Spotlight interview: Simon Bassett
In April, Sixth Formers were treated to some industry insights into personal branding and building a show-stopping LinkedIn profile, courtesy of marketing recruitment expert Simon Bassett (RGS 1989-1996). As Founder and CEO of tml Partners, Simon leads a global team that have engineered hundreds of senior marketing appointments with brands such as Aviva, innocent Drinks and The Princes Trust. We asked Simon to tell us about his memories of RGS and subsequent career.
Briefly describe your journey since leaving RGS and your current role.
After graduating in Geography from Reading University in 1999 I knew that I wanted to live in London and work in business. However, I had no desire (or ability probably) to study for further professional qualifications such as accountancy, law or the like. I stumbled into a brilliant independent marketing recruitment business called EMR as a rookie just when the dot.com bubble had burst. It was a brilliant time, a great culture, an exciting new business that was good to me and really allowed me to accelerate and advance my early management career. Roll the clock forward ten years and a change of ownership to private equity, which took a chance on me to be the Managing Director. I loved leading the business for six years, but had always quietly hankered to do something independent myself when the time was right.
Over the years I’d seen a growing gap in the executive search space (or headhunting) for a company that purely specialised in marketing. So, in 2015, I founded tml Partners to focus on delivering exceptional service to that audience.
After seven years – with many ups and downs – today I’m privileged to lead a hugely talented team of colleagues, and tml Partners is now an award-winning global leader in executive search for the marketing industry.
Outside work I’m a family man living in the Surrey Hills with my beautiful wife, three kids and a dog called Bertie (Bassett!).
What do you most like about your job and what has been your greatest achievement?
Being a headhunter is a hugely rewarding and satisfying career. It’s not an easy job, but is truly meritocratic and I’d encourage anyone to explore it as a vocation, either early or later in their career.
My proudest career achievements are mostly associated with overcoming the big obstacles. I was made MD of EMR a few months after the credit crunch kicked in, which was an incredibly testing leadership challenge, but on reflection one of my proudest achievements. I learnt huge amounts from leading that business through a long painful recession, and made many mistakes which were lessons I banked for the future. When the global financial crisis was at its most painful, I remember thinking, “Well at least it will never get any worse than this…”. Until it did. When the pandemic hit. Business just stopped overnight and I had put everything on the line.
So, leading and growing tml Partners through the pandemic was another big achievement – applying so many of those lessons learnt from the credit crunch. The biggest lesson being that there really is never a better market than a recession to grow market share.
But, undoubtedly my proudest achievement has been for tml Partners to be certified as a B-Corp this year. A monumental team effort and the culmination of a three year journey which makes us the first in our industry to join a global community of purpose-led businesses alongside the likes of innocent Drinks, TOMS and Ben & Jerry’s.
tml Partners is now the leading marketing headhunter in the UK, but founding a new company must have had its challenges. What is the greatest obstacle you have had to overcome?
I mentioned earlier about a desire to launch a business when the time was right. But in truth, what no one ever tells you is that the time is never right! The odds are massively stacked against you – which people seem to remind you of all the time – but even more so when you are leaving paid employment with a young family.
The biggest obstacle for me was the risk and the fear. The fear of failure. The fear of losing your life savings. The fear of letting your family down. The fear of having to admit defeat. But once I’d balanced those against a bigger fear of reaching 50 and regretting never having tried the one thing I’d always wanted to do – I went for it.
Thankfully, I’ve never looked back, and have been lucky to surround myself with truly brilliant business partners, wonderful colleagues and suppliers that have really enabled us to accelerate our growth.
But those early-year obstacles are very real… that first year when I didn’t pay myself anything and my second child was born. The challenging third year growing pains when my wife told me we were also expecting a daughter. March 2020 when lockdown was announced, and no one hired anyone for six months whilst having to home school while leading a business through the crisis.
Home schooling – that’s it – that’s the biggest obstacle I’ve ever faced. Still gives me nightmares!
In your talk to students, you emphasised the importance of developing a ‘personal brand’. Can you explain what you mean and how it applies to younger Reigatians?
Your personal brand is basically what people say about you when you’re not in the room. It’s your reputation. It’s your social currency. It’s how much people trust you. And only you can own it, so you better make it worth something. At the end of the day, it’s the only thing any of us really have.
