In June 2020, we announced an exciting new phase for our business as Zsuzsanna Recsey took over as CEO.
Robbie Hearn is still with the business full-time, switching his focus to vision, client strategy, and new areas of growth. Vincent Boon is at the helm of Giants Tech, a sister company to Standing on Giants, focussing on the next generation of community technology.
Our Head of Marketing, Rob, sat down (virtually) with Zsuzsanna to talk about her career up to this point.
Rob: Hi Zsu, nice to meet you! Thanks for spending the time with me.
Zsuzsanna: Nice to meet you too, Rob (laughing)
Rob: Tell us about your background.
Zsuzsanna: I am looking back on a 20 year career, working mainly in the banking industry. I was born and raised in Hungary. My core education lies in business finance, with an MBA from Chicago Booth. In between I also studied diplomacy, which can come in handy sometimes!In Hungary, my first job was at Citibank. It was an entirely new market emerging after communism, which meant we were in the exciting position to create many new products that our country hadn’t had before, like credit cards. I was young and ready to embrace the change, so quickly climbed the career ladder and enjoyed leadership positions across Europe, eventually bringing me to the United Kingdom.
“When I had my son eight years ago, that was when coaching found me. I was looking for ways to change the way I was achieving goals in a corporate world.”
During my pregnancy I trained to become a certified career coach, working part time for Barclays, while slowly building my coaching business on the side. Through that I started to work with more companies, focusing on career and business coaching, and that’s how I met Robbie Hearn and the business he founded: Standing on Giants.
Rob: How would you say that your experience and skills as a coach influenced your leadership style?
Zsuzsanna: Throughout my career in 360 feedback and review sessions, my teams would always describe me as a ‘coaching style’ leader, so I think it’s almost that my leadership style influenced my coaching career! There are fundamental coaching elements that I use every day: active listening, never assuming you know the answer better than anyone else, guiding people and empowering them, asking the right questions. I feel these leadership techniques are important in the modern business world, authoritarianism doesn’t get you very far!
Standing on Giants’ ethos and purpose is all about people; what we do is facilitate connections and collaborations between people. Our employee’s values and their personality types fit this leadership style perfectly. I enjoy that, compared to the banking industry where the authoritative style is much more popular.
“When we reach more people in the world, we give them the power to change things for the better. People who influence big companies, who influence policy makers, who influence the world, to create some form of collaborative capitalism.”
Rob: Thinking about the Community Industry, what was your impression of that before and after joining us, and what are you excited about for the future?
Zsuzsanna: I think the journey I myself went through was realising that I knew very little about it! (laughing) Thinking about the word community as an outsider you think about your local neighbourhood, about something physical, offline. So I think just the ‘uneducatedness’ of myself, mirrored the market. It has taken me a while to actually understand what it is, what the true value of our offering is. Once you understand that, you clearly see how much more it is than just connecting customers and generating cost savings. It goes beyond that and creates long lasting value.
“Once you understand that [the true value of community], you understand how much more it is than just connecting customers and creating cost savings, but going beyond.”
Rob: What did our recent B Corp Certification mean for you and what do you think about that as a movement?
Zsuzsanna: Again something I didn’t know much about when I started the journey but learned more about when you joined us Rob. I remember reading about it and thinking: ‘this is 100% what we stand for’. One of the first things we learned was that we were actually doing quite a lot of things well when we filed the certification. It made us think how much more we could do in the future! It’s fascinating to see the possibilities of joining up with these other amazing organisations who are part of the B-Corp movement. I really think we can make the world a better place as a joint force.
Rob: My last question is about leading a business through the COVID-19 pandemic, and the disruption not only of our business but the world. What’s your experience of being a business leader at this time taught you?
Zsuzsanna: What a fascinating experience in many ways! My full-time CEO role started at the beginning of April, just as the first lockdown happened.
From a people perspective, seeing how this team reacted to something so unexpected, was very transformative. I was grateful that we were in the final stages of B Corp certification and introducing our new mental health policy. This was good as it meant that the question ‘How can we take care of our people?’ was the daily topic in our leadership meetings and we already had that focus.
It was also a very stressful time from a business perspective. However, it revealed how strong and unique the relationship with our clients is. We were able to say :‘Yes, it’s tight for all of us, but let’s get through it together’. That was so new for me after 20 years in business.
Thinking of myself personally here, I think it got me closer to the team. My son was a new ‘special guest’ on many business calls, so we learned new, more personal sides of each other. Kudos to the team for accommodating and living in this remote world. When I look back we really have achieved so much. It would have been fantastic in a normal year, let alone in the midst of a global pandemic!
Rob: Couldn’t agree more. Thank you for taking the time to talk to me, Zsuzsanna!