Steve Tolen, the 307th person I’ve met on my quest to have lunch with 500 strangers, wasn’t expecting a corporate boxing program to change his life.

Steve signed up for the Corporate Fighter program two years ago, after putting on weight during the pandemic. Three months later, when he stepped into the ring for his graduation fight, he was surprised to discover he was 14 kilograms lighter – and filled with a sense of achievement.

That experience made Steve reassess his life. He realised that despite having a good job and a successful career, he was stuck in a rut. The boxing program reminded him what he was capable of, and inspired him to search for something new and more challenging.

That eventually led Steve to the CEO role at Recruitment Entrepreneur Australia, which is the local arm of a global business founded by prominent British entrepreneur James Caan.

Recruitment Entrepreneur’s model is to co-invest in startup recruitment businesses, alongside the founder. The founders benefit from Recruitment Entrepreneur’s capital, experience and systems to scale their business. The goal is to exit the business five to seven years later, with the founders typically benefiting from a much higher valuation upon exit. 

There are three reasons why Steve was made for his role. First, he already had more than 18 years of recruitment experience, first in his native England and then, from 2009, in Australia. Second, Steve is a consummate salesperson and networker. Third, despite his seniority, he’s happy to get his hands dirty with day-to-day work – which, in this instance, includes cold outreach to potential partners.

When Steve was 17, he co-founded a seafood import/export business with his father. From the start, he was involved with sales and management, which meant he learned a lot in a short amount of time. 

Some 10 years later and seeking a career change, Steve went into a recruitment agency, with no idea what he wanted to do. The recruitment agent took a shine to Steve and offered him a job in the agency. And so, by accident, Steve started out on the path that eventually led, via a boxing ring, to his current role.