As I approach my two-year anniversary this summer, I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Christine Dalzell (Global MD) to reflect on how far we’ve come and where we’re still going as the HRW US client service hub prepares to celebrate its fifth birthday this May.
Five years ago, HRW saw a practical need to expand their presence into the US Christine explains, “The global business was growing, HRW started to get more clients who wanted to do work in the US and who wanted to refer us to their US-based colleagues. It is really difficult to adequately support clients in the US, not only from a time-zone perspective, but from an understanding of the US market perspective, it was time to start an outpost of HRW.”
Once the need became clear, it immediately begged the question: how? Caroline Jameson, now appropriately titled our Founding Director, moved to the US and, after months of searching, found Christine who would be tasked with the small feat of directing the US presence alongside Caroline.
“The opening of the door came from the description of the role. I was stuck in a corporate hierarchy, unable to really protect my people or do what I wanted to with them, and unable to move up. And it was soul-crushing. So, when the email came in from the recruiter and it described the role: a small healthcare-focused research agency, all based in the UK, wanted to build a US presence and wanted to do it right, to maintain connections with the global offices; looking for somebody to do that – and I was like ‘Yes, please’.”
It became Christine’s “mission” to set HRW up in Manhattan, leveraging the opportunities of a large city, but also instilling the buzz and ‘can-do’ attitude of NYC, which it is famous for. As she describes it, the first few months were “The Wild West.” Everything was new, fun and exciting, while simultaneously anxious and terrifying, she says, “It was just push as hard as you can and go after everything – it was just that sheer hunger. And all that just felt exciting, exhausting, and stressful at the same time. We’d win a project and we’d all be working on it and there’d be no resource to do anything else.” But those first wins, that embodied just what the company had set out to do, would make it all worthwhile: “Getting those initial meetings with clients and selling our first US-only work. Our first US-only project was very exciting. And just like that, we were able to talk about the business on this new level.”
Meanwhile, the office multiplied and HRW US outpaced its humble beginnings, starting as a modest subset of desks in our sister company’s workplace in the suburbs, to a shared office space in the heart of midtown Manhattan, and finally graduating to our floor in NoMad (where we were finally able to check off a key milestone – owning furniture!). The US office had grown up and experienced the growing pains of continuing to evolve and maintain the values that brought us here in the first place.
The expanse of HRW’s presence in the US quickly became more than a prospect to spread HRWs’ passion for research to new pool of clients, it was the opportunity to enthusiastically grow the company with people who shared HRW’s drive and passion. The greatest challenge of setting up a new outpost would also become the most celebrated success, and one HRW strives to instill in every facet of business: more than just collaboration, but a sense of family working with each other across the globe.
As we continue to grow (and soon seek out more desks in Manhattan!), capacity to personalize and humanize the business, effectively building a single unified team across geographies becomes an increasingly important and difficult undertaking, “I think there are things that we have in place that are important to doing that, and that’s video conferencing, turning your camera on, but it’s also people going back and forth – visits – personalizing everyone. Simply, our financial structure helps it, because we are not in competition with each other, which is really important. That’s the foundation. But there is also a quality to the way we do things, like company days and geography meetings, so everyone gets information at the same time.”
As we stood up and prepared to vacate the conference room and go about the rest of the day, Christine asked, “Did anything surprise you?” Having been here for almost two years, I know nothing different than the values that ring true from the journey HRW has taken. I did realize, naively, how much more goes into building a workplace, but came to recognize the valuable structure in place to promote collaboration and success – not only to benefit our clients but the company as a whole. Best practice behaviors, such as cross-geography meetings made ever so slightly more intimate with webcams, feel more like traditions. The continuous ebb and flow of distant team members into and out of the office for weeks or months feels completely seamless, as Bethan Crisp (RE) prepares to wrap up her three months in the US and heads back to Wallingford, the Manhattan team can’t help but feel like a fixture of the office will be missing.
As for next steps, Christine explains, “We are a grown-up now, we are heading into adulthood. And that means taking on the responsibility of building our business, building the US business, fulfilling the US promise of why we opened this office, and being more than a satellite office to European clients who want to do US work. We need to commit to building a US base and US based clients, which we are doing.”
By Dana Hill