In the spotlight: an interview with Miranda Hilton

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Group8 is a legal consulting and resourcing firm, founded by Miranda Hilton in partnership with Recruitment Entrepreneur. In its first two years, Group8 has harnessed the opportunity presented by the current transformation of the legal industry and offers clients and candidates a truly holistic approach. We sat down with Miranda to discuss the challenges along the way, working in the global legal market, and the importance of resilience.


What’s the story behind the company name Group8?

That came from myself and a senior consultant in Asia who I've known for a long time, after a few bottles of wine at a rooftop bar in Singapore! We were discussing everything we wanted the company to do: accelerate, innovate, differentiate, navigate and so on. All the words ended in 8 and thus Group8 was born. We also wanted a name which could scale beyond one individual.


Do you have any secret talents?

I got through school with a music scholarship so I play the saxophone, flute and piano but my talent has rusted over the years!


What was your biggest lesson during your first year as a director?

Don’t grow for growth’s sake. I came here to start a concept and whilst I was waiting for that concept to take off, I felt like I had to grow the team. What I should have done is stayed true to my vision and not grown until it was building around a concept I really believed in. I’ve learnt that your foundation team has to be incredibly strong and you have to mindful of your own bandwidth. If you’re trying to implement change and be progressive, it takes a lot of resilience, clarity and passion to promote your business - much more so than building something 'vanilla'.


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

Striving for perfection across the board is great and it's how you're wired, but enjoy the journey and the moment as it is – stop always focusing on the destination.


What sets Group8 apart from other legal search businesses?

Fundamentally, our belief is that for law firms to attain accelerated growth and differentiate themselves in such a highly crowded, competitive and ever-changing marketplace, they have to adopt a new approach to resourcing. In any business, if you adopt the same process as everyone else, you're going to get the same results. This is what we have done - create a scalable and market appropriate model without compromising on our premium level of service and process.

We converge consulting and resourcing. Our role is not to find people or to find a candidate opportunities; we create choices and provide the data and strategic framework from which to make a decision.


What gets you out of bed in the morning?

The five alarms I snooze until the last minute, coffee and my dog, Maggie. On the weekend, my daughter - no alarm needed!


What was the most challenging part of setting up on your own?

Setting up on my own was something I had done before - I love building, growth and start-ups. It feels really hard but when you look back it's always the most fun. Every small win feels massive when you're creating something out of nothing. But balancing delivery with growing and managing a team is definitely tough.

I was relocating from overseas, having been out of the UK for 18 years. I definitely underestimated the impact of changing geographical markets – both on a personal and professional level. I was trying to settle into a new location as a single mum, whilst starting a new business in a new market accountable under a private equity umbrella. I tried to play it down for appearances but it was hard, and the truth is that work and home life directly interplay with each other. I like challenges but in retrospect it was a lot of change even for me!


What is your greatest achievement to date?

My daughter – I’m amazed she’s mine and I'm so constantly proud of her and how brave she is. Professionally, it'd be always stepping outside my comfort zone and trying to do things differently. I'm not sure what I would highlight as a 'greatest achievement' yet, but day to day I take a lot of pride in facilitating clients' growth and turnarounds through the acquisition of the right lateral talent, and seeing individuals take a career journey they never expected to take until we picked up the phone to them.


How do you balance being a mum and growing a business?

With difficulty at times. Juggling both, you always feel like you’re not doing either to the best of your ability, but you need to accept that your vision of perfection is unrealistic. For me, if my home life works, I can work! I’ve had to figure out a way to be totally immersed at work and then be focused and present when I’m with my daughter.

I occasionally work from home and I do still feel conscious about it, although I'm lucky that Recruitment Entrepreneur supports flexibility. Ironically, I think resourcing companies as a whole don't do 'agile' very well. I see this as a great differential talent attraction potential for Group8. You can't just say you're agile - you have to really trust people to be self-motivated and driven (traits most parents who have to earn money for their families tend to have in spades!).


What’s the first thing you notice about someone when you meet them?

Handshake, smile and eyes - you can tell if it's going to be hard work or if they're open.


What challenges do you face working globally?

