Key Takeaways

  • Effective leaders emphasize empathy and a forward-thinking approach, focusing on nurturing both the current and future potential of their teams.
  • As organizations expand, maintaining a unique and cohesive culture is crucial. This involves clear communication of core values and identity by leadership at every level.
  • Hiring strategies should prioritize alignment with company values, ensuring that new hires contribute positively to the company's culture and ethos.
  • Leadership models that consider the developmental needs of employees, such as seeing them as younger versions of oneself or focusing on their future potential, can foster a supportive and growth-oriented environment.
  • Implementing an employee-owned structure can enhance commitment and accountability, aligning personal and professional growth with organizational success.
  • Maintaining a dynamic and positive workplace culture requires openness to feedback, accountability for mistakes, and transparency in corrective actions.


In this episode of The Leader Show, host Lou Carter welcomes Jim Denning, CEO of LHi Group, a recruitment firm. Jim shares insights on the firm’s dedication to being a “good human” workplace and hiring those who resonate with their values. 

He discusses his philosophy of supporting the “younger you” and “future you,” fostering a nurturing environment for employees, especially at the start of their careers. Jim also highlights the impact of LHi Group being employee-owned in preserving its culture during growth.

Executive Summary

Hey everyone! Welcome back to The Leader Show with Lou Carter. Today, we are joined by Jim Denning, CEO of LHi Group, a leading global recruitment firm that provides a comprehensive suite of services, including permanent, contract, and executive search recruitment. It also offers specialized talent management and consulting services to meet diverse client needs.

Jim began his career at Huntress Group in 2006 and joined LHi, then known as Warren’s Harvey, in 2014. He became CEO in 2020 after a stint in the U.S. and is credited with leading LHi Group through the pandemic with a people-first strategy that avoided layoffs.

So, with that said, let’s find out what makes LHi Group a Most Loved Workplace®.

Navigating Growth And Identity: Jim’s Leadership Insights And LHi’s Global Expansion

Jim sets the tone for the conversation by discussing his leadership philosophies, “Younger You” and “Future You.” He explores how his experiences in the U.K., E.U., and the U.S. have shaped his business strategies. He also touches on LHi’s growth, emphasizing its commitment to maintaining its core identity despite rapid expansion. 

LHi operates globally with eight offices and has experienced significant growth, especially in the last decade. Jim stresses the importance of preserving the company’s unique culture and identity as it continues to expand.

Preserving “Stardust”: Strategic Leadership And Ethical Hiring At LHi Group

Next, Lou and Jim discuss the importance of maintaining company culture amid growth, particularly focusing on the concept of “stardust,” which Jim describes as LHi Group’s unique identity and ethos. 

Jim highlights that this stardust is fragile and can easily dissipate during expansion, especially when encountering cultural differences in new markets. According to Jim, the key to preserving this essence is having clear communication of the company’s identity and values by leadership at every opportunity.

Jim also touches on the recruitment strategies at LHi, highlighting the importance of hiring “good humans” who align with the company’s values. This commitment to ethical and compatible hiring practices is crucial for sustaining the company’s culture and ensuring that all employees represent the brand authentically. 

Jim admits that perfecting the hiring process is challenging, but he stresses the importance of transparency and testing for competencies during interviews to avoid hiring based on assumptions. He advocates for ensuring that all employees are fundamentally good people, as the individuals within the company define its success and atmosphere.

Embracing “Younger You” And “Future You” To Foster Growth And Empathy

Moving on, Jim elaborates on his leadership philosophies, particularly focusing on the concepts of “Younger You” and “Future You.” These ideas revolve around fostering a supportive and developmental environment within LHi Group, especially during rapid growth and cultural shifts.

Jim explains that the “Younger You” philosophy was inspired by the New Zealand rugby team’s ethos of leaving the jersey in a better place than they found it. He relates this to recruitment by emphasizing the importance of remembering one’s early struggles and ensuring that new hires are better supported than past recruits.

It involves recognizing the difficulties inherent in recruitment and deliberately creating an environment where new hires can thrive despite these challenges. Leaders at LHi are encouraged to view new hires as a younger version of themselves, focusing on empathy and support to foster growth.

