From graduate job to management

Martin Fox

Martin Fox achieved a long-held personal career ambition when he opened Robert Walters’ first Canadian office, in September 2016.  His role as managing director for Canada, working in his home town of Toronto, is the latest achievement in a career marked by success in challenging and competitive markets in Dublin and London.

How did your career with Robert Walters start?

I studied Political Science at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, and planned to go on to law school. I was travelling to Ireland after my final exams and thought it would be a good idea to get a temporary job in professional services to help with my law school application. A friend recommended Robert Walters, so I sent them my CV via the website and had a phone interview before I left Canada. 

As soon as I arrived in Dublin I had a candidate interview with a consultant on the legal team, but the conversation soon turned to opportunities within the Robert Walters office itself. The same week I was interviewed by the managers and managing director and offered a position. I was delighted – I was living in a tourist hostel and I had landed my first real job with a global firm. 

My original role was to support the financial services and legal teams with simple office tasks. I planned to go home after two or three months, but they liked the work I had done and thought I would be a good candidate for a vacancy that had come up on the finance and accounting desk. So I agreed to stay and became a consultant in August 2006.

What made you choose a career in recruitment?

From the start I was amazed by how recruiters have instant access to very successful, senior business people. I was a humble graduate, but I was meeting and talking to CFOs and CEOs. I hadn’t really been aware of the recruitment industry before, but I quickly became intrigued by the skills consultants use to help manage these senior people’s careers. The work was inspiring and rewarding.

How did your career progress?

Soon after I started I discovered how I could prove myself by really working hard as a consultant. With good billing performance I could enjoy financial benefits, but also raise my personal profile within the business. In all I spent six years in Dublin, progressing from administrative assistant to consultant, senior consultant and then manager of the Financial Services Accountancy division. During my time there it was a special honour to be named Consultant of the Year by the National Recruitment Federation in 2009.

My thoughts then turned to international opportunities. I always wondered why Robert Walters didn’t have a presence in Canada and made it clear that one day I would like to be the person who opened an office there. At the time the expansion focus was in Asia, so I felt that a move to headquarters in London would give me the best experience to help me towards my goal.

In London I helped launch an insurance division and went on to head up the Investment Management division, reviving a previously successful part of the business that had been dormant since the global financial crisis. We started more or less from scratch, but rebuilt its performance to the point where it became one of the most profitable divisions in Robert Walters’ UK business in 2015. 

How did the opening of the Toronto office come about?

I was always clear that after proving myself in the world’s toughest recruitment market, my aim would be to open a Robert Walters office in Canada. The opportunity came around the time I reached my 10-year anniversary with the Group in 2016. The time was right in terms of my career, my personal circumstances and Robert Walters’ growth plans. My perseverance was rewarded.

What have the challenges been in establishing a completely new office?

Toronto, my home town, is the second largest financial services centre in North America, so there is great business potential. We are a newcomer to the market here and it has been a challenge to get our brand in front of people. But our focus on service quality and value has been noticed by candidates and clients, bringing us new referrals every day based on personal recommendations. A lot of business is done through personal contact and I have been able to leverage contacts with people I grew up with, people who are now in influential business positions.

It’s a friendly and close knit office, with just three of us at present as the business becomes established. There is nothing pretentious or hierarchical; we are bonding together to make the project work.

What we are achieving demonstrates the entrepreneurial nature of Robert Walters. It’s a company that is prepared to support its people and make things happen, something that is rare in a global business.

What is your advice to someone considering a career with Robert Walters?

There are great opportunities here to grow your career. If you put in the effort, listen and absorb information, and perform well, you will be rewarded. It is also one of very few professions where from an early stage you are able to work with senior business clients and help them make important decisions about who they bring into their organisation. At the same time, you are assisting top calibre candidates in making one of the most important decisions in their lives – their choice of career. 

Always remember the professionalism that goes with being a recruitment consultant rather than someone who works in a ‘staffing agency’. Communicating this to your candidates and clients will earn you their respect and distinguish you from the competition. Robert Walters’ global training programme instils this approach and it pays dividends. 

But everyone needs to be aware that you do have to work hard to be rewarded. You can’t expect overnight success. If you put in the effort, listen to your colleagues and learn from them, there are great opportunities to be had.


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