Think Different. Think Chemistry Fit. (No Such Thing As Bad PR)

I got into recruitment nearly 20 years ago with the phrase “Gary, you’re a gobby little sh*t. Ever considered recruitment?”. My career as an accountant was ended with a 50% pay rise and a company car. My personality had got me the job.

6 months later it saw my Mondeo GLX company car replaced with a Golf GTi.
12 months later it saw me as the top fee earner in the Leeds office of Robert Half
18 months later it saw me get branded a ‘Maverick’…..and apparently they didn’t mean it as a compliment???

mav·er·ick (noun)
[ ‘mævərik, ‘mævrik ](mav·er·icks)

  1. Independent PersonGary Chaplin - Maverick TOP GUN
  2. Unbranded Animal
  3. Slightly homo-erotic part played by Tom Cruise in Top Gun

I’ve been considered by many as a Black Sheep ever since, and yet, in all but one of the 6 employers I had in my 18 years of employment, I was also the top fee earner AND top business generator. It helped me ‘lead’, but made me realise that I couldn’t/didn’t ‘manage’.

I’ve been the guy that a small section of people have ‘loved to hate’…. primarily by people that have never actually met me…(!?)

I’ve brought it all on myself. I’ve built enemies by being different, by being outspoken…and by admittedly making mistakes.

I’ve sat there more than once whilst seemingly respected people (and media) have taken non-events, wildly exaggerated them and made them into sensational stories, ….then watched as other people have believed what was written, and judged accordingly – thankfully a significant minority.

I have been on the receiving end of bullying, especially in the past 12 months, and thus my support for James Welch’s anti-bulling campaign <HERE>.

I’ve learnt, the hard way, to not react in anything other than positive ways….and turn those negatives, fabricated or otherwise, into positives, andGary Chaplin Chimp Paradox positive energy. [I’ve learned much of that by reading Dr Steve Peter’s The Chimp Paradox, my book of 2013, as introduced by Phil Jones].

To follow the advice of the self-labeled ‘difference-maker’, Zig Ziglar… “It’s not how far you fall, it’s how high you bounceback”.

But most of all, my reputation has come from following my heart, choosing my own path and from pursuing what I have considered to be the best way to operate in my chosen profession. The points in the paragraphs above become but noise, and crucially, a vehicle to having higher-profile PR and being well known….a useful component for someone who’s job it is to be well-networked.

I’ve always followed Winston Churchill’s advice: “You have enemies? Good. It means you have stood up for something in your life

When you operate in a well established market, differentiation becomes critical. I discussed this issue with Kristian Burrill entrepreneur and founder of another young business, the start-up, IT Sourced, with whom we have just placed a Sales Director. His business operates in an already congested space, but they have found a niche. He says:

“As a small business, it is essential that we stand out from the crowd. Our skills and experience told us that we could be successful, but we needGary Chaplin Kristian Burrill IT Sourced to stand out. How do we do this? Differentiation; it’s important that we could deliver a solution that was exciting and different. Our new solution [People Analytics™], was created with that in mind. Manchester is known as the hotbed for the UK Digital and creative sector; operating in this market, it was vital we came up with a way to collaborate with that sector and as such, create a differentiator by breaking the mould of a traditional IT Support business. What we have created leverages opportunity for all involved, something that is different and makes a difference.”

We have really enjoyed working in a true partner environment with IT Sourced, a real kindred spirit business with an amazing future ahead of them.

I started planning my own business in Summer 2011 after 12 months of having professional/financial/career promises broken. I utilised my ‘little-black-book’ and spoke to 30 business leaders about what they would like to see from an Executive Search business.

I got numerous initiatives and ideas, but the common theme from all 30 was that they wanted to see ‘something different’. My sector had been largely without evolution or innovation for over quarter of a century. High fees, risk profile biased towards to the client, overly formal/austere selection criteria and a sector that took itself too seriously. Witness the reluctance to embrace Social Media, mobility, and even keep websites, communication and marketing within the current decade.