Jim also discusses how this philosophy extends beyond professional development to personal care, ensuring that the work environment is welcoming and supportive, akin to what one would want for one’s own child. This approach not only helps nurture talent but also maintains a healthy and vibrant company culture that can handle the challenges of scaling and expanding into new markets.

Jim’s “Future You” Philosophy Drives Personal And Professional Growth At LHi Group

Jim continues to elaborate on his “Younger You” philosophies and introduces “Future You.” He highlights the importance of nurturing employees within the youthful demographic of LHi Group’s workforce, much like nurturing one’s own child. He highlights that all LHi office leaders have been promoted internally, highlighting a culture of growth and trust in those shaped by the company’s values.

Jim then transitions to discuss “Future You,” which focuses on enabling employees to pursue the person they aspire to be. This philosophy is integral in an employee-owned business like LHi, where employees who have been with the company for over a year gain a stake in it, fostering a sense of ownership. 

Jim mentions how this structure aligns personal and professional goals, ensuring employees engage in meaningful work that supports their dreams, even if it leads them beyond LHi. “Future You” encourages leaders to actively engage with their team members about their aspirations and supports them in progressing towards these goals within and potentially beyond the company. 

It motivates employees and aligns their success with the company’s, enhancing overall performance and satisfaction. Jim’s leadership ensures that LHi remains a company where individuals feel valued and supported in pursuing both their current roles and future aspirations.

The Impact Of Employee Ownership At LHi Group

As the conversation draws to a close, Jim addresses Kerry’s question regarding maintaining a strong company culture amidst growth, particularly highlighting the role of the employee-owned structure in cultivating this environment. 

Jim acknowledges that while the employee ownership (E.O.) model has presented some challenges, it has also created numerous opportunities for feedback and accountability, which are crucial for maintaining the culture.

He elaborates on the importance of giving employees growth opportunities, often before they feel fully ready while ensuring they have support to learn from failures. This approach helps sustain a dynamic where employees feel they are progressing, which contributes to a positive and engaging workplace culture. 

Additionally, the E.O. structure has led to committees like the non-leadership E.O. committee, which holds leadership accountable and ensures alignment with stakeholder interests.

Jim highlights the necessity of being receptive to feedback from all levels within the company, acknowledging when mistakes are made, and being transparent about the steps taken to correct them. This open and honest communication fosters a feedback-rich environment, essential for sustaining the “stardust” that defines the company’s culture.

Thank you for your time!


Lou Carter : I'm thrilled to introduce a leader in the recruitment industry, Jim Denning, the CEO of LHi Group. Under Jim's leadership, LHi Group has thrived as a certified Most Loved Workplace ranking both on the Top 100 Americas and UK's Most Loved Workplaces lists. Starting his career in 2006 at Huntress Group, Jim's journey took a pivotal turn in 2014 when he joined LHi then known as Warren's Harvey, climbing quickly to associate director.

His entrepreneurial spirit led him across the pond in 2017 to establish LHi’s West Coast office in L.A. before returning to the UK in 2019 as group managing director, just a year later, Jim stepped up as CEO right as the world faced the challenges of the pandemic. Under Jim's leadership, LHi Group has not only survived but thrived and what sets him apart is his people-first approach, a philosophy that he put into action during COVID by choosing to retain staff rather than making cuts.

This decision not only reinforced his reputation as a true cultural architect, but also earned him the respect and admiration of his team. Today, Jim will share insights in his innovative leadership philosophies: Younger You and Future You, his unique experiences working across the UK, EU, and US, and how these have shaped his understanding and success in the business world.

Welcome to The Leader Show everybody. This is great to be here today because I'm psyched to talk with Jim Denning from LHi because he's not only a good human, but he has a good Humans program, which we're going to talk all about today. And we're also going to dive into things like what his philosophies around Future You and Younger You is a great leadership philosophy, things that you could do also at home. Learn about his successes, leadership choices that got him really to become CEO and stay CEO, create and develop a thriving company and become a certified Most Loved Workplace.

Jim, welcome to the Leader Show. Good to have you here. Thank you for having me. Excited. Well, Jim, this is great. Let's really dig into your teachings, right? Want to dig in and also want to know about LHi because one other people to know about that too. And you're in a growth phase, so you're also looking for new employees, Jim, so we want people to know more about how to get hired, what to expect. So let's dive in. What is LHi? We know certainly you're doing well, so I just want people to hear from you.

