Consider the impact this current situation will have on you in a year. Some days, I find myself getting annoyed about small things or minor confrontations. If a situation at work isn’t quite going my way, I do try and consider how I will feel about this in a year or even a few months. Chances are, I won’t even remember it and this helps calm me down.
In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of resilience among successful business leaders. Resilience is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Karla Reffold. An experienced, passionate recruiter and business owner, Karla has experience running businesses in recruitment, staffing and ecommerce. She is experienced recruiting up to CXO level and across a variety of industries.
Karla has 15 years’ experience as a recruiter and business leader. She is committed to growing and developing BeecherMadden as an award-winning international recruitment company, seen as the recruitment partner of choice for cybersecurity. BeecherMadden provides talent to banks, consultancies, telecoms, retailers, technology houses and public sector bodies. In 2017, BeecherMadden was acquired by the Nicoll Curtin Group.
Karla is a judge for the Cyber Security Awards and American Cyber Awards. She is also an experienced speaker on the topic of cyber security and women in technology. Her views are often sought and published on this subject, as well as entrepreneurship. In 2019 she was recognized by SC Magazine as one of the top 50 women in cybersecurity.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’?
I had a pretty traditional upbringing and after graduating, I went into a career in recruitment. After a few years, both in an agency and HR teams, my youthful optimism told me I could start my own business. I focused on cybersecurity recruitment. The market grew quicker than I expected and so did the business. The desire to really add value let me to do additional work in the industry which has ultimately made me an industry speaker and influencer. I now have three young children and work across the UK and US.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I was on maternity leave with my second son and I got a call from one of my employees who asked me to come back to work earlier than planned. I always felt that where I enforced structure, I wasn’t necessarily that popular and the team would be just fine. But after 3 months without me, the team wanted that structure. A few bad hires had put pressure on our financial security and structural changes had impacted the team’s performance. I had left a successful business and now found we needed some quick improvement. I fired 3 senior employees. Rather than pushing back, surprisingly they all accepted they hadn’t been delivering. I then looked at where I could generate revenue quickly. I left a 6-month-old baby for a week, despite strong family opposition, and went out myself on a business development drive. That ultimately brought in a new client that generated enough revenue to get us back on track.
I learned a lot from that time. That whatever people tell you, they really do want clear, defined boundaries. That I would rather have a reputation for firing people and being cold than an unsuccessful business. That when pushed, you can accomplish amazing things. And to ignore the criticism of others. Unless they will have to suffer the same consequences as you, they can’t understand your decisions.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We’ve focused on becoming the authority in cybersecurity recruitment. There is no quick win here. We have published high quality research on the market, that enables us to say that. We use this research to contribute to building the relationships that are fundamental to what we do; they work in tandem and that itself is a standout idea for our industry. We’ve started to achieve recognition for this, and I was very proud this year to be named as one of the top 50 women in cybersecurity, the only recruiter to make that list. It’s not revolutionary but we’ve focused on doing what we do well, and the recognition has followed.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I am very grateful for the support structure I have from my family. I am also lucky to have a lot of senior professionals amongst my contacts who have been friends and unofficial mentors. But it is my current CEO who has taught me the most about boundaries and values. He has taught me some very simple lessons that I apply to all areas of my life. He has taught me to set my non-negotiables and to enforce those strictly. He has also taught me the importance of ensuring that the people around me have similar values and that it is OK to let good people go, if they don’t fit with that. By focusing on building a team that is right for me, we have been able to achieve our best year ever as a business.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
Resilience for me can be two things. Either you bounce back from a period in life that got you down; perhaps burnout or illness where you couldn’t keep going. Or, it is how you keep going when things are tough. That’s the day-to-day resilience that I look for. Resilient people rally when things get tough. They get clarity, or a single mindedness that allows them to pull through and rise through the tough times. Maybe you crash afterwards, maybe you need a couple of hours off, maybe you ask for help but you keep going and work through a problem.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
Hillary Clinton has always been a role model for me. Politics aside, the public scrutiny she endured during the 90’s must have been so intense and yet she didn’t walk out, she carried on. Even now, she is carving out a role for herself despite the loss of the 2016 election. She has arguably eclipsed her husband’s achievements and provides inspiration to women of what is possible in their careers.
Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?
I’ve been told not to do things a lot of times and I’ve often had to prove my competence to people when others (mostly men, or older people) probably didn’t have to do the same. The main thing people told me not to do was sell my recruitment business. I got told acquisitions fail, that it wouldn’t be what I thought, that entrepreneurs can’t go back to working for others, that I could get more money if I waited, that the timing was wrong. I faced opposition almost everywhere I turned, from people who cared about me, to people who saw it as an opportunity to make money from me. It wasn’t an easy decision, but I had this deep feeling that I was aligned to the people who I wanted to sell to and that it really was going to be the best long term decision. I’m glad I trusted that gut instinct. It hasn’t all been easy, but we have achieved our best year ever as a business, we have seen significant growth for some individuals and we are gaining industry recognition for our work. The people that told me not to do it, praise me for being in the small percentage of recruitment business owners who successfully grow and sell a business. I can look back and know I achieved something that many people aspire to.
Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
I think I bounced back so well it no longer even feels like a setback! But in early 2017, my husband and business partner left. I had two very small children and the business was just recovering from a difficult year. I didn’t have enough hours in a day to manage the business as well as I wanted to, and I didn’t have the support structure in place to help me with the children at home. Plus, I had to negotiate a divorce that involved 2 businesses and 2 children. Anyone that has done that, knows how stressful it can be! It was a time of massive uncertainty.
Somehow, times of stress can produce great results and I find I focus very well at these times. I couldn’t do this on my own, so I set about finding my support system, I kept every option open and I moved fast. I realize that many women aren’t earning at that stage in their life and I was lucky as having my own income was helpful. But as much as I had that, I also had massive overheads and responsibilities that I was shouldering by myself.
With a plan in place, I looked at what options I had to make sure the business would be successful. I got commitment from all my senior staff and did as much as I could with the time I had. I called on people and asked for their help, even just for advice. I had turned down some potential buyers for the business the previous year, but I got back in touch just to keep my options open.
Those conversations led to a potential acquisition. It was an exciting opportunity for the business, but I hadn’t done the preparation that comes with a traditional sale. It also added another layer of stress at an already difficult time. I had to take time away from running the business to work on that and the need to keep it confidential was tough. I faced a lot of opposition from the people around me and while my instinct told me it was the right thing, I did worry I was making an irreversible decision at a point in my life when that wasn’t sensible. Being a single working mother, negotiating a divorce and a company acquisition all at the same time is a lot to handle! I also moved to a new house at a similar time, just to keep those stress levels high!
The acquisition went through and gave me a huge sense of achievement. Very few businesses sell in this sector and I now had an opportunity to grow in new ways. The divorce finalized just a few weeks later, bringing a greater sense of certainty to my own life. I’d stayed focused on my long-term aspirations, mostly for my children, and held a strong belief in my own ability that meant I was happy with where I was. I’d learned how to be on my own, as well as discovering what I enjoyed and what was truly important to me. I’m a better parent because of that. It’s inspired me to set goals that I would not have otherwise reached for. I’ve learned how to let go of small things as well as how to set boundaries that work for me.
I started that year feeling disadvantaged. I had big overheads and restrictions on my time. Now, I can look back and feel that the focus I gained during that time allowed me to achieve things I would never have attempted had life not changed. I was forced to ask for help and that opened me up to different perspectives that have taught me that values I have, what boundaries are important and how to enforce them for greater success. Working with and listening more to others helped me see what situations work well for me and what situations cause me to behave in ways that are counter productive. I know I can lose anyone around me and still succeed and that changing paths can put you on better ones. Feeling that there will always be a plan B, that might even be better than plan A, gives me a sense of freedom and excitement that I don’t think you can have without experiencing a setback.
Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?
When I was 20, there was a big shift in my family dynamics that ultimately changed my view on our financial security. I didn’t grow up wealthy, but I always felt secure. When that changed, and I saw my mum worry about how to pay the bills, it made me determined to rely on myself for my financial security. It also showed me that no matter what age you are, you can change your career and your potential if you need to. The resilience I saw from my family in that situation, as well as that desire to not rely on others, is almost certainly the main reason for my drive and ambition today.
Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Think about what you have overcome already. If I look back on the past few years, I am reminded that I have overcome some big events and they put any current issues into perspective.
- Consider the impact this current situation will have on you in a year. Some days, I find myself getting annoyed about small things or minor confrontations. If a situation at work isn’t quite going my way, I do try and consider how I will feel about this in a year or even a few months. Chances are, I won’t even remember it and this helps calm me down.
- Be grateful for what you do have. A lot comes into this one for me! I’m grateful for the people in my life, that I have a career I love and a secure home life. This makes the negative easier to cope with as the rest of my life makes me so happy. But also, I use this to remember that my problems have got bigger as I’ve got older. So I’m grateful for the ones I have now, as the ones that are coming might not be as easy to deal with.
- Try to let go of the guilt. As a working mum, there is plenty to feel guilty about and plenty of areas where I don’t always feel I am doing enough. I have learned that feeling guilty can make me do things that don’t necessarily contribute to my end goal. It doesn’t help my children learn boundaries or grow into respectful adults if I give into them because I am feeling guilty. So I have accepted that I am doing my best and I am happy with my choices, even if others aren’t!
- Find the habits that calm you and allow you to achieve your potential. I know that I need to spend time with my friends to stay happy. If I feel myself getting overwhelmed, it’s likely I haven’t done this enough so I make an effort to see a friend. Somehow, it took me until I was a bit older to learn this! Knowing yourself and what you need, makes a huge difference to your resilience levels.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would love to change the idea that business and capitalism are the opposite of doing the right thing. I care a lot about climate change and sustainability, but I can’t make sustainable choices without the income I have, as right now, they are often more expensive options. If we need trillions of dollars of investment to fight climate change, we need business leaders and entrepreneurs to invest in these areas. We get there by demonstrating the business benefits not by making businesses the enemy.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂
It would have to be Hillary. I think she has done so much to push forward the position of women in the workplace.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!