There are tons of books and talks on personal branding so my main advice would be to go and learn about it. But one of my favourite books on the subject is by Dan Pink call To Sell is Human. It reframes the context of selling and demystifies the reality that we’re all in sales now in some shape or form – including how you sell yourself!
What brands do you admire and why?
We actually discuss exactly this question in our staff onboarding to help us understand what makes great companies tick.
Personally, I respect founder-led businesses that disrupt entire industries through innovation and change the world we live in like Nike, Airbnb or Tesla. Other brilliant brands, that genuinely put the customer at the very heart of their existence, are Richer Sounds and John Lewis.
But for me, I have real admiration for those brands that strive do it with a deep-rooted commitment to do things better. Authentic, purpose-led businesses like TOMS, Patagonia and innocent Drinks.
Those are the ones that are shaping the future of how business should be done.
What tips would you give job hunters to help them build a successful LinkedIn profile?
LinkedIn is a brilliant tool to help develop your personal brand – but I’ve never really liked the term ‘social network’ as, for the vast majority, they’ve never networked, or even met most of their LinkedIn connections.
There are many top tips on building your profile; adding the right photo; sharing good content, etc. but really the best advice would be to focus on your real network. Meet people in person. Have lots of coffees with new contacts. Go to events. Show real interest in people and be interesting. Find good mentors. Develop meaningful business relationships. Help others and they will help you.
You cannot be ‘well networked’ without doing these things, no matter how many Linkedin connections and ‘likes’ you may have.
That is how you really develop a personal brand and excel in a career. I mentioned the term social currency before and by purely using Linkedin as a functional tool, your social currency will stay very low until you actually start to develop your real network – then be interesting and authentic about your journey online and the rest will follow.
tml Partners is a certified B-corp company with its own charity, The Tomorrow Foundation. Why is this philanthropic work so important to you?
I’ve never felt profit and purpose had to be mutually exclusive in business, so from the outset of tml Partners we wanted to set a very high benchmark to drive change in our industry. If you’ve never heard of B-Corp then I’d urge you to learn more about them. It’s a rapidly growing movement using business as a force for good. It’s so important now that we collectively work towards an inclusive, equitable and regenerative economic system for people and the planet.
As a certified B-Corp we have gone through a rigorous assessment, over many years, to ensure we meet the very highest standards in ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance). We’re now carbon negative and have stringent controls over our environmental impact. B-Corps have to align themselves with UN Sustainability Goals they can impact. For us, as a recruitment organisation, the greatest impact we can have is on making a positive social impact. So we launched The Tomorrow Foundation which has a major focus on improving social mobility, creating fairer futures and having a meaningful impact on the community.
We’ve committed five percent of our staff time to pro bono work, typically aimed at supporting those in NEET circumstances (not in employment, education or training) to get into apprenticeships. We work very closely to upskill a number of educational charities and are now in a position to provide targeted grants as well.
It’s doing our bit to make a difference where we can and our staff love the personal impact they have too.
What are your goals for the future?
We want tml Partners to be the world’s most trusted marketing headhunter. So, we have many plans to further internationalise our brand, notably across Europe and the US.
The world of work is also changing rapidly, so we are also preparing for the future and have some exciting growth plans in the consulting space.
So, plenty to keep me busy, whilst ensuring I get the balance right with my Dad duties!
What is your most memorable moment from your time at RGS?
Hah – it has to be running the school tuck shop with my lifelong pal, Dan Di Paolo (RGS 1989-1996).
These days, I expect Sixth Formers all want oat milk lattes and avocado on sourdough. But there will be many Reigatians of my era who fondly remembering pocketing your lunch money every day and spending it all on cola bottles, nerds, shrimps, refreshers, ice gems and pretty much any other sweets you could get your hands on.
Actually, it generated a tidy profit every week… to the point that we got in trouble for competing too much with the school canteen! To be fair, Dan was the brains, but it definitely gave me my first taste for business, and leading a staff rota of 15 Sixth Formers was no mean feat!
Finally, if you were stranded on a desert island, what three items would you take with you and why?
Probably my iPhone, a very strong WiFi router, and my golf clubs, so I could practice some sandy bunker shots whilst waiting to be rescued!