Anthony Sutton on the law of crappy people and the PR of hiring

How has Andreessen Horowitz’s attitude to recruitment contributed to their success? Anthony Sutton, Managing Director of Cream HR, has spent over thirty years in the recruitment industry and worked with the UK arm of AH’s previous business, Opsware. As he explains in this quick interview, it lies in their high standards for hiring and their willingness to suffer and struggle as a result. They understand the long-term damage of bad recruitment, and are willing to take a hit in the short term. Anthony Sutton also tells us what’s changed over his time in recruitment, and why the relationship of hiring to PR is often overlooked.

Key Takeaways:
  • Enforce the Law of Crappy People. Hiring the wrong person for a role, no matter how minor or seemingly insignificant, will adversely affect your entire company.

  • Be prepared to suffer with an unfilled role. The importance of hiring and the large investments of time and money required means that businesses often do a poor job of their hiring and are not prepared to suffer if the person they need is unavailable.

  • It’s easier to get a bad reputation than a good one. Being fair and communicative in your hiring process will slowly build that reputation — and once you have a good one, you’ll reach great people you weren’t able to before, or they are more likely to find you.

What’s your career journey?

I was originally a recruitment consultant from about 1986 – 2000. In that role I specialised in technology. Following the creation of Cream HR in 2000, I have delivered HR consulting work to support clients across multiple sectors — retail, manufacturing, charity, fine art, leisure, care, recruitment, and services.

What is Marc Andreessen's 'Law of Crappy People'?

It’s about having the best person for each position. If you start a business and all the people within the business are level A then the value of the business is level A. If the business then hires a level B person (which isn’t based on their qualifications), the whole company becomes level B.

If that level B person manages to remain in their post despite knowing that they are inferior to their colleagues, they will hire a level C person if they ever get hiring responsibility, in turn devaluing the business to level C. They’ll do this to take the pressure off themselves and seem more effective.

“If an investor is buying the business and undertaking thorough due diligence, they will find those level C people and value the business accordingly.”

What did you learn from your experience of working with Andreessen Horowitz?

We supported the UK arm of Loudcloud, later known as Opsware, which worked in networking and was one of the first software as a service (SaaS) companies. I don’t think I ever saw Marc, and whilst I did meet Ben, I doubt he would have any recollection!

Everyone knew how the Law of Crappy People worked, and it created an environment of exceptionally talented individuals who worked as a team and were free to deliver their objectives using their many talents.

When we began working with them, we were told that certain roles were impossible to fill as the person of the required quality could not be found in the UK — they really were willing to leave the roles unfilled until they found good enough people. Needless to say, with the help of Cream HR we filled those positions using a variety of approaches and techniques with truly outstanding people from the UK.

“Recruitment is a huge investment, and few companies really bother to get it right. So-called HR and recruitment experts who try to effectively turn recruitment into a game baffle me.”

How do you think that recruitment has changed over the time you've worked in the sector?

Technology is a fantastic enabler, which has revolutionised much, but it has made recruitment far more anonymous and automated. Exceptional talent doesn’t always conform, and smart businesses will continue to realise the importance of the human aspect. Unfortunately there are a lot of lazy and mediocre people in the world who think that they’re doing a good job because technology now drives so much of the process.

“The lack of human interaction results in some really good people being overlooked.”

Businesses have also forgotten about the PR benefits to hiring. If you make a bit more effort in the process, you’ll be surprised how many great candidates find their way to you. Great people want to work for great companies — big or small. Opsware was a relatively small business, but they attracted brilliant people as their reputation for excellence spread in the tech community.

“It’s very easy to get a bad reputation and less easy to get a good one. We all know that the world is a small place and people speak a lot about their life experiences.”