Branding/Marketing/PR Thought Leadership

INTERVIEW WITH A LEADER: General Sir Nicholas Carter

Written by the Editorial Team

by Paul MacKenzie-Cummins, Editor and Managing Director of ClearlyPR 

One of the fastest growing trends within the recruitment sector since the end of the recession has been the increased focus on branding – the way in which agencies and search firms are perceived by clients and candidates.

But rather than always looking inward to see how other agencies and search firms position themselves, we can often learn a great deal about employer and agency branding by looking outside of the sector itself.

Over the last few months I have been incredibly fortunate to interview several captains of industry for and on behalf of Cardiff Business Club – the UK’s biggest business network organisation outside London. Each of these leaders has faced innumerable challenges of one form or another and each has successfully positioned their respective organisations as employers of choice.

This first interview featured in the June/July issue of Recruiter imPRint and features the Chief of the General Staff, Sir Nicholas Carter.

Since becoming head of the British Army in 2014, General Sir Nick Carter has gained a reputation as a champion of change, a moderniser whose list of policies could rival that of any Cabinet Minister.

He is leading the charge for the Army to become a more diverse and inclusive employer that “maximises talent”. He is having to battle the twin challenge of addressing the issues raised by the on going legal claims against British soldiers, whilst ensuring they don’t threaten the ability of the Army to do what it does best without fear of recrimination.

And he is forging closer links with industry and commerce as well as better communicating the values of the Army to the government and public alike. It has been a busy two years for Sir Nick, it is set to get even busier.

The following interview strikes some incredible parallels between the Armed Forces and the Recruitment industry – both play a significant role in today’s society and both have their own challenges when it comes to how each is perceived and the increasing complexities they face when it comes to addressing the gender and diversity agendas.

Here is the interview:


Paul MacKenzie-Cummins (PMC): You have talked openly about wanting to “maximise talent” in the Army, through greater diversity and inclusivity. What exactly did you mean by this and how do you see this being achieved?

General Sir Nicholas Carter (CGS): It’s a multi-faceted challenge. What I am trying to do is to acknowledge that unless the Army broadens its recruiting base, so that it draws fro the whole of British society, then it’s not going to be able to deal with the sorts of challenges and perplexities that are going to come up in the future.

What I mean by that is there needs to be an absolute understanding that the demography of our country has changed. The traditional recruiting grounds which were white Caucasian aged between 16-25 have diminished by 20-25% in the last 10 years – and they are getting smaller.

It is also about women. It’s not good enough that we don’t draw talent from 51% of the population in the numbers that we should do. Ultimately, it’s about maximising all of that opportunity. But that means that we also have to change our culture, because we have to be an inclusive organisation.

What I cannot tolerate as unacceptable behaviour that turns us into an organisation that doesn’t value everybody. That’s why leadership is important and it is why we talk about a multi-faceted approach.

It needs to be acknowledged that Deepcut was 20 years ago and the case of Private Williams in 2006 – a lot has happened since then. Things have changed but you can never afford to drop your guard. The expectations of the generation that we want to join the Army are different and we need to respond to that, and be ahead of it.

That means being really clear about making the Army a very inclusive organisation that values everybody. I want my people to have the chance to go out and have attachments with organisations on the outside so that they can come back in – adjusted to be able to deal with the outside world.

That requires us to take a more wholesome approach to the way in which we manage our people and the way in which we give them a career structure that gives them the opportunity to just that.

As CGS you need to be concerned with today’s conflict, but you are responsible for this historic institution being positioned in the right place two or three CGS’s downstream. It’s a super tanker and if I don’t make the call now to make sure that we’ve got the right talent in 10 years time, I shall have left my successor’s successor in a really bad place. That’s why it is really important to look over the horizon.


PMC: In a recent interview with The Telegraph you argued that legal claims made against the military could effectively undermine Britain’s ability to fight future wars. In what way do you mean?

CGS: It is really important that our soldiers are properly held to account, based upon our values and standards so that we are able to retain the moral high ground when we go on combat operations.

But equally it is important that we provide a legal framework in which they don’t feel unfairly threatened. What we want them to do, and what they are extremely good at doing, is seizing fleeting opportunities on the battlefield and taking risks to be able to do just that. If we create an environment in which that can’t happen then we will be the worse off for it.


PMC: Henry Worsely was a close friend of yours and we were sad to hear of his passing recently. You have described him as having the core values that underpin today’s Army. Do you feel that the Army is truly understood among the general public and do you think that it needs role models à la the corporate sector?

The paradox we have right now is that the Army has never been more popular, we recently polled a 90% approval rating. But equally we have never been less well understood.

I believe this is because there is a lot of sympathy but not much empathy – partly because not many people have served, but also because many people see us through the prism of Ross Kemp and Afghanistan and they don’t necessarily understand that the task of the Army is much broader than that.

We have to spread the word and convey that understanding so that you can create the environment in which people want to join an organisation like the Army.