“The culture in Cpl is very special,” — CEO Q&A with Lorna Conn of Cpl

By Business & Finance
11 January 2023
Lorna Conn, Deputy CEO, CPL Resources
Pictured: Lorna Conn, CEO, Cpl

Lorna Conn is the CEO of Cpl, the Irish recruitment and talent solutions firm. She joined the firm as Chief Financial Officer in 2017 and was appointed Deputy CEO in 2021. Conn was made Cpl’s Chief Executive in 2022.

What are your main priorities and goals in your role?

My main priority is nurturing our culture and ensuring I’m leading a motivated and talented team. 

The culture in Cpl is very special and is something I am particularly proud of. 

Our business starts and ends with people, so they are my focus, and my main goal is enticing them on a journey of transformative growth. We’ve ended the year having significantly scaled up in the UK, Belgium and Germany and we opened two new offices in Switzerland and Bulgaria.

Next year will be about acquiring a solutions business in the US. In terms of growth, we are one year in to a five year growth plan, which doubles the Cpl business, and we’ve already delivered on all of our targets.

What are your biggest challenges as CEO?

We operate across the entire talent spectrum — from specialised recruitment (in every sector) to managed services, business process outsourcing and strategic talent advisory services through Cpl’s The Future of Work Institute.

My biggest challenge is managing the unknowns. We operate in a cyclical industry and are vulnerable to the rise and fall of economic conditions in our key markets. Ensuring we have a broad spread of clients operating across a diversified portfolio of services, across multiple geographies is key to the resilience of our business in challenging times. 

How do you keep your team/staff motivated?

I share my priorities as CEO widely, I update our people on progress each month and I recognise and celebrate achievements, no matter how small.  I am also a firm believer in a collaborative approach to work and empowering people to bring the best of themselves to their roles.  

What are the challenges facing the industry going forward?

The biggest challenge facing the talent solutions industry going forward is a global recession, where business and consumer sentiment dampen, and investment decisions are either delayed or reversed. This will inevitably lead to a slowdown in people hiring.

The cost of doing business in Ireland is a critical factor for inward investment. We need to manage salary inflation in our key industries (e.g. tech and pharma) to ensure we do not become uncompetitive and tackling the cost and scarcity of rental and housing accommodation is central to this.

What new trends are emerging in your industry?

Global mobility is a real trend in our industry right now. Covid-19 and the wholescale remote working which occurred as a result, have led organisations to look for talent beyond the constraints of their traditional office network.

We’ve seen an emergence of companies offering to manage the local payroll, legal and compliance obligations of staff working in jurisdictions, on behalf of companies that don’t have a local operational presence.

We ourselves have supported relocation of staff to the US, Portugal and to the Netherlands in order to retain key talent.

Are there any major changes you would like to see in your sector?

We would like to see a quicker visa process for international workers coming into Ireland. We need to be able to widen the pool of candidates and accessing international talent as expeditiously as possible enables our country to maximise on business opportunities.

As an employer are you finding any skill gaps in the market?

We see tech and STEM skill gaps in the market – significantly in risk, cyber security, data and development. There are shortages globally but we need a ‘Marshal Plan’ to reboot tech education in Ireland and in particular to attract more female talent to this sector.

I also think that exceptional people skills and a more evolved style of leadership are required as we learn new ways to work in a hybrid working model.

How did your strategy develop in the context of the banking crisis and economic crisis?

Our strategy had already evolved following the dot-com crash, as our technology origins expanded to service a much broader sectoral spread.

We also started to focus on longer-term strategic partnerships where we could build enduring relationships with clients with a recurring revenue base. This business model proved to be very resilient during the Covid-19 crisis.

How has Brexit affected you?

Brexit has created opportunities in Ireland in the finance and tech sector, as clients built out their operations in Ireland to avoid the business implications of Brexit in the UK.

Ireland is the only English-speaking member of the EU with a young and highly educated workforce, so an attractive alternative to UK investment.

Our UK businesses have been negatively impacted by the availability of labour, due to visa restrictions, in an already tight labour market. 

How has the COVID-19 crisis affected your business/sector?

COVID-19 has changed the way in which organisations manage their workforces. The move to a more hybrid work model, feels like a permanent move for most organisations and it has enabled new thinking in terms of where key talent can be located.

More specifically in the healthcare sector, it has created a significant backlog across in-patient care and we are seeing that pressure manifest itself today in increased waiting lists.

How do you define success and what drives you to succeed?

Success to me, on a personal level, is setting out a clear goal and methodically working my way toward achieving it. I can visually see the outcome and that is what keeps me motivated and focused to deliver.

Success to me, on a more holistic level, is seeing the people around me thrive in their roles. 

What’s the best advice you’ve been given, or would give, in business?

Look around corners – always! Keep moving forward, complacency is a thief of progress and there will always be someone, somewhere that will overtake you.

What have been your highlights in business over the past year?

Highlights include two acquisitions that extend our presence in the UK, Belgium and Germany. We were also ranked 4th in the Great Place to Work Ireland listing (in the large company category) and 31st in the Europe Great Place to Work listing (same category).

We were recently awarded the Gold Investors in Diversity EDI Mark and Cpl is the first talent solutions provider and one of only nine organisations in Ireland to attain this mark.

Cpl achieved a ‘C’ rating in our first submission to the Carbon Disclosure Project and we issued our inaugural annual Sustainability Strategy and Report in December, outlining our key achievements to date and our future commitments to becoming a more sustainable organisation.  This is something dear to my heart and an extremely important part of Cpl’s business strategy going forward.

What’s next for your company?

While nurturing our valued clients and networks locally we plan on increased growth across Europe and are working towards a potential acquisition in the US.

Where do you want your business/brand to be this time next year?

This time next year, Cpl will have a greater global presence and will deliver talent solutions to existing clients in new jurisdictions.

We will continue to leverage the geographic bandwidth of our parent company OUTSOURCING inc who operate in 38 countries worldwide and employ over 131,000 employees globally.

We will continue to be known as an organisation that has people at its heart.

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