Preserving Identity Amidst Growth: LHi's Journey Towards Authenticity [03:03]

JD : Yeah, for sure. I can give you a definite background of that. So LHi is a multi-brand recruitment firm. We operate across the world from Berlin through to LA eight offices globally. As you said, we're a growing firm. We've been around now for 21 years, but in the last 10 years, we've really seen that growth explode and that definitely wasn't due to my beginning 10 years ago, but at its heart, LHi is just a great place to belong.

It's one that I think has a very, very clear identity around who we want to be and how we want to treat those that choose to work for us and go on the adventure with us and have made a very, I think, clear decision probably 10 years or so ago that as we started to grow significantly, that we wanted to make sure that we kept who we were at the heart of everything we do because I really do feel that those growth and scale points are probably opportunities to go in one direction or the other. And I feel that for LHi to maintain the company and to keep growing, we had to ensure that we protected that identity or stardust, I call it at all costs.

LC : Like that stardust. Culture at scale is so important for companies that are growing to ensure that your sales, your customer service, all elements of your finances, your tech has that initial stardust that made them grow, right? And so tell us as a Most Loved Workplace, what is that stardust that people can expect and that others can expect? And how is the good humans position or the program commitment to hiring good humans part of that whole ethos?

Preserving Stardust: Cultivating Identity And Values In Recruitment [04:48]

JD : That's a very good question. It's one I get asked quite a bit. It's like how do I define the stardust? I think I'd start by saying that it is an incredibly fragile thing and before you know it, it's gone. And we definitely have seen that materialize in pockets over the last 10 years or so as we have, I guess got to those rattle points of scale and growth specifically when you're taking a business from UK into America or UK into Europe where you do definitely see some differences in culture and how people want to have things.

I think it is a mix of having a very, very clear identity of who we are as a business and then a desire for those that lead those businesses to communicate that identity at every opportunity and to not allow that to diminish in spite of growth or in spite of sales.

Because at its heart, recruitment, the unique element of most recruitment firms, not all other people that are within them, we don't sell a product that is painted or copyrighted fortunately. So really and truly the uniqueness is how can we take a product that other people have access to and make different or more special and more unique in the way that we do? And that is all about how our people choose to show up.

So the stardust for me is creating that identity that people can really believe in, and that's where ethos is such as [inaudible] you come in and then ensuring that environment that it sits in has a belief of everyone that works there. So the behaviors follow because for me, I think if people really believe in what they do, then the behaviors that come out of that are often quite special.

So that's really the box that we play and that's I think what as you walk into an office across our group, you get that sense of excitement. And that's the measurable startups that I talk about a lot at LHi.

LC : So important too. People going in the world and representing you. That's an incredibly intimate and surrendering position to be in. You have to really surrender to that because we've created this, developed this culture, really know what makes it tick and get the right sales in not the wrong ones. Often, if you represent something you can get wrong sales in, if you don't have the stardust the right way.

So how do you know then that you're bringing in that right person? I had a friend who told me once, he owns a large car dealership, and he said he asked every single individual, do you really want to work here? Do you really want to work here on a deep level? Because if you don't, we're probably not in the right place. And I'm guessing that kind of is sort of your same ethos. Is there too, is that right? Tell me more.

JD : For sure. Yeah, I mean honest answer to how do you make sure you hire the right people is I haven't figured that out yet. And we definitely make a number of mistakes on that. I believe it is going back to that identity and really knowing what it is you want to hire in a person and then being very transparent around that at interview stage to test the competencies of those behaviors as opposed to an assumption of that through how someone shows up

It’s very easy, I think. And we've definitely made these mistakes in the past to make assumptions on competencies and you end up with a very similar profile, which isn't always healthy for a growing business and won that. You want that difference of thought. But having those ethoses such as the good human and the younger you, which I'd happily share with you, and I think the future you allows us to have a direction of interview whether you're working in Berlin or LA that gives that commonality of people we hire, even though they may be very different in other walks of life.

