Balancing work, life, and play: meet Abacus Human Capital’s Director Steven Lane

Steven Lane has had a uniquely interesting career path that involves everything from landscaping in high school to working at his university’s Career Centre to eliminating missile systems in Bulgaria and Iraq. His life has followed a fascinating trajectory that ultimately led him to Australia, where he got a job with an international recruitment firm here in Brisbane. Steven worked with the firm for four years as Brisbane’s top performing Consultants, all the while hatching a carefully considered plan to open his own consultancy.

For Steven, business ownership wasn’t a foreign concept. “My parents were in business their whole lives. I grew up in an environment where it’s not abnormal to be self-employed or have your own business.”

Many people jump into self employment with big ideas, a business plan scrawled on a napkin and a healthy dose of (stupidity?) courage. Steven, however, was carefully calculated from the very beginning and learned all he could during his time as part of someone else’s team.

“I just got to the point where I wanted a brand that wasn’t around maximising value for the shareholders — where we could really just focus on the service delivery for our clients and candidates. That was the catalyst for me starting up Abacus.”

He got his very first placement in the second week.

“[It was] liberating. It was great. I think you always remember the first ones.”

Steven has always been attracted to recruiting due to the industry’s fast-paced, dynamic nature. He shares that with the wins of directing at his own firm, comes a weighty dose of stress and responsibility.

“Sometimes I think the bigger challenge is just learning to switch off because when you’re working for someone, it’s very easy to walk out the door at 5’oclock and switch your mind off, not worry about it. I think since launching Abacus in 2009, the brain just does not switch off. I’m always thinking ‘okay, where are we taking the business? What do we need to get there? How are we going to improve our service?’ It’s just constant.”

He acknowledges the role that mental health plays within the puzzle of professional success. “You’ve got to be able to look after your own mental health if you’re going to be at the top of your game.”

“I’d rather be reading a book over watching a TV show any day,” he tells me, a surprise to me because of our many chats over the latest Stan flicks. “My taste is a bit eclectic. I can be reading absolutely anything from sci-fi to drama to historical fiction to fiction. My bookshelf has no constant theme.”

I ask Steven if he focuses more on self education or on unwinding. “Both. When work’s really busy, I tend to get involved in easy to read novels but when work isn’t so busy, I’m exploring more in the field of leadership and business development.”

One thing Steven is passionate about is educating clients and candidates alike on optimising the way they work with recruiters — whether it be Abacus Human Capital or another firm.

On what clients should know about recruiting staff, Steven shares: “I have always found hiring managers who recruit based on core competencies that will make someone successful in a role, get a much better result than hiring managers who recruit based on a checklist. Just because someone is coming from a Big4 environment, has worked in the mining industry, and has used SAP, does not always mean they are going to be the best person for the job. On the other hand, if you are recruiting for someone with strong interpersonal skills who can build good relationships, is technically strong, and has good ERP prowess, you will not only have more candidate options to work with but you are more likely to get the right fit.

From a candidate perspective, “Candidates really need to be thinking three or four roles ahead so they can identify the right roles now to position themselves for the best opportunities later. I also think it is critical any candidate should invest time getting to know the recruiter that they’re working with while allowing the recruiter to get to know them. The better a recruiter understands you and your career plan, the more effective they will be in identifying the right role.”

One of the most dangerous parts of the recruitment industry is some big misconceptions from both candidates and clients. Of course, we all have an intricate understanding of our own industries that other people can’t see — when it comes to recruiting, many people think it’s as straightforward as popping an ad up on Seek.com.au. The reality is that a lot more manpower and networking effort goes into the process than most would expect, which is the reason why Abacus has less than 10% of its placed candidates sourced from Seek.com.au.

“If it were that easy, it would happen a lot faster and a lot easier than it does. There is so much work that goes into the back-end process. It requires ongoing communication with candidates, qualifying, investing time into each person. We’ll often spend a good half hour conversation talking them through the elements about the business and the role. A lot of thought goes into finalising a short list and getting that across.”

“It’s never as easy as just flicking a resume across. That’s definitely one misconception. Another big misconception on the employer side is a lot of hiring managers think they’re going to get a better result by going out to three or four recruiters.”

Steven explains that if hiring managers focus on breadth rather than depth, recruiters tend to spend less time on that position and the results are more lacklustre than if they had focused on one firm exclusively.

“We’re quite lucky in that a huge majority of the roles we recruit, it’s done on an exclusive basis or a retainer.”

A hot topic in the recruitment industry is technological advancement. Recruiters are in different camps on this one — some wary, some excited. Steven is excited about the opportunities to streamline shortlisting processes, and ultimately feels that recruiters don’t need to worry about their jobs being taken over by hunks of intelligent metal.

“At the end of the day, it’s a people industry.”

If you are currently on the hunt for a decent recruiter, Steven has some gold to offer up so you know exactly how to qualify your prospective recruitment firms. Steven recommends asking them if they A) are experienced in what they do, B) have deep knowledge in the market in which they operate, and C) have deep networks in their market.

At Abacus Human Capital, Steven can answer all three questions confidently and remains surprised that he doesn’t get challenged on these points more often.

“We’re a dedicated boutique recruitment consultancy in the accounting space, so we don’t focus on anything else. That’s what our passion is, and it’s why we have some real depth and quality to our networks.”

“We also don’t have the bureaucracy you might find in a bigger recruitment firm, which helps us tailor our services for the specific needs of our clients — I think that is why we have so many clients come back to us. We’ve got a ridiculously high retention rate of clients that we work with.”

Abacus Human Capital has been going strong for almost ten years, and there’s no slowing down any time soon.

“We are looking to bring some new Consultants into the business at the moment, but there’s no focus on growing into a big corporate. We don’t want to lose our entrepreneurial and boutique spirit and what makes us good at what we do.

“We want to keep influencing where the industry is going and how service delivery is taking place. We’re always investing in new technology and new systems, always examining how effective our processes are at meeting client needs.”

For a professional like Steven, days consist of the constant balance of planning ahead, balancing work and family, and remembering to have a bit of fun. I ask Steven what he would tell his 20-year-old self:

“Live for the moment and stop planning for tomorrow.”

If you are an Accounting/Finance Professional interested in exploring new opportunities in the Brisbane market we’d love to hear from you on (07) 3135 9780. I also encourage you to join our private LinkedIn network Accounting & Finance Professionals in Brisbane (click here). As you probably are aware we do move quite quickly on the roles we recruit for so it pays to stay ahead of the competition. Our group is an exclusive community I am building up for Finance Professionals in Brisbane who want to share job search opportunities, industry news, blogs and other content. You’ll also have an opportunity to network with each other. You might even come across some people you have worked with in the past

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