21 Aug “It’s all about the people…”
The COO of Meet Recruitment, Hannah Donaldson, on being a female business leader, imposter syndrome and learning to congratulate yourself…
Hannah Donaldson, one of the founders of Meet Recruitment, started the company along with Paul McGuire (CEO) and Alastair Shaw (VP) in 2009, aged just 25. Since then she has been promoted to COO, spearheaded the business growth and single handily launched the brand in the USA.
But, where did it all begin? Hannah says, “I knew really early on people were my biggest passion”. That passion, along with an ambition to move to London from her home in the North-West, lead Hannah into recruitment.
“Despite the challenges, I quickly realized I wouldn’t find an industry that offered the same opportunity to progress my career and also, importantly, my lifestyle.”
Hannah started her recruitment career as a trainee in the IT sector of a big corporate. Incidentally they were diversifying into pharmaceuticals at the time, a sector that peaked her interest: “I studied psychology at university and both my parents are medics. Ironically, after vowing at a young age never to join the NHS, I spent my early career talking to doctors!”
The pharmaceutical branch was a start-up, “That’s where my passion for the start-up/SME environment kicked in – the beginning of my journey of being a business owner.”
“I am eternally grateful, both personally and professionally, for my experience there but, I knew early on that I needed a more entrepreneurial and autonomous environment to reach my potential.”
“I felt confident that starting a business I would utilise my strengths. Being solution focused in particular. Starting from scratch; we had no road map, no support – but I thrived on that! I wanted the autonomy to drive something of my own forward.”
Meet has been incredibly successful since its launch in 2009. But building a business is no mean feat. Over the years Hannah has had various personal and professional challenges to overcome…
“Something that I talk about a lot, is imposter syndrome. It exists in a lot of women, especially in a commercial environment and is hugely prevalent within me.”
Imposter syndrome is a feeling of being out of your depth and unable to perform to people’s expectations. “Fighting, embracing and accepting it is part of the journey,” Hannah says, “But it’s tough. You have to find confidence in the fact you can’t know everything and that it’s OK to continually be making improvements.”
The network, Hannah has created have supported her through the tough times: “I wanted to go into recruitment and start my own business because I am a people person to my core. It’s my biggest strength. So, I imagine it’s not a surprise that the people in my life have been crucial in my career.”
“For a long time, I wrestled with becoming a female leader…”
Although Hannah would see people who hadn’t taken on the “stress” of leadership and think wouldn’t that be easier? She knows she wouldn’t have been satisfied. “That’s not me – I’m driven in a different way. Having a family, friends and partner that understand that and will support me is really important. I’m aware that, in some ways, I can offer less to these relationships; because, essentially, I don’t have as much time. But that doesn’t mean my relationships are any less pure, they are just different.”
Blending the different facets of life, from personal relationships to professional development and self-gratification is difficult. Hannah finds people that are able to do that very inspiring, “I hope to replicate that.”
“Sheryl Sandberg is one of those people. I think she is the most incredible woman in business. Her philosophy is not about shouting the loudest or even being the most confident. It’s all about finding strength in every situation. She’s also a phenomenal advocate for how I believe businesses should be run.”
Recently, Hannah attended a female entrepreneur’s seminar in New York, where she heard the CEO of Baublebar speak, “her message was that as the owner of a business, your role is about your people not your product. It resonated with me and the way we run Meet.”
“The best leaders I’ve known are those who recognise that the toughest part of growing a business is making sure the people that work for you are engaged, challenged and fulfilled.”
That’s why culture is so important to the senior management at Meet, “Recruitment is a big industry, what I thrive on is ensuring Meet’s culture sets us apart from our competitors and drives our success. As we grow that becomes increasingly difficult. Growing pains are real! We’re seeing a 50% growth year on year, so I’m working incredibly hard to make sure the exponential growth doesn’t dilute the culture we’ve built.”
Next year Meet will be 10 years old. They’ve grown from a single 3-person office in London to an international business with offices across the US and a Berlin launch planned later this year. What advice does Hannah have for young entrepreneurs with similar ambitions?
“I was given a piece of advice a few years ago: ‘Treat yourself when you hit milestones’. As an entrepreneur there is no one there to congratulate you. You have to do it yourself. If you don’t, you stop acknowledging the great things you’ve achieved.”
“It’s doesn’t have to be a materialistic treat. When I first launched the American business, it was incredibly stressful. On my first trip back to the UK I sat in the airport and I wrote down everything we’d achieved in the first month. It was so powerful. Up to that point I had been focusing on all the things we hadn’t done. Taking time to recognise everything we had done gave me clarity.”
“Celebrate the successes and believe passionately that you are in the right place for you – doubt can be paralyzing.”