Talent Leaders – Tom Cowen

April 26, 2023

Tom Cowen - recruitment leader

Tom is Head of Talent at Five AI, a European technology leader in the field of automated driving systems, recently acquired by Bosch, bringing together Europe’s largest development team for self-driving technologies.

He has worked in Talent and Recruitment for 20 years, the last 5 years in the Autonomous Driving space, working with a range of companies across hyper-growth tech start-ups and large corporate industry leaders.


What do you think is the key to being successful as a Talent leader in the current business environment?

I’ve been working in TA / Recruitment for 20yrs, so I’ve seen several “cycles” and the impact they have on TA in various organisations. Whilst the current cycle is possibly more extreme than we’ve previously seen, I think the tenets of success are the same, and for me, I’d say that is “adding value” and “resilience”.

You’re in trouble straight away if your TA function is seen as purely a transactional function. From day one you need to look at where TA can add strategic value to an organisation, so even when the operational side of work slows, you can continue to add value to your organisation long term. Resilience is simply just table stakes for any successful TA person!

As a Talent leader, what is your key advice for managing your teams and people?

I don’t think it’s rocket science, simply be a good person! You never know what people are going through behind the scenes and the pandemic highlighted this more than ever. So, generally just trying to be a good human being, demonstrating empathy, and listening first.

Secondly, laying out clear expectations and standards for the team. Try writing a manifesto as a team; things that are essential for the success of the team and function and that way hopefully everyone buys into it as a collaborative process.

Finally, whatever problem you’re trying to solve in TA, start by clearly defining the problem you’re trying to solve, then prototype, iterate and engage your stakeholders for feedback. Much like a start-up trying to find product market fit.

How has the role of a recruiter changed and what new skills do you think they need to possess and develop?

TA has changed and evolved a lot and continues to, for the better.

At its core you still need to be a good people person and display high levels of emotional intelligence, but TA professionals now need to be marketeers, comfortable crunching and analysing data, brand ambassadors, technologically aware understanding the technical space they operate in, and business aware. TA often get to see and experience amazing company growth journeys and how TA adapts and evolves with the different stages of that business journey.

What do you think is the biggest challenge and biggest opportunity facing Talent and Recruitment?

Obviously, we’ve seen devastating redundancies in the TA space which is a massive challenge for the industry. Again, with the cyclical nature we’ll see the market return at some point (hopefully in the not-too-distant future) but the opportunity then as mentioned earlier, is how TA can demonstrate the value add that makes them more ‘sticky’ and less disposable to businesses.

A lot is being said/written about the rise of generative AI and how it could replace lots of roles, including recruiters. I think it’s both a challenge and an opportunity for TA functions. Hiring is an intrinsically human process so I don’t think it will ever fully replace recruiters, but I do think good TA functions can be augmented by GAI, replacing some of the more labour-intensive tasks and freeing up recruiters to excel at the human side of the role.

What is the next stage of transformation for Talent functions?

Again, AI is going to transform TA functions and we need to embrace that change.

But for me, I think TA’s real transformational value is in the role it plays cross-functionally within an organisation. TA often touches so many areas of a business and can be a key stakeholder across an organisation, sitting at the juncture of Company Culture, Brand, Community, People Ops and Organisational Development.

I believe companies need to tap into the benefit that an integrated TA function brings, with its finger on the pulse of a company and not just view it as a one-dimensional, transactional function.

Would you like to share any other opinions or thoughts about Talent acquisition and recruitment or the wider business world?

People first! and my favourite bumper sticker…. “Don’t be a dick!”

For what it’s worth, I think companies should stop worrying about “Hybrid Vs Remote Vs Return to Office” and rather start thinking about how they can empower their people to do their best work possible.’s Talent Leader Series seeks to share the view of leaders in the Talent space.

By sharing the thoughts and insights of these leaders will hopefully help the Talent industry as a whole as it explores new opportunities and faces new challenges.

If you are interested in taking part please reach out to for more information.

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