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It starts with Ambition

​It may have started with a little ambition but now we're celebrating 24 years of Ambition Recruitment.

Hear about our journey from our

Co-Founder Nick Waterworth

Our Co-Founder and Executive Chair of the Ambition Group Ltd, Nick Waterworth shares the forward-thinking global recruitment company’s origin story, from its inception in 1999 to the bright post-pandemic future now taking shape. You can hear Nick’s full interview which can be found on the latest podcast episode of Leaders with Ambition (UK).

Nick has in excess of 30 years in executive recruitment, covering Australia, Asia and the UK. In 1999, he was one of the founders of Ambition Group Limited, along with Paul Lyons, who in the early years of the Group helped establish the IT recruitment arm of Ambition. Nick also launched Accountability, which specialises in accounting support recruitment around Australia. Between 2007 and the end of 2013, alongside acting as a main board member, Nick worked as Managing Partner for Watermark Search International, the Group’s executive search offering. In January 2014, Nick returned to the role of Executive Chairman and is now leading a team of 6 experienced Divisional Managing Directors around the world.

This lively conversation covers the entire journey, from Nick’s career highlights to the inevitable bumps along the way to a host of exciting new projects hitting their stride. He also offers advice about the importance of engaging mentorship and gives us a glimpse into his leadership priorities in the face of a global pandemic. (Hint: Nick emphasised transparency, communication and empathy – a formula that resulted in his team emerging from Covid-19 stronger than ever.)

The highlights:

Starting out

Growing up in Warwick as a “spectacularly poor student” (with a gift for sport) found a passion for economics/economic history early on - sparked by an influential mentor who helped him set his course in life.

Nick applied for a statistics job on The Strand which wound up as a life-changing opportunity to train as a recruiter in their London office – a fun job that “exceeded all expectations!” Nick then made the decision to pursue growth by migrating to a competitor, joining the banking recruitment team at Michael Page, a company he knew “was going places.”
Nick explains why it was an easy “yes” when Michael Page offered him the opportunity to help open its office in Sydney – where he landed in 1985 for a stint of two years that turned into a long-term career and life path.

A new direction

In 1998 our founders embarked on a “crazy” road trip from Melbourne to Perth. This was the road trip during which Nick and his co-founder Paul Lyons conceived Ambition’s business model.

Nick’s laser focus and his belief that you can’t be “all things to all people” has been key to building a straight-ahead path to global success: a disciplined “inch wide and a mile deep” approach.

Nick hasn’t done it all on his own. His wife and board member Paul Young have played as long-time sources of wisdom, support, guidance and professional insight. Having passed the BBQ test, affirmation from stakeholders is the most powerful and satisfying form of reputational advocacy.

Nick's tip

'Cultivate mentors (formal and informal) whose outside perspective you can trust.' - Nick Waterworth

Being intentional

Strong, healthy workplace cultures start with intentionality, and clearly defined core values are the bedrock. The ethos that shaped what Nick and his co-founder Paul Lyons envisioned as their mission right from its outset, including both a focus on a personalised customer experience and a global approach. This has made Ambition an innovative industry leader across the UK, Asia, Australia and the U.S. The secret sauce behind Ambition’s special alchemyis: a close-knit culture, shared purpose and honesty. Nick champions diversity & inclusion and believes firmly that equity is a non-negotiable, normal, natural thing to do – and an asset to corporate culture overall. “It’s just good for everybody involved!”​

Nicky Acuna-Ocana

“I remember you coming to every single office, speaking to everybody and being so open. That really was a big turning point. It came from the heart and the values system that is very dear to all of us; our values of pride at Ambition.” - Nicky Acuna Ocana

A corporate reset

There have of course been speed bumps along the way. For example, starting an office in Hong Kong on the eve of a major SARS outbreak. But one of the biggest challenges was sustaining “plummeting” business and corporate stress through Covid-19, which brought the erosion of morale when Ambition temporarily strayed from its core values. From this Nick doubled down on his strategy of transparency, clear communication, a return to basics, focused leadership and full disclosure allowed the organisation to blossom again.

Nick's Tip

'Know your purpose! Values are the bedrock of a healthy company culture and your ability to attract and retain great teams.' - Nick Waterworth

Nick’s personal highlights

Nick Waterworth

  • Taking the leap and moving to Australia and making a savvy last-minute switch to adopt Ambition as the company’s name.

  • Staying nimble enough to morph and grow into the organisation that the founders imagined and hoped to establish from earlier days.

  • Achieving success (regardless of naysayers along the way).

  • Navigating through the Asian marketplace and establishing roots across global cultures. Remaining true to Ambition’s values-driven orientation and ethics.

  • Shifting the UK office’s post-Brexit focus towards professional services. Expanding into India and Singapore in the software space.

  • Launching AmbTech’s suite of tailored IT support services.

  • Enjoying a bright, up-tempo landscape and new leaders moving the team ahead!

Key quotes direct from our Co-Founder Nick Waterworth

  • “Sometimes it might be a weakness, but I’m not very good at giving up on stuff!”

  • “Values were very important to us as founders... We wanted a business that cared about our people, our stakeholders. That was something we really built into the organisation.”

  • “I value having formal mentors or simply people you trust and can look to for advice in different situations.”

  • “Where we stand now is incredibly satisfying and I love it. I still every day am genuinely delighted and excited to be involved. And that’s not corporate speak!”

  • “Going through a nasty time in some ways perhaps refocused us on the basics and right style of leadership... I really didn’t do anything all that clever. I was just straight with people.”

  • “The prospect of not having equal pay for equal work – I just don’t get it. Why would you do that or think you’re going to get away with it? Why would you think that it’s going to be anything but poisonous for your culture?”

  • “Building better futures is our mission. We’re very focused on growth and playing to our strengths.”

  • “Work should be fun. It’s serious and pays the bills … but you’re just going to do it better if you’re having fun. And fun can mean different things in different places.”

  • 'You’re going to have a better (and more successful) life doing things you enjoy.'

  • 'Don’t choose a course of study because you think it’s the “right” thing to do.'

Leaders with Ambition podcast (UK)

The podcast that delves deep into the careers if some if the most successful leaders in Professional Services (UK).

The Leaders with Ambition podcast is hosted by Nicky Acuna Ocana Regional Managing Director of Ambition UK, Europe and US. She has led high performing recruitment teams for over 20 years. As the Regional Managing Director of Ambition UK, Europe and US, she leads a team of highly-skilled recruitment consultants who are experts in their niche specialist areas. With an extensive network of senior and board-level contacts, she is also heavily involved in Executive Search, focusing on Director level appointments across Business Services for a range of Professional Services firms.

If you enjoyed this discussion and would like to see more episodes like this, please visit this link to find previous episodes of the Leaders with Ambition podcast.

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