Five minutes with Adam Hale

Five minutes with Adam Hale

With 30 years’ experience in the IT industry, Adam Hale’s dedication to tech has culminated in “building a great cloud business” at Fairsail, which provides human resources software for mid-sized organisations. Adam describes his tenure as CEO as the “hardest, scariest, most consuming and rewarding role of my career”.

Fairsail’s goal is “to enable mid-size, multinational companies to manage modern workforces”. Under Adam, the number of customers has tripled, which he attributes to Fairsail’s service: “Our customer success has enabled us to be market leaders,” he says.

“I’m a big believer in Europe creating more world-leading businesses”

That’s a big part of what a vibrant economy means to me. I’ve spent nearly 30 years working for North America-based businesses, which has been great but now I have chance to lead a business that is succeeding globally from a European base. That means everything to me. The UK has to grow more businesses like Fairsail. To us, growing 30%, growing 50% – that’s a million miles from success. If we’re not doubling or close to doubling then we are not fulfilling our potential.

“I don’t tell people what time to get in or how hard to work”

My job is to build an environment where people know what their work is and are able to work towards it. I do what I can in terms of making sure there is real priority of purpose but the shared motivation and energy of the people is what does it. We give share options to every single member of staff on day one. That’s really important. I personally don’t believe in drawing a line in the organisation between people who care in the value of the firm and people who don’t. I think that’s just crazy. Everybody has an impact on it so therefore why wouldn’t everybody be part of it?

“The one thing I think the UK needs to fix as a country is its skills gap”

I’ll illustrate this with a data point. Last year, in the UK, 5,400 people did computing A-level. Of those 470 were girls. It’s pitiful. That is a 10th of the number of people who studied general studies and sociology combined. So it’s not even close. How can we expect organisations like us to grow? We need more technical ability, more people like this coming out of school, people with technical foundations. And that’s the one thing that I want this country and this government to mobilise around. We need a wholesale cultural change in the education sector and people running towards technology rather than running away from it… They say acceptance is the first stage, and I still don’t think there’s recognition that we’re a million miles away from where we need to be.

“Over the past 15 or 20 years, organisations have come to understand their customers better than their own people”

They have done such a great job of getting to know and understanding their customers that we are now seeing a similar focus on getting to know and understanding their people. When companies know their customers better than their people it’s clearly not a sustainable situation, particularly if you believe that your people are your greatest asset.

“We struggled to attract people because we didn’t know what kind of people we wanted”

When I walked in, Fairsail had 15 people. We didn’t find it that easy to attract people and now we’re deluged by applications. That was, in part, because we hadn’t been clear with ourselves about what kind of people we wanted. That was the pivot point. I still interview everybody that we hire because every single person here can make a difference and create success for the organisation.

“I think we’re going to the see a transformation from ‘HR’ to ‘People’”

It didn’t use to be called the HR function, it was the personnel function. Now we’re seeing the ‘people’ part taking over from HR. I think the transformation is going to massively help companies. It will turn the function from backward-looking, manual-intensive and unscientific to really data-driven, analytical-type function – and we could see it become one of the destinations of choice for hot graduates.

“Twenty years ago, companies were guessing at how many customers they had”

If you met a company like that now, you’d think they were a bit of toast. In 10 years’ time you’ll be saying the same thing about those who don’t know their people. If you don’t worry about your people, you won’t be able to hire them, manage them, develop them or certainly keep them.

“We are working with one of the coolest companies in Silicon Valley, and they are using payrolls and spread sheets”

I was in Silicon Valley a couple of weeks ago talking to a tech company, a really, cool tech business – 400 people all over the world but based in Silicon Valley – and they are using the most outdated tools to manage them. That’s just one demonstration of how far there is to go in this market.

“London’s rebalancing has been fantastic”

London as a city has rebalanced from being solely financial services to one that is incredibly strong in tech. I think that’s a tremendously positive thing but I think at times we’ve forgotten about other bits of the country. Reading/Bracknell is actually the largest technological cluster outside London but you wouldn’t guess that when you hear about the number of things happening around Old Street. I like a lot of London businesses but it’s not the only game in town.