When asked about his role in taking an HR software tech start-up from 13 to 200 people, increasing its revenue by 1,000%, and its acquisition by Sage, the UK’s leading people management company, for £110 million, Adam Hale describes a story of demotions. Having originally been brought on as a non-executive adviser to scale a promising, but teeny startup, Hale was quickly “demoted” from board member, to executive chair, to CEO.
Known for his hands-on approach and diverse career in technology and headhunting, Hale proved to have the perfect combination needed to scale an innovative cloud-based startup,
“At that point, [Fairsail] was about to switch from being kind of an interesting startup to being the beginning of scale up. We focused on four things. We focused on having a really clear purpose of what we did. We focused on customer success. We focused on great innovation. We focused on building a team. I do believe that great companies are made up of great people.”
Purpose, customer success, innovation, and people—these are the ingredients of a successful and scalable business, according to Hale. It’s not just any people, it’s the best people. Hale’s leadership at Fairsail focused on building a diverse team. Recruiting women engineers ultimately led to near-gender parity across the startup, including on the engineering team. This focus on gender diversity has translated over to Sage People, the company that acquired Fairsail and now has a nearly 50-50 gender balance.
“It’s about having diversity, not just gender diversity but nationality diversity, age diversity, you know, the 50s are the new 30s which we all know anyway.”
But getting to gender balance in engineering requires attention to be paid to computer science education, a personal interest for Hale.
“I’ve been in technology my whole life… just started to discover computers and programming when I was a teenager, then realised you could actually study this at university. I thought ‘why not?’ So I did a computer science degree.”
Hale observes that not all kids have the same support and encouragement to study computer science that he had,
“I am terrified by what's happening with technology education in schools, particularly. Last year 2017, 50,000 girls did Maths A-level [UK standardised testing]. Computing A-level, 816 girls. The lowest number of any A-level subject, repeat: any A-level subject.”
Hale believes that when more girls are encouraged to study computer science and have more access to STEM education early on, this translates into a more balanced pool of engineers powering the future of tech.
If achieving gender balance is part of what it takes to scale up to one of the UK’s largest startup acquisitions, maybe other rising tech companies should take note.
For more from Adam about taking Human Resources into the 21st century and what tech leaders can learn from pig farmers, listen to the rest of Hayley’s interview here.