interest in taking up non-executive roles at a younger age. Recruiters are also increasingly taking into account the need to relocate couples who both have careers.

“It can make it more difficult,” she admits. But the bottom line is that the work will always be focused on matching client and candidate.

“Hiring the right people is still the most important thing any client has to do.”








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