In the spotlight: an interview with Gemma Murphy and Lindsey McCracken

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Hayward Hawk Professional Services launched in May as a joint venture with Belfast-based technology recruitment firm Hayward Hawk, in an exciting move of diversification. Working alongside Hayward Hawk Technology's Directors Stephen McDowell, Richard Waterson and Anthony Stuart, co-founders Gemma Murphy and Lindsey McCracken have quickly established their professional services division in the Northern Irish market and beyond. We chatted to them both about their journey to becoming directors, the art of balancing home and work lives, and their aspirations for the business.

How did you guys meet and decide to go into business together?

Gemma: Lindsey and I met at a competitor firm about 10 years ago where we worked for five or so years, before both leaving to work together for a year at a smaller recruitment business. Lindsey then went in-house for a year while I went into another role. We kept in touch; one day we got together and, looking at the market, both thought there was really nowhere else we’d want to go to work. That got us talking about building our own brand and what we could offer that would be different in terms of candidates and clients.

Lindsey: The way we work is similar, our client bases are complimentary, and how we wanted our business to look and operate was the same. It made sense to do it together –  the rest is history!


What did you want to be when you were growing up?

Lindsey: I wanted to be a vet or own my own dog kennels because I love animals - not sure what happened there!

Gemma: A teacher.



Hayward Hawk Group

How was Hayward Hawk Professional Services born?

Gemma: We had worked with the Hayward Hawk Technology guys at another firm and kept in touch over the years. They're one of the top three IT recruitment businesses locally here so it was a great platform for us, as well as being beneficial to everyone due to client overlap. With all this in mind we got talking to them about a joint venture. We knew we could work well with them and were aligned with their branding and messaging.

Lindsey: I had actually been speaking with RE independently, completely off my own back – it’s weird how these things work out. Gemma approached me with this idea and we thought it’d be worth seeing if we could work together with Hayward Hawk Technology to form a stronger brand and culture. It’s easier to attract top consultants if you have a different culture and proposition in the market.


What quality do you most admire in people?

Gemma: Somebody who can stay positive and keep their cool in stressful or bad situations; someone who always finds the bright side.

Lindsey: Definitely. I really admire people who can keep their head above water and be strong enough to not let stuff get them down.


What made you take the leap and set up on your own?

Gemma: A lot of it was having worked at a number of different consultancies; we knew we could take elements from each of them to offer a really positive client, candidate and employee experience. We are both experts in our respective markets, having over 30 years' experience between us, so we knew we would get limited value from just going to work for another firm. We wanted to build something different.


If you could give your younger self one piece of advice what would it be?

Gemma: You need to put in the work to see results - anything worthwhile is never going to be easy! We’ve both worked really hard to get to this point and are both really enjoying where our careers are at the minute.

Lindsey: I’d say to not be so hard on myself. There’s always going to be ups and downs and you shouldn’t beat yourself up about the bad stuff. I read the other day, “Never in the history of being told to calm down has someone actually ever calmed down”, which is so true.



Gemma Murphy

Hayward Hawk Professional Services launched earlier this year – what have been the highlights so far?

Lindsey: The initial launch was really exciting, particularly getting to do it with Hayward Hawk Technology. How receptive the candidates and clients were in the first couple of months was really assuring and positive; coming to the market with a new brand, being able to reach out to our networks of candidates and clients and being so well received was amazing. Touch wood, we haven’t had a single kick back from a client saying there’s no room for us on their PSL. Same from our candidates – all the feedback from them has been very positive and echoes the reasons why we wanted to set up.

Gemma: Meeting James Caan, too. Starting out and growing our business, to have the opportunity to sit with him and talk about how he did it was invaluable. In our markets, one of the biggest challenges is attracting good consultants; it was interesting to hear that he experienced the same issues when starting Alexander Mann.



What are you currently reading?

Gemma: I’m reading Winnie the Witch with my six-year-old – I haven’t got time to read anything else!

Lindsey: I actually have about three on the go! When I get a chance, I really like to read a good book. Currently I'm reading a book about shock politics by Naomi Klein called "No Is Not Enough" - it sound's very high brow but it's actually a really interesting read!


What’s your favourite aspect of being part of the RE portfolio?

Lindsey: When we were setting up there were two options: grow slowly or go to market from day one as a professional outfit able to service international and global clients the way we need to. RE has been the platform to enable us to do the latter.

Gemma: It’s a fantastic support network. Since launching, there’s been many ups and downs - it's challenging to run a busy desk and all that comes with launching a business - but there’s always that support network, both through Hayward Hawk and RE. They have a really good grasp of how to support entrepreneurs and it’s very valuable being able to pick up the phone and speak to people like Abid Hamid or any of the other CEOs.


What was your very first job?

Gemma: Working in a fish and chip shop.

Lindsey: At my local golf club. I was supposed to just work behind the bar but they had me in the restaurant and the pro shop too!


