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A Life of ‘Why’ – Jay Freeman | Co-Founder and CEO

04 April 2022

By Jay Freeman

A Life of ‘Why’ – Jay Freeman | Co-Founder and CEO

Have you ever wondered what inspiration was behind starting a life sciences recruitment agency? 

Panda International’s journey began nearly ten years ago, founded with the intention of being a forward-thinking and innovative recruitment agency and continuing these principles as Panda became more established.

But what inspired Panda’s values and goals, and what does the future hold?

We spoke with Co-Founder and Managing Partner, Jay Freeman, about his experiences in the early days of Panda and how his ‘why’ informs everything he does – and how your ‘why’ could inspire you.

Here’s what he had to say.

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When you started Panda International, what was your ‘why’?

Jay started Panda with Co-Founder Daisy Tazelaar almost ten years ago.

Having always wanted to set up his own business, Jay already had a firm idea of the values he wanted behind the creation of Panda. Rather than a corporate culture where decisions were made at the very top without much consideration as to what was going on at the bottom, Panda would begin as a small business that knew what was going on in the market and how to stay competitive.

Having always seen the potential to expand his career, the inception of Panda International was a case of aligning values with his, and Panda’s, ‘why’.

One of Panda’s values, Jay says, has always been forward-thinking.

“We’ve been like that since day one! We’re always looking at how we can keep on track, ahead of the game. Not afraid to make big decisions or turn directions, investing in things that you might not get the immediate benefit from but it’s for the greater good of the business.”

For Jay, it comes down to what you stand for as an organisation, which for Panda, is a forward-thinking, innovative, and adaptive approach.

What did you love most about Panda a decade ago?

The challenge is what drove the inception of Panda as a business.

“I loved the fact that it was just us (Daisy and I) and the whole world was ahead of us.”

It was intimidating, but for Jay, the challenge made things exciting because they were on a mission and had ambitious goals starting from nothing.   

“It was exciting going from unknown and then starting to realise you’re outperforming businesses that are better established when you’ve been around for a year, so then you’re getting positive reinforcement from clients and candidates.”

In the end, Jay says, you realise you’re onto something.

How have you managed to be resilient?

A decade is a long time for a business to be starting, scaling, and growing – and it requires a lot of adaptability from learning.

“Learning from your mistakes. If you keep doing the same thing and hitting the same barriers, then, of course, you’re not going to keep going. You need to make the necessary changes to

overcome those barriers”

You have to have a clear vision of what you’re in it for, and what you’re aiming for, with a clear strategy.

The resilience behind Panda comes from evolving with slight adjustments, seeing them work, and staying energised in the game.

“You know that you’re taking a risk and that you won’t always make the right decisions, but when you do, it’s brilliant and keeps re-energising you and giving you excitement for the future.”

How do you impart that experience on the team that is growing now at Panda?

Being as transparent as possible and sharing where Panda is going is the most important element of communication within the organisation for Jay.

“They’ve got to see it, understand it, and believe it – for them to believe it, they have to know that it’s been well thought out and that there’s a plan and strategy that everyone believes in.”

Having a vision that everyone knows in the company has been essential in the growth of Panda, making communication clear across every level of the organisation. 

The important part?

“Strive for excellence but don’t expect perfection, otherwise it’ll become extremely frustrating!”

What is your personal ‘why’, and what motivates you as a person and will motivate others to work with you?

The ‘why’, according to Jay, changes a lot over time.

For Jay, when stepping into an interview for a previous company, his ‘why’ was ‘how soon can I earn 100k?’ – this was important at the time as his ‘why’ was to stand out and live a lifestyle he’d never had before.

In the end, this wasn’t Jay’s ultimate goal.

With Panda and himself, however, they are here to make a difference.

“My personal ‘why’ is to keep evolving as a person. Panda is a platform to facilitate that growth, and if Panda grows, then that means I need to grow in my skills and capabilities. I need to invest in my personal growth!”

Any job or moment where Jay isn’t growing or developing new skills is the exact moment at which he describes the boredom will kick in – which doesn’t happen at Panda!

How are you juggling your very busy professional life and being a parent?

To summarise in Jay’s words… “Well, you’ve got to balance everything.”

A lot of Jay’s evolution in his professional life has come from adapting from working really long hours to now working fewer hours with more focus so he knows exactly where to concentrate his time.

“Work isn’t work to me – I’m passionate about it and I love it.”

By creating a job spec for himself that allows him to work to his strengths, Jay has also created the time to invest in himself – fitness, meditation, practising gratitude – which relates back to his goal as a parent.

“That’s my number one priority, making sure that they can see, ‘he’s a great Dad to us, he’s enjoying his life, he can take care of himself’.”

Did your commitment for the four-day week come from being a business owner and a parent?

Given that recruitment is generally such an old school industry, primarily, Jay was looking to give more ownership to Panda’s employees.

Interestingly, most of the employees utilise the four-day week only every once in a while.

“Since we shifted to the four-day work week, a lot of them often chose to work because achieving their own personal goals is important to them. They love the freedom of knowing they can take it whenever they want it”.”

For anyone reading, what do you think that they will experience in the next year if they are interested in working with Panda and actually begin working with you?

As a business that is set up currently in the Netherlands and now in Germany and Switzerland, Panda is looking towards the US, which as Jay describes, means that anyone joining Panda will be able to see where it’s evolving and the opportunities that arise.

“Anyone who’s looking to get into it, they need to understand what is their ‘why’, and if you understand the opportunity, how does that directly link to your ‘why’?”

You invest a lot of time in the company and the employees, even with time being such a valuable resource. Have you recognised that you invest a lot of time, or is this just the way you manage?

A lot of recruitment agencies speak about candidates being the product as their selling point is how many candidates they have in their database, whereas Jay would describe Panda culture and its employees as the product instead.

“The candidate is a customer just like the client, the product is us. This starts with who we are, what we stand for, the vision, everything behind it. That’s why the investment in that product is critical for the future success of the business.”

Joining Panda is a highly visible, supportive journey.

Any lasting comments?

One of the best pieces of advice Jay could give anyone looking to begin in recruitment? Your ‘why’ is your anchor, which gives you a reason for why you’re doing what you’re doing and a starting point for improvement.

“If anyone is thinking about this as a career choice and you’re talking about the ‘why’, most people going into recruitment underestimate it as a career path. Those who don’t know it too well also judge it as a career path and they get the wrong idea. Actually, it’s something – especially now – that requires a vast range of different skills. Negotiation, sales, marketing, personal branding, I could go on.”

In Jay’s experience, it boils down to the ‘why’.

“Anyone who’s looking to get into it, they need to understand what is their ‘why’, and if you understand the opportunities that are in recruitment, how does that have a direct impact on their aspirations or purpose?”


Do you want to be a part of the Panda International team? Take a look at our vacancies and start your bespoke career path today.

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