Adam Hale is the former EVP of Sage People and prior to their acquisition for £115m by Sage, he was CEO of HR Software business Fairsail, the fastest growing B2B company in the UK at the time. Previously he was a managing director of Russell Reynolds Associates. Adam is currently a Committee Member on the Technology Leadership Group at The Princes Trust.
Through Nurole he recently joined the board of Tech Nation, the UK’s government-backed network for entrepreneurs. Here Adam shares his insights on how to scale up.
Best professional advice you ever got?
There are three variables in any project: quality, timescale and cost. Always consider them in that order.
How should boards be thinking about scaling up?
There are five things the board must get right to scale successfully:
- clear purpose (what is the value for the customer)
- team (make sure you have the best people)
- establish focus (what are you doing for which customers, also be clear on what you are not doing)
- customer success (really making sure that customers really are better off after using your product or service)
- innovation (really drive new thinking)
Fairsail grew at over 100% compound a year organically - all of those foundations are critical to enabling that level of growth.
What are the most common mistakes you see boards make when scaling up?
Not having a clear focus is the most common mistake. Too much opportunity can kill a business, whether it’s trying to serve too many markets, too many products or otherwise. It’s better to do one thing well than four things badly. To succeed, you have to be the best. If you are average, forget it.
What do you wish you knew then that you know now?
Expanding into the US was the hardest thing - I would have taken longer over hiring the team.
What types of people do companies looking to scale up need on their board?
For the chair role, you need someone from the industry (for us it was someone who had been in B2B SaaS). It’s also incredibly valuable to have an independent director on your board who can think like a customer (for us it was an HR Director). In terms of executives, all of ours were doing their respective roles for the first time ie CEO, CFO, CTO, Chief Customer Officer, CMO. That didn’t stop them doing a fabulous job. I made a conscious effort to have people who aspired to be in the role and were hugely motivated to set new standards for achievement and performance.
What has characterised the best boards you have worked with?
The best boards understand that their role is not to run the business, but is to support the executives and the team to run the business. They ensure the right framework is in place and ask the right questions. The best boards know which metrics and measures are valuable and look at those closely. Fundamentally, they are there to back or sack the CEO and their team.
Your Nurole Experience
How have you found the experience as a member?
It has been really good. Registration and application process was excellent. So was the in-process communication.
How did you hear about it?
A former colleague told me about it.
What made you sign up?
A particular role.
How would you describe what the platform does in one sentence?
Executive search in the twenty first century - gives access and visibility to both candidates and clients in a way that recognises the ubiquity and visibility of LinkedIn.
About You - 10 Question Quick Fire
3 words the person who has worked most with you would use to characterise you?
Clear, enthusiastic, opinionated.
Good to Great, Jim Collins.
Milos, Lower Regent street, London.
“You don’t fatten a pig by weighing it”
Mauritius and Madagascar.
Professional achievement of which you are most proud?
Scaling up Fairsail while keeping customer and team success.
No single one. Marc Benioff of Salesforce has done an extraordinary job.
When does your alarm go off and how many hours of sleep do you have on average?
6:30am after 7 hours.
Best idea for a £10,000 investment?
A scale up B2B Software business. I’m also passionate about the Princes Trust and believe in giving chances to people who have never had one.