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28th Oct, 2020

Claire Bacon
Claire Bacon
Job Title
Head of Employer Brand

In addition to being the Regional Manager for Stratford Business Support, Helen Fontaine is one of Reed’s longest-serving co-members with over 38 years of service…

Below, Helen shares with us her personal and professional reflections on her past four decades of Life at Reed.

1982: An Unexpected Move into Recruitment

Before Reed I worked in sales and always wanted to be a Recruitment Consultant but thought I needed recruitment experience to apply. So instead, I decided to go into social work and began attending evening classes alongside my job. I could not afford to study full-time because I had a young child and needed to work, so evening classes were my only option. I wanted to be a Social Worker because I liked helping individuals and supporting people during difficult times.

In early 1982 I walked into the Reed office in Stratford after seeing an advert for a part-time Respite Care Worker. During the meeting we discussed various roles and the manager, after reviewing my experience, asked if I would consider a recruitment role because I had the passion and people skills that they were looking for.

She said I had all the necessary skills and attributes she was looking for in a Recruitment Consultant and that what stood out to her was my drive, passion and conscientiousness. The following day I had my first stage interview with HR.

What Motivates Me (Then & Now)

I have a dedicated team who are hardworking and passionate about our business… They are the people I see daily and spend most of my hours with, and they make it worthwhile coming into work each day.

What keeps me at Reed has changed over time for professional and personal reasons. At the very beginning I was a single mother and I worked for financial reasons. I needed a job to put food on the table and to see my children through their education. So, I worked hard to prove myself.

I have enjoyed the financial rewards, the incentives, recognition, awards and high achievers’ events which really motivated me. I have a dedicated team who are hardworking and passionate about our business; I love working with them. They are the people I see daily and spend most of my hours with, and they make it worthwhile coming into work each day.

We celebrate successes and I still get as excited when filling a short-term booking, as much as a senior level placement. I believe that Reed has the best training available and this has allowed me to grow and develop during my career. I love coming into work each day and I run my office like it’s my own business.

Getting my office to number 1 in the company for two consecutive years has been one of my proudest moments. That alongside developing four Consultants who had no sales experience when they joined Reed, and one of whom progressed to being a Branch Manager within Reed, and another ran the number 1 office in the company for many years.

One Crazy Christmas…

A standout moment in my Reed history was receiving a call from a customer on Christmas Day requesting 30 temps to start on Boxing Day… I knew this client was going to need staff, so we already had a pipeline of candidates available, but they were due to start in January, not Boxing day!

The client said that this was a crucial time for them as their campaign had been brought forward. So, Bukola Odofin (one of my team) and I spent the whole of Christmas Day calling temps to get them ready to start the next day… all while cooking Christmas dinner for me and the family!

Eventually, we managed to confirm 35 people for the next day and Bukola and I had to be on site on Boxing day to check them in. It would have been so easy to say to the customer we cannot get anyone to start, but I pride myself on the service I provide. The customer was so impressed we managed to supply, that we won a sole agency agreement as a result of this.

My Toughest Time

Of course, it hasn’t always been easy. 2016 was the toughest time for me, both at work and personally. I wanted to remain positive and strong at work whilst my husband was ill. It was the biggest challenge; I was naturally worried about my job and how important it was to function and perform.

It was also a worry adjusting to his condition because he was diagnosed with kidney failure since 2014 and his condition was deteriorating. I had to remain positive every day despite not knowing what was going to happen to him from one day to the next.

I found it very challenging, nerve racking and had lost my confidence. I felt that I needed to prove to my peers, team, and management I was still able to perform and be successful…

Balancing work and home life was very tough. Only a handful of my Co-Members knew my situation. My team needed my support, and the market was very challenging. Sadly, my husband passed away. I was mentally distraught and took 3 months off.

Clearly, I was mentally and physically distraught and Reed supported me in taking time off. When I was ready, I returned. I found it very challenging, nerve racking and had lost my confidence. I felt that I needed to prove to my peers, team, and management I was still able to perform and be successful, so I set myself goals and targets. This made me put myself under extreme pressure to perform and to support my team.

However, I was able to achieve these goals thanks to the support I received from my senior management team and my team members. This helped me to focus, build my confidence and, as a result, run a successful office and develop a happy team. Since then, I have not looked back.

Colleagues who Support, Push and Inspire…

have had many leaders who have inspired me in the business, However, there were three who played a key role in my success, my career and, personal and professional development within Reed:

Cathy Skepple recognised my potential when I walked into the Stratford office 38 years ago.

  • Cathy developed and nurtured me, and it was her strength, grit and professionalism that encouraged me to join Reed. Most importantly I looked at her as a role model who was a successful black woman in Reed. Seeing success at that time in a senior role, gave me the confidence to apply.

  • My career path changed just by sitting with her during a registration process. Her passion, professionalism and her kindness inspired me to join Reed and she continued to invest time training and developing me to take over her role when she went on maternity leave, which I did, successfully.

Ruth Turner was an excellent Manager who believed in me and always encouraged me and pushed me to develop.

  • Ruth cared about my wellbeing and supported me in the early days of my career, personally and professionally.

Bill Brace’s leadership enabled me to develop quickly and successfully.

  • Bill inspired me and it was down to him how my career further developed, and I went on to progress as an Area Manager and Regional Manager with oversight of 10 offices. He saw my true potential and focused on turning my weaknesses into strengths and tapped into my hidden talents which I could not recognise myself.

  • Bill also took me outside my comfort zone and made me take on responsibilities which enhanced my skills and built my confidence. He made me believe in myself – I went on to win many awards including Manager of the Year, Top Temps Team, Top Perms Team, Highest Contribution, Managers’ Manager of the Year and Branch of the Year!

I was also presented a special award from Sir Alec Reed, the ‘Never Lose A Friend Award’. This was my first ever award and I will always treasure this.

My Top Tips for Success in Recruitment

  • If people like you, they will listen to you but if they trust you, they will do business with you. Be fair, open and honest (one of our key values) – build relationships with candidates, clients and co-members.

  • Find a mentor or buddy. Always ask for help and always go the extra mile.

  • Have clear goals and visions. Know where you want to be and how you are going to get there. I have always known what I wanted and where I wanted to be.

  • Be prepared for change and embrace it!

Final Thoughts & Thanks

I have had the pleasure of witnessing such positive changes in over 3 decades at Reed. I like to move forward and look at the past as part of my experience and journey through life.

I guess you could say that James Reed and Sir Alec Reed are a rare example of always being present in the business, and that is one of my favourite constants.