In the last 12 months, we’ve facilitated senior moves, both cross-border and domestically, in Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia, and we’re currently working on briefs in Italy, Germany, Australia and the Middle East. We've undertaken a brief for Paris working on a mine in New Guinea reporting to a hiring manager in Perth whilst we were in Dubai! We go where our clients need us to go and with the help of technology, we're always connected.

But, having returned to the UK market after 16 years of living in Asia, the Middle East and Australia, UK law firm partners and decision makers are some of the most risk-averse I’ve come across and the level of 'diplomacy' at times gets in the way of real accelerated growth. The UK's legal industry culture is going to have to adapt faster than it is - getting into a growth mindset is critical and to do that you have to take an element of risk and have decisive leadership. Overly onerous and protracted meeting processes are so disengaging in the war for talent.


What do you do to relax?

Simple stuff: spend time with my daughter, family and friends; go to dance/music festivals; clean my house while listening to music; running. Or immersing myself in a decent serial killer box set when I'm really switching off!


Why did you choose to partner with RE?

When I was much younger, I set up and ran a successful business in Australia. When the global financial crisis hit, at the age I was, I struggled to navigate it alone. I vowed that the next time I grew a business, I wouldn’t do it alone. To me, RE was 'smart money'; on top of investment, they have a thorough, in-depth understanding of the resourcing and professional services industry. I knew together our great minds could create something a bit different.


What mantra do you try to live by?

If you look at my life it would be: 'If at first you don't succeed, try and try again - but with a different formula’. My life in general has been a journey of constant learning and I seem very determined to test my own resilience.


What is your favourite thing about being your own boss?

Firstly, I'm not fully my own boss - if you're private equity backed as we are, you are accountable and you have business partners. I was my own boss over 10 years ago and it was quite lonely in many ways. So now I have a hybrid model...

I am someone who needs to feel free. I have to feel connected and attached to what I'm doing to be passionate about it. I like being able to take calculated risks to try new things - seeing an idea come to reality is so rewarding. Even when I make mistakes, I still have the freedom to learn from them. Creating an ecosystem and community that people are part of and connected to is the most rewarding part of it all though.


What would your superpower be?

To read minds. I like to think I'm pretty good at knowing what people are thinking but the fast track option would be ideal!


What is your goal for Group8 for 2019/2020?

We recently put in place an innovative collaborative resourcing solution for a long-standing client and I'm absolutely determined to make it a success and hopefully achieve some serious accelerated growth and results for them. I also want to grow a strong, cohesive team of experts who really believe in changing the dial – whilst having fun along the way!


What developments have you witnessed in your sector and what are your predictions for the future?

The legal industry has been one of the last to move from a relationship-driven to procurement-driven client model. Pressured charge-out rates and financial models, ever-increasing competition from US firms, and new law models and technology has meant a complete re-evaluation. Ideally law firms would restructure completely.


What is your idea of a perfect holiday?

Beach, sun, music and I need to always see water. I don't holiday well; normally I only start to wind down a few days before I'm due to return!


Which characteristic do you always look for when hiring?

Someone who is hard-working, self-motivated, resilient, smart and real. In search you get so many knock-backs as we're dealing with the 90% of the market who are happy and already have great jobs. You have to be able to take it on the chin but equally if you genuinely think they should be talking to you, you need to encourage without being pushy!

I also really like people around me who challenge the status quo and ask the question, "Is there a better way?". If the legal market is experiencing massive change and adaptation, surely we should be too?


What tool, object or ritual could you not live without in your workday?

My phone and daily exchanges with my Operations Manager, Victor Brown-Villedieu! The train ride into work I now love as a time to prep for the day.


What do you think the definition of success is?

I love what I do, always have. Our business is a people business; it's largely focused on human psychology when you break it down. I find people fascinating and watching what motivates and what stops them from being able to make decisions. We support them through facing fear of the unknown and I get a huge amount of pleasure from seeing the people who work with me evolve (employees, clients and individuals we help). To continue being in a position of ‘giving’ in general gives me a lot of satisfaction.

On a personal level, to me success is when you realise the difference between what you want and what you need. If you focus on your needs, you’ll have enough. If you focus on the former, you’ll never have enough. But I don’t ever want to feel like I have achieved complete ‘success’ – where do you go from there?!