How one woman's tragic loss of two children enabled her to chase her dreams

Harri Gravelle has sadly lost two sons to an under-researched bacteria strain, and is now working with the NHS to pioneer new treatment that could save other babies' lives. In 2020 she had her first children's book published in memory of her two boys. Harri also runs an executive search firm called Blackgold, specialising in the oil and commodities industries.

Here Harri tells The Female Lead about growing a business whilst experiencing such tremendous tragedy, and how her losses have enabled her to chase her dreams...

1) Tell us about your background... where you grew up, what you studied and what your career has looked like so far?

I grew up in Falmouth in Cornwall with my parents and younger sister and it was as idyllic as it sounds. Having nothing to compare to it, I had no idea how lucky I was growing up so close to the sea in such a beautiful place.

I attended Southampton University and studied Journalism, which I enjoyed very much but still had no idea what I wanted to do for a career. My parents urged me to start looking for a job before graduating so I applied to Pareto Law and was invited to one of their assessment days. I couldn't believe my luck when they offered me a job.

I didn't really understand the recruitment industry until I started working there and after two years I was hired by Michael Page which was another great experience. I then joined Commodity Appointments which introduced me to the oil industry. Sadly in 2014 I was made redundant.

After seeking advice from my network I was unanimously encouraged to set up my own business by a group of oil traders and Blackgold was born.

Running my own business has been by far the best thing I have ever done from a career perspective, and will no doubt be one of the greatest achievements of my life. In 2019 I had the privilege of hiring our Head of Research, Jo Burns, and the company has continued to grow.

2) Where does your interest in headhunting stem from?

There are so many head hunting and recruitment companies in the market and nearly everyone has had some contact with at least one. I decided early on that the way to set myself apart was to bring human qualities to my professional world.

Discretion is so important - in this line of work you are dealing with incredibly sensitive information so proving you can be trusted is a large part of being successful. You also need to be proactive. All companies want to hire great talent - it is up to the head hunter to show them where the people are and make them accessible.

3) In 2014 you were made redundant - what impact did this have on you?

The redundancy came as a huge shock. I'm sure anyone who has been through it will agree that it's a very difficult process. I'm a big believer in champion builders in business - something I have been taught by my incredibly supportive husband Richard.

A business champion is someone who truly understands your cause and feels accountable for helping you to become a success. The group of traders who encouraged me to start my own business all went on to become clients and have developed into great friends.

By being open about my redundancy I managed to secure the support of some of the industry's most influential people. I really believe that showing a level of vulnerability encouraged more people to want to give me a chance. As soon as I told new contacts I was building my own business from scratch, they regularly went out of their way to help me.

4) You specialise in commodities, helping firms hire traders, analysts, risk specialists and operators - which are all typically male-dominated roles. What is it like working in this area as a woman?

So many industries are male dominated, and working with men is great. What's important though is having a balance, which the oil industry - like so many others - is working hard to rectify. I do think the professional world has taken great leaps even within the last five years. We are waking up to the importance of hiring the right person for the role regardless of gender, race, physical ability or background, which is fantastic.

I chose to run my business the way I run my life: I will only invest time and energy in those who give something back in return. The beauty of working for myself is that if someone treats me badly I can choose not to work with them again - which I have done. Being in a position to make that decision is empowering and it means that the business relationships that I pursue are my choice.

I think we can get too hung up on being a woman in man's world. It's our world too - there is space for us all to make our mark.

5) As a business owner, a mum, and a woman, you speak first hand about the importance of putting people first - tell us about your ethos and where this stems from?

As a small business, long term connections are so important to us, so placing candidates in companies where they will thrive is a win for everyone and the only way to do business. The goal is always to gain repeat business and partner with clients in the truest sense.

This comes through treating everyone with respect - not just looking at process as transactional. Whoever you are talking to, regardless of their title, rank or company, is just a person. They will have their own motivations, agenda and insecurities. Remembering that has hugely helped my confidence in approaching some of the most senior people in the industry.

There is nothing more human than making someone feel comfortable. Empathy is the first step towards building trust.