Talent Acquisition

In the Spotlight: Damian Brown

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What is your current role for IBM Talent Acquisition Optimization?

I am leading go-to-market sales efforts across Middle East and Africa for TAO, a role which has broadened across our Talent and Engagement (T&E) offering over the last six months.

I educate clients on the art of the possible with IBM Watson and IBM Talent Management offering, whilst evangelizing recruitment process outsourcing (RPO) and human resource outsourcing (HRO) as the future for clients who often lack maturity across their entire HR suite.

In MEA, our main priority in T&E is partnering with organisations to help them first define the new journey and then support them with both technology and services.


How long have you been working in talent acquisition (at IBM or elsewhere), and what roles have you filled?

My career in talent started in 1998 in London as an IT recruiter. Since then I have launched three recruitment businesses across Search, Volume Hiring and Niche Tech in the UK and Middle East.

Since 2009 I have been based in the Middle East covering the region and extending out to Singapore, Cambodia and India.

Over the last 10 years my role moved from partnering with organisations for purely their talent acquisition to looking at talent as a whole, from training and development, leadership programmes, employee engagement and welfare to mass hiring campaign design and execution.


What has been the biggest change in the talent acquisition industry during the last 20 years, and specifically in the Middle East?

The Middle East has had a very odd dynamic in talent acquisition, which I am glad to say is changing.

Previously, organisations often viewed talent and people as a commodity that is bought on a project basis, where the employee didn’t have a voice and if unhappy could be replaced with another willing expat. There was no budget for learning and development as there was no interest in training expats who would leave at the end of their two- or three-year contract. This was compounded by expats heading to the Middle East with a two-, three- or five-year plan to bank their tax-free income and then return home.

For recruiters, the Middle East was an ideal location with constant employee churn due to more than 80% of the working population being expats, although that model was unsustainable.

Heading into 2019, we now see a much more stable demographic. People are making the region their new permanent home (due to changes in property ownerships laws), and the new norm is for people to be here five or ten-plus years. Companies have responded through the realization that retention is important and started focusing on the employee through identifying and investing in rising stars and future leaders.

All of this creates a very interesting set of challenges when recruiting in MEA. More often than not, MEA recruiters are tasked with moving people, their family and lives to new countries to take up these posts—the “relocator candidate” (is) something we recruiters normally prefer to avoid.


What is the biggest challenge for talent acquisition leaders right now?

I see the biggest challenge as dealing with the volumes of applications without letting the best candidates slip through the net whilst maintaining the organisation’s brand image. Even with the implementation of new tools and AI products, most talent acquisition teams in our region are having to cope with 2,000-plus applications per role (often from the wrong candidates). This creates so much noise in the system that the best candidates can feel overlooked, neglected and too often left without any communication at all.


What is the one thing talent acquisition leaders could do to reduce recruiting costs?

Other than buying RPO, talent acquisition leaders constantly tell us they need a better resource planning tool, system or process in their organisation in order to build their talent pool activities. Without this they keep seeing spikes in agency usage, which is driving up the cost per hire and time to fill.

Unfortunately, nothing other than building very close relationships with the business heads and hiring managers and continuous updates on expected demand will enable better resource planning, as the annual (or even quarterly) plans for many businesses tend to be out of date before they’re released to talent acquisition leaders.


How do you like to spend an off day?

The way I like to spend a day off and the reality are very different!

My ideal weekend would be a scuba dive, round of golf and 50-mile bike ride. The reality is that I have two teenage daughters to taxi around and I am studying for an MBA, having recently completed a Post-Grad Diploma in Strategic Management and Leadership. Hoping for more golf and diving in 2019!


IBM Talent Acquisition Optimization sources and recruits talent in more than 120 countries. Discover how our services and technology can transform talent acquisition.

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