So at its heart, the good human is simple as it sounds, right? Traditionally you could say that sales environments probably attract us or have done in the past anyway, attract a certain person. And we've all worked in companies that you've seen that a fantastic sales individual or great, I guess to use maybe strange terms like Alpha, who is a brilliant salesperson, perhaps not the nicest person to be around. And because the people who work for us make the company we are, I think it's incredibly important that we can commit to saying, if you come and work here, the base level that you are going to be guaranteed is you're going to work with people who are good humans at their heart and we'll do the right thing when perhaps no one's looking.

And if we can ensure that and very much walk the walk on that in terms of if perhaps we feel we have made that error in hire and that we're prepared to act upon that, even if it may damage us commercially.

LC : It makes a huge difference to know that you're in an environment where there's good humans, right? It's sort of the no jerks policy that I've heard of. Then you can surrender a lot more to what happens because we make mistakes and we learn from them and we know that there's the right thing just around the corner. I want to go into Younger You and Future You because this exercise, I love that you have this because this is a lot about, we call them the rocks of life, and we have this exercise where we put rocks on a beach, beach here, I'm in Palm Beach Gardens here, and we have everybody steps on a rock, and each rock is a different point in their life, 30, 40, 50, 67, and they're 70, 80, 90, and you go to each rock and you speak to your future self on each rock, and then you go back, you go to the top rock and you talk back to your younger self. So you go up and you go down. So I want to hear more about your beliefs around future self, younger self. It's very much something that I also share with you.

Embracing The Younger You: Fostering Growth And Resilience In Recruitment Culture [10:41]

JD : So yeah, I mean if I could the Younger You, I was definitely the philosophy that came first in this back in 2019, we were about a hundred individuals we'd launched in the US and we're seeing some success in America, but had definitely taken, I would say some of the elite of our London business to America, which caused US problems culturally I think in London as that shifted. And we had a leadership conference which was really about, okay, what does the next stage of our growth look like? And I call them rattle points, certain stages of growth, you see your business shake a little bit because you can't bear to hug it as one individual or the message isn't quite land.

And we had a session around recruitment or culture within recruitment and how the best teams do it both inside and outside of the industry. And I'm a bit of a sport nut, which does work sometimes for analogies, but often doesn't. And I took a lead from what I felt was one of the most impressive, I guess, sporting dynasties out there, which was the New Zealand rugby team, all blacks, and they have a lot of fantastic philosophies that are based around absolute elite performance, but always coupled with being a great person at heart and the person you are off the pitch is more important than the person you're on.

They have a philosophy that is centered around when you get given your shirt the first time you play for the country, you have one responsibility and that's to ensure that when you hang it up, when you resign or retire, that shirt needs to be in a better place than once you found it. Now in recruitment, we definitely don't wear kits to work every day, but I love concepts that become sticky and that can transcend both different age groups, different cultures, different sides of the pond, et cetera. And I think those are aspects where your identity or your values leave the wall and start appearing physically in your sales floors or even in meetings with customers. And so my recruitment journey when I first started, I'll put my hands up and say I was pretty terrible at the job. It is a very difficult role to get going in.

There's a lot of failure, and actually from my perspective, that failure, those thousands and thousands of cold calls where lots of nos are things that sharpen your tools to become a great recruiter and to become perhaps stronger than you thought you could do. But that period in recruitment is also the period where a lot of people fall out of love with the job because they're not necessarily as supported as they could do.

They're high talent individuals as a 21-year-old, but then experience long periods of failure, which is very difficult to deal with them mentally can be very tricky, which I a hundred percent struggled with. When we started looking at that though, I became very obsessed around the concept of I didn't want anyone to go through elongated periods of time where they had lots of self-doubt, lots anxiety, and a feeling that perhaps they weren't good enough for the role and really all they needed to do was accept that aspect of failure and move through it by moving forward rather than backwards.

So we came across a concept that whenever we start looking at people that were bringing into the business, we're not going to do so unless we can commit to imagining that person you're bringing through the door next as the younger version of yourself. So every time we make a hire at LHi, that leader needs to think to themselves, what did I feel like on the first day I started in the pool? What were my anxieties? What were my feelings? How was my journey in the first four or five months of the industry? And how close was I to perhaps giving up what is an amazing industry and has given me so much adventure? And the one rule is, okay, cool, so you are now hiring a younger self. How can you make that experience better? But crucially not easier, but how can you make that period of time where you have to struggle and fail faster than it was for the person that came before that?

