TC029-13 - IMD Business School
Alumni Stories · Leadership

CEO reinvigorates company after IMD program

Jamie Robertson shook up Odgers Berndtson executive search firm following the Mobilizing People program
August 2015

After completing the Mobilizing People (MP) program, 44 year old Jamie Robertson, CEO and founder of Odgers Berndtson South Africa, says he went back to his company firing on all 20 cylinders. “I felt completely re-energized and was in a mode where I needed to sort everything out in the business.”

Within weeks of returning he faced up to his fears and with renewed confidence in his leadership abilities he started making big changes within the company. He re-established disciplines, improved processes and changed the culture of the company. Subsequently annual turnover increased from USD 2.7m in 2012 to 3.5m two years later.

But the situation had been very different a year earlier. In 2011 business was declining. One of the office’s key high performers resigned and Jamie attributed this to an unhealthy atmosphere at the company, which he was also finding hard to address. Something had to change so Jamie enrolled on the MP program.

The course enabled Jamie to dig deep within himself. “It was life changing and empowering for me because we got to go incredibly deep with a group of people we had never met before.” The course reminded him the importance of self-awareness and on returning to the Sub-Saharan arm of the company, which sources top executives for its clients, he began instilling this ethos in the business.

First he set about creating this self-awareness among his staff, providing feedback and urging them to talk about their issues. Then he applied this to the candidates he was interviewing by asking them about their personal experiences in earlier years – not just what they had achieved professionally. How they and their body language responded gave the interviewer valuable insights into their essence as leaders, and this innovation reduced risk for Odgers Berndtson’s clients. “At this very senior level funnily enough people are incredibly comfortable talking about track record and competence but not about themselves,” says Jamie.

The MP sessions also gave the CEO important realizations. “I think I was probably holding on to issues that needed to be dealt with. After the program I was able to let them go and move on.”

Pondering on what advice he would now give to others, Jamie says being interested in learning from others speeds up development. “I have learned about life from others who have generously pointed things out to me that I didn’t want to hear. Looking back I think: ‘you’re right’.” He also believes conflict is healthy and has helped him achieve so much more in many aspects of life. Finally “trust your gut”, he adds, “and give it a try – what’s the worst that can happen?”

IMD’s Mobilizing People (MP) program is for managers aiming to take their leadership skills to the next level.