The Experts: James Johnson on Culture as a Business Driver

James Johnson

Founder, Non Executive Director, District4, The Hive

James Johnson is a management specialist and award-winning entrepreneur with proven results in turnaround and growth roles internationally. He is currently the founder of District4 and a Non Executive Director at The Hive. Everything he does is driven by the belief that if you have the best people you win! He spent the first half of his career with Jardines in the UK, HK and the Philippines. Before its re-brand as “The Hive”, James was the CEO of Nicoll Curtin, the global FinTech & Change recruitment Group, which has won awards for customer experience, client service and diversity & inclusion.

Welcome to our video series, The Experts. In the series, we interview staffing and recruitment leaders to hear their perspectives on industry trends, lessons they’ve learned in the careers, and their leadership philosophies.

In this clip, James Johnson, Group CEO at The Hive, shares why diversity and inclusion (D&I) is such an important focus at his agency.


What advice would you give to someone starting their own recruitment agency?

James Johnson: So much advice. Are you sure? [laughing] Think about what you’re trying to achieve. It feels like a lot of people go into recruitment not knowing what they’re trying to build. We support two startups and have made a few acquisitions as a group, and the number one thing I’ve seen when starting a business is that a lot of people step away from the things that made them successful and they want to experiment.  I think that’s great, but I hear a lot, “Oh, we’re going to be different.” But sometimes different can be bad just as it can be good. There’s a reason why there are certain commonalities across all recruiting businesses.

You can be innovative and you should be innovative but I don’t think that there are any shortcuts. And if someone starting an agency says there’s a new magic formula to avoid having to do the hard yards they had to do when they came up through recruitment, I think they quickly learn that there is no shortcut.

Why is diversity and inclusion such an important focus at The Hive?

JJ: I think you really see the benefit of diversity. It’s obviously a big topic at the moment, but I’ve seen it so often that when you bring diverse influences together the results are a lot more successful. I’ve seen the danger of non-diverse teams, and if you have a non-diverse team, it can lead to non-diverse thinking.

How do you approach leading across diverse audiences, both gender diversity but also culturally?

JJ: Throughout my career, I feel like I’ve done quite a mix. When I was in the Philippines, I was initially the only non-Filipino person in the company. I’ve spoken in Hong Kong and I was the only non-Hong Kong citizen and I’ve sat in four-hour Cantonese sales meetings, which were fun. And it really just comes down to being authentic. If you are authentically who you are and treat people fairly, people will pick up on that in any culture and any business.

How exactly you treat people and the level of closeness you have to people varies from culture to culture. But I think that fundamentally if you’re authentic and you treat people well, that travels.

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