And to ensure that it became sticky. We had this concept, the leaders had to be the change, wanted to see that people had to walk in their shoes and follow their footprints. So every person that got to a leadership level where they were responsible for multiple people coming in the door was given a set of Converse. And on the heel of that, converse was the year they started in the industry. So physical representation of when they look down, for me, it's an hour a year that makes me feel very old. When we're starting to hire people who were born in that year, it's a concern for me, but every time I look at that now I'm going, right, okay, cool. It's an instant flashback to how did I feel then and what do I feel now? Would I want to work in the environment that we are currently showcasing for our individuals?

Is the desk that I've built strong enough for me to succeed as a young hungry individual's, 21-year-old? And what's the culture like, that's now moved on a little more that we have lots and lots of young moms and dads across LHi. And so that concept of the Younger You is almost now becoming more emotive. I myself and a young father, I've got a 2-year-old and my wife's pregnant with our second, and I'm in New York this week, and I was sitting down with our senior leadership team yesterday and posed a question of like, would I let Ava, my daughter come and work in New York? What's the environment like that? And I think when you start really asking yourself and others that sort of question, you get really to the nub of how healthy is your workplace? Are we still as on the environment as before? Is our identity still true?

And if you can say yes to that, then no matter how big you get, no matter how quick you scale or the different countries you go to, that philosophy transcends countries, cultures. And so as I guess the owner or the architect as you, kind of said at the beginning of the show of our environment, it gives me comfort that, okay, if this young youth philosophy is still in each of our offices, if it's still at the heart of how we hire, then we should always be in safe hands.

And as we are so rookie-heavy, it makes it really clean for us to push that culture through the business. So it's no longer just a leadership culture. Every individual that comes through has a responsibility no matter what level they are, to make sure that the person comes through the door next after them is given a better environment. So they need to show up with care to ensure that, okay, how are they getting on their first day, first week? Are they integrating well? Are they getting supported?

And in this today's environment where it's a lovely thing, but there are so many, I guess different characters and different people who want different things from recruitment, flourishing in the industry is even more important. I think that we're able to create environments where everyone can succeed and have that Younger You experience.

LC : That fundamental question and way to make it sticky, which is interesting. And Kerry’s actually asking some interesting questions here. I'll put it on soon, about thinking about your child because it makes it so palpable. It makes it real, you can think about your child in case your daughter. I think of that myself. I remember reading a quote just as I began that journey you're on right now, and I went to, it was a children's, we were buying clothes and the quote was, “Having a child is wearing your heart outside of your body.”

JD : Yeah, I can get on board with that.

LC : So with that being said, right, you are giving your heart and your heart is living in an environment now, without us, nurturing it. And we want that heart to be fully nurtured, right?

Nurturing The Younger You And Embracing The Future You [18:33]

JD : In our environment where it is a, I would say probably demographically quite a young environment, there are lots that haven't gone on that journey yet. And so leaders that can really buy into that, okay, cool. How do I feel or did I feel is probably as close as you get to that parental impact, right? And I think a lovely expression of that is we've now eight international offices, but the last time we went outside the business to find an office leader was 10 years ago.

So we have office leaders across the business who all grew up within the LHi environment and now are the people who are giving out those converse to other people with the notes attached and the laces and the stamp on their shoe and saying, this is your responsibility. This is how we carry the heart of LHi forward. And we don't always get it right for sure.

And there've definitely been periods in the last three, four years with all the challenge that the world's experienced where you probably lost sight of that little bit, but it is one of those north stars that no matter perhaps how far you veer from it, because it is sticky and it does resonate with majority of our businesses, you can push yourself back to that fairly easily, which is honestly, I'm definitely not the strongest performer in probably any walk of life of our business.

That's the beautiful thing about LHi. I'm surrounded by people who are far smarter and driven and amazing than I am, but the one thing that I do really pride myself on is that this is my role is to make sure that the company always has the Younger You and the Future You, which I'll talk to you a second about at its heart. No matter how big or small we are.

LC : You gotta leave that jersey better than it was before.

JD : Hundred percent.