Instead, most Executive Search businesses are obsessed with the past and with ‘history’. As the $19bn sale of WhattsApp last month told us, history counts for very little, innovation and responding to a changing market (and these things called customers) is key. As Tony Robbins states “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten”. Innovate or die.

The result to this 6 months of assessment, input and planning was a business that addressed those issues, by mitigating risk from clients, making fees more commercial, introducing service innovation, modernising marketing and above all, focusing on Chemistry Fit above all else.

Chemistry fit is essential. It drives every business, every partnership, every relationship. The lack of chemistry, or the break-down in that chemistry is typically fatal for any environment. To match chemistry, you need more than just similar/complimentary backgrounds, it is way more than matching a CV, matching an industry or matching a psychometric/personal profile report.

Whether in business, music, sports or entertainment, great pairings and teams are more than putting similar people together. It is where combined pairings/groupings becomes more than just a combined force. It sparks, creates fireworks, creates electricity…. It’s Chemistry.

Get it right, the results are explosive and genuinely breath-taking. Whether it’s Gein & Novoselov (Graphene), Toshack & Keegan, Redgrave & Pinsent, or Elton & Bernie [or Yates & Welch 😉 ], the chemistry is staggering.

Imagine therefore getting that Chemistry right at the point of introduction. It takes experience and a specific approach.

For years I was criticised for being too friendly and too conversational in interviews. I was lambasted by an old stalwart of executive search in 1999 for being seen ‘smiling, on more than one occasion!’ during an interview. Another business I worked for prided itself on the toughest interview in the market, and again criticised me for being conversational and verging on informal.

…and yet my clients’ first question on Short-Listing was, and still is “What’s he/she like then?”. If all I could detail was how well they had interviewed, my client would be unimpressed. Ditto if all I had done was verify their CV or tried to trip them up/catch them out.

Assessing Chemistry Fit is vital. Skills, background and experience are important, but they are a given at this level. Assessing the fit between business and new hires is critical. Being different, standing out from the crowd might be a good thing in life, a good thing in business…..but you don’t want to be the odd-one-out at work. You certainly don’t want to employ that person.

I asked one of Manchester’s greatest business leaders, Phil Jones, UK Managing Director of Global Electronics Giant, Brother about Chemistry fit. HeGary Chaplin - Phil Jones Brother UK said:

“Great chemistry is all about understanding the ingredients you need first (job specification, personality type/attributes), then cooking it up into your cultural fit.  Without properly defining the ingredients at the start of your process, you risk poor candidate selection and hidden long term cost.”

I spend time within my client’s offices, meeting key stakeholders and 360 relationships/conectors as well as just absorbing the business’s culture and environment. The interview (and interview format) is then crucial.

Think of the last interview you conducted. I suspect you were both quite rigid, very formal, spent 60% talking through the interviewee’s CV, 30% talking about your business/the role. You were both cautious, both defensive, both very considered & measured about what information you gave…

..…you then got to the last 5-10% when the interview was officially over. You both relaxed, and you chatted; weather, traffic, football, the weekend. Small talk. You then saw what that person was like, and chances are, you liked them better in that 5 minutes as they seemed less formal, less defensive, less low-reacting, more human… You get the idea.

I conduct my whole interview in the frame of mind of that last 5 minutes. I prefer not to interview in a suit. I don’t interview in formal offices across a desk/table. I choose environments where openness is more likely, where the interviewee will be relaxed, candid and where I will get to see that personality and assess the chemistry fit. It works.

It works so well, and I am so confident in the importance of Chemistry Fit (and in our ability to match it), that I offer the longest guarantee in the Executive Search industry; TWELVE MONTHS free replacement, when our competitors offer either 2 or 3 months.