What does 2020 have in store for Hayward Hawk Professional Services?

Gemma: To build on our existing desks across legal and accountancy, and further solidify our place in the market here. We also plan to expand out to Dublin and London, as well as doing Business Support, Accountancy Contract and HR. We want to grow slowly and do it right though. We want to make sure that everyone we hire understands the brand we want to create and the service we want to give – that’s the only way to differentiate yourself. If you hire someone who’s not on your level, it can be quite damaging to the business.

Lindsey: Also to start to enjoy ourselves as we’re doing it! The last six months have been a hard slog, trying to do everything and working like mad – it’s been a case of not having time to lift our heads up and see the wood for the trees.



Lindsey McCracken

If you could have any skill or talent, what would it be?

Lindsey: Being able to chill out a bit better. I am one of life's worriers which can be motivating but also I do struggle to switch off sometimes.

Gemma: I would stress less and enjoy more time with the kids – the younger years go so quickly. It’s a talent to be able to leave work at the door and switch off.


What are the key benefits of Professional Services and Technology operating under the Hayward Hawk Group?

Lindsey: The key benefit from a client perspective is that we can pitch as a group and service the majority of any client’s recruitment needs; that all-round service offering allows us to work as true partners with them. Additionally, in terms of candidates, they’re able to refer people they know to either side of the business and there’s consistency across it.


What’s been the biggest lesson you’ve learned in the past six months as directors?

Gemma: To prioritise effectively. It is something I have always thought I am quite good at but it has become so important in recent months. Our commitment to an exceptional level of service to candidates and clients is at the centre of what we do so we don't want to compromise this at all. Recruitment is still our day job and with each of our markets recruiting at pace, this alone keeps us really busy. Adding the operational/reporting responsibilities of the business on top of this just means we have to be really organised and prioritise our days properly.

Lindsey: The key thing is making sure that every day you have a plan to the nth degree. You have to do the client piece and candidate piece first – and the rest whenever you have a chance. Work smartly and do everything you can. You need to get comfortable with the fact you’re never going to get your to-do list done in a day.

Gemma: Also to lead by example and put those behaviours into place.

Lindsey: That comes down to proper onboarding of new people and inducting them the right way so that they understand how we run the business and what to expect. We want to create a high-performance culture – if we make sure we’re consistently driving for that and not accepting mediocre, that base line will be set.


What is your greatest achievement to date?

Lindsey: My kids – and also being a working mum and running a business.

Gemma: Mine is also having my kids and my own business and juggling all of it. Every working mum will understand how busy life gets!


What’s your favourite thing about being co-founders?

Lindsey: One of the biggest benefits for us is that we have each other to bounce ideas off…or pull each other back from the ledge! We support each other in working towards the end goal – building something we’re proud of.

Gemma: We also split the wider business responsibilities according to our strengths. Lindsey did a Masters in Human Resources Management and spent three years working in industry in an HR capacity - she really enjoys the HR/people management aspect of running the business. I am responsible for the operational/finance reporting side. We then meet weekly, or more often if required, to update each other and discuss escalation points. Having known and worked together for so long, we trust the other's judgement and are happy for them to take the lead in their area of expertise.


Ultimate guilty pleasure?

Gemma: When I get the chance, my new thing is Downtown Abbey and Breaking Bad.

Lindsey: When I’m not in work and I’ve got the kids sorted, I like to sit by myself and read a book with my feet up. I haven’t slept past 6am in the last six years so even just a lie-in every now and again is great!



What characteristic do you always look for when hiring?

Lindsey: The right attitude and level of drive. Recruitment is a hard job and has its ups and downs so you need someone with the right level of motivation to be successful. We want to create a high-performance culture at HHPS and so want consultants with high levels of self-motivation and the ambition to be the best at what they do.

Gemma: Career motivated; someone who wants to work in a high-performance culture and be rewarded highly for it. Our commission structure is genuinely market-leading and more competitive than any other recruitment businesses in Belfast.



What sets Hayward Hawk Professional Services apart from its competitors?

Gemma: We genuinely aren’t structured like other recruitment firms. We’re much more strategic, offering consultative career advice to our candidates to help them achieve their career goals.

Lindsey: From a client perspective, its about working in partnership with our clients to really understand their business. It's a holistic view of their business and how we can support their growth. A good recruitment consultant should act as an extension of their HR function and enhance their client's employer brand through hiring exceptional talent and telling their story in the market.


How do you define success?

Lindsey: I don’t want to be cheesy, but success is being happy with where you’re at, no matter what that looks like. For me now, whilst it’s stressful, I feel successful as I’ve got myself to a place I want to be. Creating something for yourself and your family that provides long-term career and security, and feeling like you can’t do any better - that’s success.

Gemma: All of that and also being able to enjoy the ups and downs as you go. If you genuinely enjoy what you do, you can.


If you're a client, candidate or consultant working in the professional services market, head to to learn more about how Hayward Hawk Professional Services can help you.