When the Carillion ship sunk, Keith Cochrane was the man still at the helm, and one of the many Directors left without a job and uncertain future career prospects.
Yet, nine months down the line, Cochrane has been named as the Chair of £180m turnover Aberdeenshire-based specialist contractor Score Group.
He is amongst the likes of; James Hindes, Managing Director for Carillion’s southern region, who was snapped up by Kier in July; Andy Jones, former COO, who now heads up Mace’s Major Project Division and Andy Brown, ex- UK Civil Engineering Managing Director, who was hired by Tarmac to manage its infrastructure business.
But not all former Directors of the failed business have been as lucky, many are still without a role to move in to and are struggling to overcome the stigma.
Of course, not everyone who worked at Carillion should be held responsible for the demise, and it’s not a fair generalisation to tarnish everyone with the same brush. But it didn’t happen by accident, several key figures made the decisions that resulted in the business failures.
Back in May, former Finance Director Richard Adam, ex-Chief Executive Richard Howson and former Chairman Philip Green were singled out for their roles in the demise, with a recommendation that the Insolvency Service should consider barring them from all future directorships.
The fact is, no one coming out of Carillion is going to hold their hands up and take the blame for the fall, and everyone will have their version of events – passing the buck to former management or claiming no involvement in crucial decisions.
So should you consider hiring candidates from failed companies or projects at all?
The answer is, yes.
But with caution…
1. Do your research
Not everything is going to be publicly available information, but it is crucial that before you enter into any conversations with candidates that you have a good understanding of what happened and when key decisions were made. This will mean that if the candidate goes down the “pass the buck” route, you will have the facts to hand and can politely challenge them on this.
2. Thorough interviewing
Usually, we are advocates of keeping the interviewing process concise, as lengthy processes increase the chances of losing your ideal candidate.
But, if your ideal candidate is one with a chequered career history, it is important that they are extensively vetted so that you, and other key members of the hiring process can properly understand what the extent of their role in a company’s downfall was.
Be mindful that they will try to absolve themselves from blame, and use the knowledge gained from your prior research to contest them if you believe they may be being “creative” with the truth.
By having multiple stages to the interview, with different interviewers, you can compare answers to ensure that stories hold up.
3. Have they learnt from their mistakes?
Everybody makes mistakes at some point in their career. What’s important to understand is; was it an honest mistake and if so, what have they learnt from it?
Ask them outright what they would do differently if they could rewind the clock, or give them situation based questions to understand how they would react to similar situations in the future.
To quote Michael Jordan; “I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” Sometimes those who have been there for the big mistakes are the ones who know how to best avoid them in the future.
However, there is a big difference between being responsible for an honest mistake, and making a conscious unethical choice – this is what you need to determine.
4. Has this happened before?
Take a look at their previous career history. If working for failed companies or projects is something of a frequent occurrence, then it suggests more about them than the companies. Only so much can be put down to bad luck.
Any good investigation needs an eye witness, which is why referencing is key to revealing any skeletons in the closet. The best people to give you a full understanding of the situation are the ones that were close to it.
Take references from people who worked at the organisation or from people who knew the company and the candidate well. This could be from colleagues, investors, clients or partners. Anybody who can assist in establishing just how culpable (or not) they were.
After an extensive assessment, if you are satisfied that they are a potential fit, you then need to ask – how will this appointment be perceived externally?
The views of investors, clients, regulators and other key stakeholders should be considered carefully for high profile appointments.
Recruiting senior Directors from a failed company or project is always a risk, but it can pay off. It is however one that needs to be handled sensitively and thoroughly to ensure that (if they were culpable) that the same mistakes are not repeated.
It might be beneficial to employ the help of an independent third party to aid in the vetting and referencing process. An executive search consultancy will have a vast network of contacts to call upon to get a good understanding of the role the candidate played and if they are worth the risk.
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