I asked Jen Smith of JMW Solicitors about her opinion of the importance of Chemistry Fit in recruitment. Jen is one of Manchester’s the country’s top Employment Lawyers. She said:

“Sitting in the Employment Law Team, Cultural and personality clashes are one of the drivers behind the job departures we manage of behalf ofGary Chaplin - Jen Smith JMW our clients. Upon even modest investigation, it is often quite obvious that employers and employees personality/cultural compatibility/chemistry fit had been consistent throughout the employment and was often discussed even a the hiring stage. Too many times, it boils down to the fact that hiring managers either disregard that personality/chemistry fit, or get blinded by the persons technical expertise/experience that they decide to ‘give it a go’. Personalities are often the one thing in any relationship that doesn’t change, and thus getting the right fit, and focussing on the right fit at hiring stage is critical.”

But that Chemistry isn’t just between candidate and hiring manager, nor is it just relevant during the recruitment/hiring process, it is how they act and react once in post. Do they disregard that chemistry fit that saw their appointment created like star over a Bethlehem stable? Or do they too recognise the importance?

I asked Matthew Dashper-Hughes about Chemistry fit. Matthew startedhis new role recently, placed by me, as the Chief Operating Office of Theo Paphitis’s business, Ryman. He said:

“From Jobs & Wozniak to Lennon & McCartney our culture is littered with examples that show that the whole can be much greater than the sum Matthew Dashper-Hughes. COO Ryman, placed by Gary Chaplinof its parts. This is what the Germans call ‘gestalt’, and it goes way, way beyond simply finding people with ‘complementary skill sets’.

Great chemistry between people in an organisation is the holy grail of management – it’s the thing that can be pretty much guaranteed to generate truly awe-inspiring results. Think of every winning streak your football team has ever had? Great chemistry! Think of every classic album that your favourite band has ever released? Great chemistry!

As a leader you need to facilitate the natural chemistry between people; that creativity that comes from facilitating constructive dynamic tension. Sounds hard, doesn’t it? And yes, it can be every bit as challenging as trying to turn base metals into gold (maybe alchemy would be a better word than chemistry!)

I’m sure other people have their own approaches to this, but in my simplistic way I approach the challenge by throwing myself in at the deep end and immersing myself in the job. In my view, you cannot just rest on your laurels and let everyone else do the work – you have to be part of the team. And that’s not just hyperbole – you have to be prepared to roll your sleeves up and get your hands dirty, working shoulder-to-shoulder with everyone else. Never, ever, ask someone else to do something you are not prepared to do yourself. You have to work in the organisation, understanding it in your blood and in your bones. You have to live it, breathe it, and make it your driving passion in life.

When everyone can see your passion for what you do, and more importantly your passion for what they do, then they start to share that passion. And when you have a group of people who are all passionate about achieving the same vision, and who all see that vision clearly, then you’ve gone a long way to generating the elusive chemistry you need for truly staggering results”.

Matthew sums it up perfectly. Having been one of the latest execs to go through one of our recruitment processes, it is great to see the end result hit the mark. Both Group CEO Kypros and Chairman Theo immediately saw and felt the chemistry and that perfect fit. Their individual comments after the meeting and after the announcement of the appointment baring testament to the importance of that Chemistry, especially coupled with having expectations exceeded in terms of timescale. Real praise from two of the country’s top businessmen and entrepreneurs.

However, it isn’t just in recruitment/hiring where Chemistry fit is vital. Finding that chemistry fit with business partners is equally important. This is where modern, evolving businesses are really starting fires and driving their businesses forward. We have all that spark when finding and working with businesses where our interests are aligned and our personalities’ matched to that of our clients. It becomes instinctive.

But what can you do to help forge that chemistry fit in a business-to-business relationship?

I have seen this first hand. As mentioned, my sector is rife with businesses that are stuck in a forgone decade, or even a forgone century. They sit with their time-proven methodologies, devoid of real evolution, harking back to a bygone era, refusing to be flexible, refusing to meet clients in the middle, instead insisting that the client fits in with their way of working.

