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Jack Hammer Executive Headhunters: Debbie Goodman

Former dancer uses creativity to build a successful executive headhunting outfit

Juliet Pitman

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Debbie Goodman of Jack Hammer Executive Headhunters

“I don’t like conforming to predetermined structures that have been defined by others – I want to determine things on my own through a creative process,” says Debbie Goodman, founder and director of Jack Hammer Executive Headhunters. Creativity is something that comes naturally to this woman who had an unconventional start in the business world.

Goodman worked as a professional contemporary dancer and choreographer for 10 years and qualified with a law degree, although she never pursued a legal career. Dancing was always her passion, but it didn’t pay the rent and she eventually decided to leave the arts and look for a corporate job. A recruitment agency took her on as a headhunting consultant, a role that suited her well.

After two years of learning the ropes, she decided to go it alone – first setting up a headhunting business with a partner, then in a joint venture – before eventually forming Jack Hammer, which has managed to capture a portion of the highly competitive headhunting market, in spite of being a newcomer. “At the top levels of executive headhunting, the industry is dominated by old and established players, and international and local groups with strong credentials,” says Goodman, commenting on the early challenges she faced.

“I have had to work my way into that top space as a younger woman without any ‘old boy’ connections or networks. These were challenges, but they were exciting ones; I never saw any of them as stumbling blocks.” And while it might not seem immediately obvious, Goodman’s long history of creativity stood her in good stead in overcoming these challenges. “In whatever I have done in my life – choreography, dancing, theatre management, entrepreneurship – I have always subscribed to the power of creativity. In many ways I’m doing the same thing in business as I did in dancing – creating something out of nothing.”

Creativity is central to the way Jack Hammer does business; this has allowed the company to differentiate itself in important ways. “I don’t like to say we offer something completely different because the end result is the same: we find people to fill roles. And while I can’t claim to know how every other headhunter in the market operates, I believe our process and methodology of finding the right candidate is different.” Jack Hammer doesn’t rely only on its existing contact base and network to source candidates: “We go further than just looking at people who we already know are out there.

An incredibly labour-intensive process allows us to drill down to reach the candidates who aren’t necessarily widely known and might be slightly below the radar, but who are up-and-coming gems.” Jack Hammer’s team-based approach to sourcing candidates also sets it apart in an industry where most consultants work alone to individual targets. “Consultants engage with clients and bring in the brief, and then work with a cohesive project team of researchers and headhunters to find appropriate people. These candidates are further screened by the consultants before a shortlist is compiled. So we go through a four-phase screening process before candidates are presented to the client,” explains Goodman. Finding good headhunters for her team in an industry where it’s common practice to enforce restraints of trade is not easy.

But Goodman knows exactly what she’s looking for. The overriding factor for her is a track record of success – and that can be in anything. “A passionate person who threw themselves into something and had to work really hard at it to achieve success has the right attributes for future triumph in almost any arena and certainly in this industry. Passion, talent, discipline and hard work equal success. Aptitude is not enough if you don’t have the self-discipline and tenacity to do what is essentially a repetitive job,” she says.

Unlike its competitors, Jack Hammer doesn’t require consultants to sign restraints. Instead, it relies on positive reinforcement to keep good staff. The normal commission-based structure is once again complemented by an imaginative approach to incentives. Apart from individual vouchers, prizes and five-star local and international getaways, a notable example is an incentive where the entire team worked to a target so that all could take turns to enjoy a reward. In another, the team aimed to make its target so that it could make a financial donation to a particular charity.

When asked what the most promising careers in South Africa are currently, Goodman replies: “It’s an impossible question to answer, although there are obviously some industries that are more lucrative than others. But what I can say to people making a choice about their career is don’t base your decision on what other people tell you or how much money you will earn. Find something that you really love and that you’re excited about, work hard at it and you will be successful.”

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Marwaan Sasman

    Jul 27, 2012 at 12:39

    I LOVE this! – “In many ways I’m doing the same thing in business as I did in dancing – creating something out of nothing.”

    I totally agree with this approach to business thinking. We have the potential to meticulously create, develop and craft our vision as entrepreneurs. It’s an advantage we have over the “larger players” in the industry, and it’s an advantage that definitely ads to the success of a business!

    Entrepreneurship is truly where creativity and strategic thinking intersect.

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“Disruption is all about risk-taking, trusting your intuition, and rejecting the way things are supposed to be. Disruption goes way beyond advertising, it forces you to think about where you want your brand to go and how to get there,” says Richard Branson.

South Africa has its fair share of innovative and disruptive businesses taking both local and international industries by storm. From cutting edge space technology to reimagined logistics, and innovative business models, here are 25 of the most successful business ideas in South Africa:

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Colin Timmis Says ‘Position Yourself For Success By Starting With The Numbers’

People pay first who they feel pressure from, so people will pay you when they feel pressure from you.

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Merge Connect

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It’s no secret that finding the right investor for your venture is a challenge that most entrepreneurs face. The current process of finding investment is one that is outdated, and limits entrepreneurs due to a lack of time, and network that is needed to find the right investor. But, this doesn’t have to be the case in today’s digital society, says Zander Matthee and Brandon Bate, co-founders of Merge.

“By making the Internet the middleman, we are able to connect with each other much simpler and faster than before” was Zander’s response. “We have taken advantage of this, and have created a digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors” added Brandon.

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From Private Investors to Venture Capital, and everything in between, Merge allows all investor types to join. Investors have the opportunity to personalise their feed to suit their investment preferences, and will be able to connect with innovative businesses – that are looking for investment – at their fingertips. Only once there is a mutual interest in each other, are users able to enter a secure private chat where they can discuss further and share documents under the protection of a digital NDA.

The two boys became good friends during their time in high school at St Stithians Boys College. However, it was only in their last year, 2016, that they decided to pursue their dreams and create the platform. They didn’t know how to code, so rather ironically, they needed some form of investment to get the platform off the ground.

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“We knew we had a mountain to climb, but we believed in our vision and that we were really trying to make a difference, and if we could get others to see that, they would be onboard.” said Zander.

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Chris Peters is one of these individuals that bought into their vision, and became Merge’s first investor. As a successful entrepreneur and part time investor , Chris saw how much value the platform could bring to all entrepreneurs and investors alike. His marketing and strategic background gave him insight into how Merge could play a vital role in a lucrative space, Brand involvement.

“Entrepreneurship and SME development are two key factors that drive economic growth in developing countries like South Africa. That is why brands are currently getting involved, and looking to support entrepreneurs through various means. We have built a platform that allows these brands to successfully market, and execute on the programmes they have created to assist entrepreneurs.” said Chris

Merge was created to assist all entrepreneurs and investors in finding exactly what they are looking for, regardless of age, race, sex, financial position or social status. That is why anybody can sign-up as an entrepreneur. As long as you are determined and willing to work for your dreams. For too long has the investor space been seen as an “elite club for the select few”, and Merge is here to change that. Whether you’ve gotten your bonus at the end of the year and looking for new investment opportunities, or are an active investor, you can sign-up. Whether you’re currently working, or a retired industry leader, you can join as a mentor.

Their vision is to become the ‘go to’, digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors, and to truly make a difference in the world.

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