Meet our team: John Denholm

What was your big break?

One of my big breaks was when a few vital factors all fell into place resulting in launching the Leith Agency with Pete Mill and Rodger Stanier back in 1984. I’d been working in marketing for Boots and Scottish & Newcastle (now Heineken), but had moved into advertising with Halls (part of Saatchi & Saatchi).

Small company agency life suited me better than climbing the big corporate ladder and working as a “suit” alongside a top creative team like Pete and Rodger, I was lucky enough to work on some great campaigns.

Sharing a few pints one evening after a Tennents TV shoot at Pinewood Studios someone said, “Why don’t we do this ourselves?”

My big break was that no one said, “Don’t be daft, it’ll never work”.

What is critical for you to achieve in the next 3-5 years?

After selling Leith to Cello, another stroke of luck saw me joining Denholm Associates, a specialist marketing recruitment consultancy, as maternity cover for the founder, Nicki Denholm!

I knew nothing about recruitment but was able to bring some marcomms experience to an industry that was dominated by big, generalist, KPI obsessed operations. Luckily, post-recession and in a new digital age, candidate shortages mean that our clients lean heavily on our marketing specialisation, not just to source candidates but to help them build stronger employer brands.

We’ve grown to be Scotland’s leading specialist search and recruitment consultancy, but are expanding south of the border. Critical over the next 3-5 years is to build a management team and structure to support this growth and to ensure that the Denholm brand stays strong in the long term. We’re well on our way with an excellent management team currently, and we’re keen to strengthen it over the next few years.

Given what you know now, what advice would you impart on those starting out?

Try to be lucky!

The best way to achieve this is to surround yourself with good people. No one ever achieves anything in business on their own, and whether you’re in a big corporation, or starting your own company, seek out people who are enthusiastic, honest and committed. Preferably people you like, who take responsibility, have a good sense of humour, and who are resilient. Hire, and encourage your colleagues to hire, people who are better than you are. They won’t steal your job, they’ll push you up.

Avoid people who are miserable, scheming and dull. People who suck the energy out of a room rather than radiating it. They might make you feel better and a little bit superior for a day or two, but will drag you down to their level before you know it.

If you’re surrounded by people like that and aren’t senior enough to fire them, move somewhere else. Because the most important thing is to enjoy what you’re doing – life’s too short to be unhappy, and being happy makes you more effective anyway. Win/win.

Where can we find you when you aren’t working?

Luckily, because we run our own business, we can work on and off wherever we happen to be. But you’ve therefore got to be careful to switch off occasionally. So for me, that’s everything from ten minutes reading the paper, cooking, swimming/cycling with the kids, watching telly, playing golf, and trying to get away to the sun for a good stretch in the summer. Nice ordinary stuff!

Talk to Denholm

We are a search, recruitment and employer brand consultancy that specialises in commercial marketing, sales & digital opportunities. If you'd like to find out more, call us on 0131 554 6191 or email