As part of our ongoing series, we’re chatting to James Lloyd-Townshend, CEO of niche technology recruiters Nigel Frank International. With over 22 years of experience in the recruitment industry, James has quite the collection of plaudits to his name, leading Nigel Frank to several industry-led awards such as being one of The Sunday Times 250 Top Track Companies to name but one of many.
James was kind enough to talk to us about his time studying at uni, how his degree prepared him for his career and provide some advice for those looking to go down a similarly successful route.
What university did you go to and what did you study?
I went to Newcastle University, where I studied Economics and Accounting.
What was your favourite part of going to university?
The whole experience was phenomenal. I picked a great city to live in, studied hard and came away from my time at university with an overwhelmingly positive attitude towards my life and career. I have a lot of fond memories; I definitely feel like I made the most of it.
What parts of university did you find the most difficult?
Being in an environment with so many temptations that will distract you, that can be difficult if you’re not properly focused on the end goal. I enjoyed my time at university, there were some great parties for sure, but you have to remember why you’re there in the first place. I didn’t find that difficult, but I can see why so many people do.
Is your job related to your university course?
Ultimately, as a CEO, I’m accountable for both the strategy and delivering the numbers, so it’s absolutely related, in fact, it couldn’t be more suited. Understanding economics is essential to my job because it’s directly related to the strategic direction the company might take, be it at a macro or micro level. When you’re talking to investors or owners you’ve got to be supremely confident because they’re number driven. I think that being at the heart of my course has put me in a great position.
How do you feel university prepared you for your career?
It gave me a good grounding in the world of business and the theory behind what drives an organisation in terms of the economics. When I’m looking to grow our company and make decisions involving big sums of money, I don’t really have to think about it, it’s like it’s instinctively in my DNA.
Did you need to undertake any other experience to get your job now? (e.g. internships, volunteering)
I didn’t come into it straight from university, I went back home to Ireland and found a job in sales. I really enjoyed that environment and transitioned into recruitment from there. I worked my way up once I got into the industry and knew I wanted to be here. I looked at those around me to see what I needed to do to progress, went to business schools, and surrounded myself with good mentors who helped me in a career within management.
I’d say that real-world experience is vital when an employer is looking at you as a candidate. Whether it’s through a full-time job, an internship, or simply volunteering in your chosen field; it shows an approach to work that is incredibly difficult to instil into someone, so it’ll make you an incredibly attractive prospect later on.
What advice do you wish you knew before starting university?
Probably that having that real-world experience is so essential when you’re entering the job market. I hear young people complain that they find it difficult to find employment after leaving education, not realising that having a degree on your CV isn’t always enough to make you stand out. When you’re competing with graduates who have hands-on experience in the field, or who’ve shown a steady work ethic even during their years of study, it puts them in pole position when opportunities become available.
What tips do you have for other students on choosing where to go to university?
Despite mentioning being wary of the distractions that a city can provide, you need to choose somewhere that you’re going to enjoy living. Of course, take a look at the usual factors such as the university itself and how its course in your field stands up to others, but if you don’t feel comfortable in the city itself, maybe look elsewhere. It has to feel like a place you can call home. I loved living in Newcastle, I moved back there after leaving university and I still enjoy going back to this day.
How did you find making friends at university?
I think being involved with sports teams was a great way to make friends. Much like the workplace, you’re just sort of flung into a group of people, which forces you into developing those bonds, some of which have lasted to this day. Not only that, it teaches you other things such as the value of teamwork and leadership, skills which you can really take into your professional life.
What was your main reason for going to university?
I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted my career to be, but I knew the degree would be an important part of it. I knew that taking the time to dedicate myself to study, to be able to apply myself, those are the sorts of qualities that employers find desirable, as well as the skills and knowledge that are taught to you. Even if I left a pursued a different career path afterwards, I knew it was an essential thing I needed to have in my professional armoury.
How do you think you have changed as a person since leaving university?
I’m probably more aware of teamwork. Even though I’m CEO of a company now, I see myself as the person who has the final say, rather than just the one in charge. I surround myself with incredibly talented people, who help me formulate plans and assist with my decision-making. Since leaving university, I’ve probably learned that as a CEO, it also means accepting the blame if something goes wrong, even if it wasn’t my mistake.
Would you recommend any extracurricular activities at university and did you do any yourself?
I played rugby, I’m a keen sportsman and it seemed natural to do something that I already enjoyed. I’d definitely recommend looking at the different clubs and teams available to you. It’s good to have something beyond just your course and your classmates while you’re studying.
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