LC : Did you say you want to speak to the Future You. Did you?

JD : I think if it's okay with you, it's just a nice, I guess segue into if the Younger You is looking after the younger version of ourselves and ensuring that each and every time that happens, we get better, that the future you is perhaps more around chasing the person you want to be. And we are very fortunate to be an employee-owned business. And I'm sure we get onto that where now everyone in our company that's worked for us for 12 months or more is part of that employee- owned business.

So they have a stake holding in the firm both financially and commercially. And so for the first time ever, I feel that recruitment is full of entrepreneurial people in the main, everyone in the main, most people get into their job to roll their sleeves up and better themselves change their style, but along the way, life gets in the way, right?

Children, mortgages, dependence. And so too often I think dreams that people have getting into the industry maybe get set to one side and you have that period of time where you're perhaps not as excited as you should be or you don't experience that period of growth. And that can be challenging for a company that scales. So the future, you very much, is first and foremost ensuring that as leaders, we show up for our people and have an interest in genuinely what their dreams are, no matter how big or small.

Secondly, make a real commitment to spend time working with that person or those people to help them move towards those dreams, whether that's within LHi or whether those dreams take 'em outside of the walls of LHi. But thirdly, with the EOT and the financial aspect of the EOT, where as we do a second event, everyone in that EOT benefits from that, no matter whether they're with us for 12 months or whether they've been us, not myself for 10 years, all of a sudden that financial horizon has come forward a fair amount.

And those dreams and realities, regardless of dependencies, are starting to appear a little more etched than in pencil. I feel that the Future You is that full circle moment where we can become a business that's actually quite proud of people when they do leave as much as when they join us, as long as when they've gone through our company as a destination, they've improved themselves, they've bettered themselves, they've perhaps chased that future to a point where they can make that reality. Again, for me to have that as our identity, as we scale and grow and to see people succeed and flourish, that's what makes the company an amazing place. It's what will make people go the extra mile and perhaps illicit behaviors they didn't think they could do, and as a result, look after the commercial side more far greater than perhaps we've really just focused on that.

LC : Jim, would you say to Kerry’s question about maintaining the culture as you grow and expand, that the employee-owned aspect was important for that, right? As you create culture of scale, and what else did you do beyond that to maintain that loved workplace culture to enable it? Sounds like you really made a part of the behaviors to be able to bring in that stardust within that employee-owned behavior, so they could make it more commercially applicable. Just wanted to hear from your perspective.

Nurturing Talent And Feedback In A Feedback-Rich Culture [23:46]

JD : Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I mean, it's a really good question and one that again, we definitely don't get right all the time, and unfortunately it's a painful error when you see it not work. You see it not work pretty quick. But I would say in the main, it is giving opportunity to people constantly, perhaps before they're ready for it and making sure they know that they have the support to fail and to make mistakes, but to do so and still move forward and still get that growth opportunity because in the main people who feel like they're growing and moving forward and developing as a person are happier and excited to carry that message.

The second note, which points to the EO and the EO has given us some interesting challenges, which I didn't foresee, but also some amazing opportunities just to listen more. Through the EO, we've set up a number of committees, whether it be the EO committee, which is non-leadership, and it meets to effectively, I guess hold me accountable for ensuring that we're moving the business forward in the way for the people of the EO, but also we now have 380 odd stakeholders who work for the firm, have a vested interest for the firm, and are now vocally perhaps giving me more feedback than I've ever got before.

And so I say this a lot to, I guess the board, we have that more so ever than before. It's really not that important. What I want or I feel and much, much more important what the Younger You’s of our company are wanting and feeling and needing because they are the future of our growth and also of our culture.

So I think we got to be very humble around, we're not getting everything right. Be prepared to be honest with our people and very clear on that when we do get it wrong and then be very, very obvious, very clear around what we're going to do when we see that the star does disappear a little bit to ensure that we are getting that back.

LC : What a great thing to have a feedback rich culture and that you've created with that Stardust that's so wonderful. And acknowledging your employees as owners and younger selves and getting that kind of understanding immediately about what you cannot do, right? Making a cost benefit analysis about what's possible and communicating clearly to your owners, of course, and your board of directors as to what's possible.

JD : Thank you so much, it’s a pleasure.