Q&A with Steve Grace, Founder and CEO of The Nudge Group
Steve Grace, founder and CEO of The Nudge Group, is among the nominees of The CEO Magazine’s CEO of the Year (A$0–100m turnover). He shares with us his insights on business leadership and “getting the right people at the right time” in partnership with AS White Global.
1. Hi Steve. Congratulations on your nomination for CEO of the Year. What can you tell us about this great news?
It was a surprise, because I imagine there’s a lot of people that went for it. There are some really good people that I’m associated with in there, which is just amazing.
2. As a nominee in this category, what would you say are your key strengths as a business leader? How do you inspire your team?
A lot of the people that work for me now are, in fact, 90% of people that have worked for me in one of my previous companies. It tells me that I must be doing something right. I’d like to think I have gotten a lot better from my first company. I used to avoid hard conversations, to be too generous and let people underperform for too long.
I used to go and do the whole “I’ll solve all the problems.” It’s no point in me jumping in to solve everyone’s problems; the company is not going to grow. It’s my job to enable them to solve their own problems, to remove roadblocks to enable them to do their job, and to make sure they keep moving forward so that we grow as a business.
I’ve been through that very long and painful journey of self-realization that leadership actually has nothing to do with me as an individual. It’s about me empowering the company, the customers, the staff and making sure everyone’s moving forward, and that they’re getting the opportunities for them to grow into whatever they can or want to be.
3. You’ve worked in Talent Acquisition for more than 20 years. What sparked your interest to pursue this career path? Who are your role models in business leadership?
It was more a case of…you went into an agency, and someone said, “Hey, do you want to try it?” And you’re like, “Yeah, why not?” I’ve always liked people. I’ve always liked talking. So it worked out well for me and I seem to have an affinity with it.
I think what’s kept me in is it’s an incredibly complex business. You’re dealing with a three-sided sales cycle where you’ve got clients, you’ve got candidates, and you’ve got yourself. Those subtle skills of being able to read, understand and bring people together for success — it takes years and years and years to learn that and I think it happens subconsciously. Every single case, every single deal, and every single client is different. I call this my “business fingerprint”. You never see the same thing twice.
There were business people that I followed like Richard Branson, in particular. He was sort of the ultimate first entrepreneur and his sort-of mantra of just going out and doing it and not caring if people tell you, “You can’t.” It’s obviously evolved a lot since then. But it’s kind of that sort of ilk that I followed and was attuned to.
4. Can you tell us more about The Nudge Group and how the business has expanded in the past three years?
It started out purely as a recruitment agency for start-ups and scale-ups. We’ve opened in the UK, Singapore, and the Philippines. We do work in the US and we probably will have an office there. We also do work in Canada, Hong Kong, and across other Asian countries. We’re kind of working globally out of those four offices that we currently have. But we also connect start-up founders to investors.
We also have a live TV show and a YouTube show called Give It A Nudge. We’ve done about 90 episodes of founder interviews, which is super fun. We also own a publication called Balance The Grind, which is one of the top publications in work-life balance. We’ve got a number of products that are specifically designed for start-ups and scale-ups. That’s something that other recruiters hadn’t done before.
Our mantra is to help founders go from when they start the business to when they exit — whether it be an IPO or a trade sale — and help them launch all over the world. Recruitment is the only part that we charge for. Everything else, we do for free. If we help these founders to succeed, then they grow and when they grow, they come back and use our services.
5. What has partnering with ASW meant for the Nudge Group?
It has enabled us to start our office in the Philippines. During COVID, ASW enabled us to start help building remote teams for start-ups and scale-ups. You know, they didn’t have the ability to set up their own entities there. They didn’t have the money and the know-how, but they needed to build teams there because of the global shortage of developers, technology and customer service staff.
Through AS White Global, we were able to give them that solution. We work very closely with them and have a white label product with them, which we call Nudge Remote, but it’s really just AS White Global.
6. Can you share with us one of the success stories of The Nudge Group that’s become the standard of success in your business?
One of the great moments we had was with Daniel Breese (ASW General Manager) who is also a very good friend of mine. He mentioned that he had a full technology team that had been employed through an Australian business and they were coming to an end. It just so happened that I had a company here who wanted to build an offshore team at that literally exact same time. They were able to get an instant team that had been working together for four years. So they didn’t have any periods of unemployment.
We’ve also had plenty of clients where, when we first met them, they were two or three people. Now they’re 60…80 people and they’re operating from four or five countries and we do all their recruitment. We become true partners in their business, and I think that’s something that we want to do more.
7. How do you navigate the challenges of talent acquisition?
We have a very experienced team. We understand the challenges. We have access to global talent. We can help people build teams and manage them remotely. It’s an ongoing problem and there’s no right answer. But we can advise people as to the best actions, because we’ve experienced it. We’re actually going through the same processes that our clients are going through, being a start-up/scale up ourselves. We really get into the depths and the weeds with them, to make sure they do what’s right for them and what they’re trying to achieve at that time.
8. What trends should businesses watch out for when it comes to talent acquisition?
I think the money in the space that we work in start-ups and scale-ups is going to flow more into scale-ups now. You’re going to see people hiring far more purposely. I think people really need to think about their hires and then to be very strategic about their hires. They need to stop focussing on the salaries and the numbers and focus on the outcomes. Even more so now, this is not the time to be throwing money at a problem. This is the time to take the time to get it right, work with someone like us or someone else.
Make sure you get the right people at the right time. And make sure that you move the people on at the right time. A lot of our clients move from start-up to scale-up. You’re going for an environment where you need people who can handle ambiguity and do anything to an environment where people need to be very specific and driven by outcomes. Some of those people will transition but a lot won’t. You need to get it right or it will seriously impact your growth.
9. Thank you so much for your time. Before we go, what’s the best advice you would give to employers who are struggling to recruit and retain talent?
I think they need to think of these roles very much in the long term and less in the short term. Short term hiring is always a disaster. It just always is. And I think you need to partner with someone who understands and knows the space of talent acquisition. They don’t pretend to know your business, but they do know talent acquisition. And I think understanding that skill set is worth a lot more than I think a lot of founders and CEOs perhaps give it credit for.