Not only do I love hearing my clients’ joy at hearing that I will tailor my service/methodology to their requirements…it wins me business. Even just today, a contact and prospective client was staggered and genuinely exclaimed out-loud when I told him of our 12 month free replacement guarantee. No surprise, as it is in direct response to the comments of clients just like him, but it demonstrates that we understand businesses with his challenges and his concerns.

I asked my good friend and Manchester legend, Simon ‘Calders’ Calderbank his opinion on Chemistry Fit in business relationships. Simon has recently set up his own business (Big Knows) after what he describes as an ‘Epiphany moment’ with his desire to ‘sniff out the right fit for the right opportunity’ – check out his website at He said:

“With over 20 years experience of developing new business and building long-lasting partnerships, I’ve learnt a thing or two. Firstly, you need toGary Chaplin - Simon Calderbank Big Knows hold a mirror to yourself (and your business) and know instinctively who you are, what drives your culture, what you’re like to work with. Come on, how else can you establish fit with others without first understanding yourself? 

Secondly, be proud and share your profile with those whom you feel might be like-minded spirits. Ask all the right questions from the word go – find out what makes them tick. And only when you get that gut feeling that this could be a relationship worth nurturing – where there is a mutual and beneficial fit – go for it as if your life depended upon it!  

Think of your marriage or the best relationship you ever had. What made it so magical – aside from the obvious attraction of course – was the chemistry, the fit. And in my book, business is no different. If I’m going to work hard to nurture and grow the right fit client opportunities, boy do I want to enjoy the process of working with them. Therefore, it’s in all our interests to make sure all those relevant fit boxes have been ticked. And in my world, fit covers cultural, commercial and creativity.

Nothing more soul destroying than working with a client where there is no fit. Usually ends up in a mess, both parties more focussed on an exit strategy!

Why, I’ve even been known to cheekily personality profile people on those all-important first dates. Certainly breaks the ice and more importantly, allows an immediate understanding of how that person thinks and behaves.

Sniffing out an opportunity is one thing, making sure is the right one is something else. So do whatever it takes to get it right first time, every time. “

Looking in the mirror to view yourself and your business is a fantastic tip (and classic, visionary Calders). It perfectly embodies the famous Socrates quote “Be as you wish to seem”. It’s a great tool to start to understand who you are and who you wish to be seen as.
Gary Chaplin - Phil Jones Blog

Anyone that has heard one of Phil Jones fantastic talks will have heard him speak of his VMV – Vision Mission Values and why everyone is ‘TIM’… (see Phil’s blog for more on that! Understanding who you are is a great tool….and vital if you wish to seek out Chemistry Fit in any walk of life.

Chemistry drives my business, and drives any business. Understand your own chemistry and thus how to find that fit will make every facet in your life more fruitful, more productive, more profitable and most importantly, happier.

Get that right and follow it….. then whatever you say or whatever you do, there really will be no such thing as bad PR.

[This blog first appeared as a Guest Blog on Huddled]

8 Comments on “Think Different. Think Chemistry Fit. (No Such Thing As Bad PR)”

  1. Thanks Gary, really enjoyed reading that. Your positive attitude is testament to your personality. A true case of what hasn’t killed you has made you stronger. You’ve certainly shown a lot more maturity that many of your detractors, I’m pleased to see that has translated into great performance for your business.

    I really enjoyed Matthew’s comments. Passion is a huge ‘passion’ of mine, its the most contagious of emotions but the absence of it also the most destructive.

    Well done on a great blog, and everything else.


  2. Great blog Gary.

    Well done on “being different” in your sector. We’ve dealt for over half of your 18 years in the industry and its always great to see you approach differing from many of the others in your sector.

    Keep it up, maverick.

  3. Great blog Gary.
    You’ve talked about Chemistry Fit to me for so long and always had by buy-in. Lovely to see it written down and such impressive and high-profile support and comments from your clients.
    Well written and well structured prose.

  4. Ace read Gary, really captured a lot of common sense. My business is trying to force through culture shift against that which works well for us, all down to a new CEO. Nice to read your science behind it. All about the people.
    Keep it up!

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