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Career profile: Susannah Clements, founder of the new HR practice, Ithaca Partners

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Get to know your peers in the HR community through our career profile series. Today, we talk to Susannah Clements, founder of the new HR search practice, Ithaca Partners. She speaks in depth about her career which started at a fruit and veg stall of all places, how she has experienced HR evolving in the last few years and why nurturing and investing in your talent is of utmost importance.

Basic details

Name: Susannah Clements

Job: Partner

Current employer: Ithaca Partners 

CV in brief:

  • 2013 – 2015 Deputy Chief Executive, CIPD
  • 2012 -2013 Group HR Director, Carillion
  • 2009 – 2012 Group HR Director, Care UK
  • 2004 – 2009 Group HR Director, AWG 

A day in your life

Tell us about your job and organisation

I lead the HR Search practice at Ithaca Partners. We’re an Executive Search company, specialising in Corporate Affairs. Investor Relations and HR. The key thing about this role is knowing who has what experience and is doing great things. So there’s a lot of meeting and talking to people, which I love. One of the best things is knowing someone over time and watching their career take off – I really enjoyed this aspect of my work as an HR Director, so I knew I was going to love Search. 

Who do you report into?

No one. Which, after 30 years of having a boss, is refreshing ! 

Tell us about your team.

It’s a small team – there’s five of us, and the thing I like most is that we laugh a lot. We are all in one office on some days, but are out and about a lot too, so there’s lots of checking in with each other so we all know what’s going on.  

What is the most rewarding part of your role?

Finding a great match between a person and an organisation.

What is the most challenging part of the role?

Telling people that they have been unsuccessful. Most of the time, it’s a mutual decision – people tend to know when an organisation isn’t right for them – but sometimes there are two very close candidates and only one can get the role. That’s tough – because there often isn’t an easy explanation about why they preferred one person to another – sometimes it just comes down to a specific piece of experience or project. 

What does a typical day look like for you?

I can honestly say that there isn’t a typical day – except that most days involve a lot of listening and some talking. 

Why did you choose your current organisation to work for?

I had been a client many years ago and kept in touch. I really appreciated the quality of the work that they did and that they obviously just loved it. 

Perks and downsides of your role?

Perks are all the great people that I meet and downside is being called a “headhunter” – it makes me think of trekking through the jungle with shrivelled skulls in my backpack! 

What skills are essential for the role you’re in?

Listening. And asking sensible questions. And then a lot more listening.

Career path

How did you get to where you are now?

By being opportunistic in the path that I took, doing things that interested me, and by not worrying about climbing the greasy pole. 

What were your best subjects in school?

What and where did you study? History and English – I like how words tell stories.

What was your first job? How did you get it and why did you choose to work there?

My first job was working on a fruit and veg stall on the market. I got it because I saw an advert in a shop window and I wanted to earn some extra money – it was a very interesting introduction to the world of customer service ! I used to make sure my favourite customers got the shiniest apples and the freshest greens. I learned that it pays to be nice to the shop assistant and I was astonished that some people seemed to think we were invisible. Other people were lovely and always had a laugh with us. 

Have you followed the career path you set out to?

No. Most of the jobs that I have done, I didn’t know existed when I was young. Again, I think that HR has come a long way and in my last few roles as HRD I have really made sure that we invested in talent development programmes and helped people to work on cross functional projects to increase their experience and exposure. Being known (for positive reasons!) across an organisation really increases your chances of being considered for interesting roles. 

What challenges have you faced along the way?

How did you overcome them? When I started, I was often the only woman on the team. I remember being told that I couldn’t drive a forklift truck because I was a girl and being livid. It’s very different now, and I work with a team of women which is a joy. Working and being a Mum has been tough sometimes too – I have got used to buying knitted tops, as ironing is one of the things that I have decided to ditch in favour of having a life ! 

What’s the craziest thing you’ve done to land a job?

I feel a bit of a let down on this question ! It’s all been a bit conventional really. 

What has been the proudest moment of your career so far?

I left a role recently and I received an astonishing amount of emails and texts saying the most lovely things about me. I have kept them in a folder on my PC to read when I have a really tough day as they remind me why I do what I do. 

Do you have any career regrets?

At the time I have regretted things, but now I realise that if I had made different choices I wouldn’t have ended up where I am now – so no, no regrets. 

What advice would you offer to others who are looking to get to where you are now?

Do what you care about and do it well. Take responsibility for your career – people aren’t telepathic – they won’t know what you want unless you tell them! 

What advice would you give to your 22-year-old self?

It’s going to be fine. 

Either/or

  • Coffee or tea? Tea. 
  • Jam or marmalade? I’m with Paddington on this - marmalade
  • The Beatles or The Rolling Stones? This is getting tougher now. Probably the Beatles, but not Hey Jude which I think is the most over exposed song of all time ! 
  • Mac or PC? Mac at home, PC at work……
  • The Guardian or The Times? Guardian in the week, Times at the weekend
  • BBC or ITV? Couldn’t live without Strictly…
  • M&S or Waitrose? Waitrose – there’s one at the station and it’s a life saver
  • Morning or night? Depends what you mean by morning – lovely sunny morning, 9.30, cappuccino – then yes. 5am, cold, dark and horrid alarm shrieking – then night !
  • Rain on snow? Snow – it makes everything look lovely
  • Sweet or savoury? Savoury – I put that down to age

Favourites

  • App: twitter – it’s the best self selected news feed ever
  • TV show: Strictly (as above) and Dr Who
  • Band: Coldplay. Yes, I know, I’m showing my age again. 
  • Song: One Day Like This by Elbow
  • Book: Persuasion by Jane Austen. It’s my comfort reading when I want to escape. 
  • Sports team: Rob Roy Junior Boat Club – nothing to do with the fact that I run it, of course ! 
  • Thing to do on a Friday night: light the fire and watch a trashy movie with my kids
  • Place to eat: the pub at the top of the road
  • Holiday spot: Barcelona – it’s got it all, culture, beach, food, cava….
  • Piece of advice you’ve been given: The best revenge is a good life
Emily Sexton-Brown

By Emily Sexton-Brown

Emily is the commissioning editor at Changeboard

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