From CEO to Business Owner..
Company Name: Perfect Candidate Limited
Company Activities: Permanent Recruitment
Company Website: www.perfectcandidate.co.uk
Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed by us and we are really looking forward to hearing your story and gain an insight into your business and the business journey you have been on. Where do we start?
You are owner and founder of Perfect Candidate, which is a recruitment firm, but before that you were CEO of a large multinational company. Tell us about the decision making to go from CEO to setting up your own business.
The large multinational operates a decentralised structure that encourages entrepreneurial culture and allows their leaders to run their own businesses with support of the group. So, I was really fortunate to have worked in such an environment that enabled me to utilise my entrepreneurial spirit and my strong appetite for learning new skills, to build and grow a successful Group of businesses, that continue to go from strength to strength today. It is great to see the foundations I put in place being now taken to a new level under new leadership. The decision to leave my position as CEO was taken on my 35th anniversary with the business, which was a very poignant time to take such a decision for both personal and business reasons. On the business side, it had reached a point of some key decisions on strategy, structure and skills required to continue the successes. On the personal side I had relocated down to beautiful Somerset and felt it was time to get the work-life balance a bit more in order.
What was your role and responsibilities as CEO?
It was a great mix of being strategic and hands-on. The group consisted of different sized businesses with operations based in the UK, Germany and North America. At top level, responsibilities were focused on the overall strategy of the group, ensuring that a helicopter view of all the aspects of the Group were in place. Being the main point of contact with strong communication with the Board of Directors. It was also getting the balance between remaining externally facing, i.e., how to build and grow through organic initiatives and company acquisitions plus ensuring the internally facing financial reporting and regulatory compliance that comes as part of CEO territory was all to the high PLC standard.
At the business unit level, my role, responsibilities and involvement within each business varied year on year. For example, the business in North America was a start-up project that I instigated right from market research to physical choice of location and premises etc. I was actively involved as Managing Director of the business until the business was established and a new leader of the business selected. Another example would be the level of acquisition activity in any year which consisted of pre-acquisition negotiations and then the post-acquisition activity which for a couple of years would be active hands-on involvement.
This varied from engaging in detailed negotiations with key customers and suppliers, new marketing initiatives, new system/ERP implementations, process optimisations, property moves and succession planning for leadership or management changes going forward. For the more established businesses, it was ensuring the top team had a clear vision of the strategy and that the managers of these businesses were well motivated and incentivised to drive the businesses forward.
Tell us about your career path to becoming a CEO.
I am an example of a late starter, and my learning style is pragmatic. Not being an academic, I just went through the motions of school, coming out with middle of the road grades. I went onto college to do a secretarial course with no real thoughts on where that might specifically lead. Our head tutor was a true inspiration - she not only taught the practical side but also so many valuable insights into getting you ready for the real workplace. She shared her life stories and stories of the career paths of many of her pupils. When I reflect, this is where my ambition lightbulb started to flicker. Upon leaving college, I landed a secretarial job for a Sales Manager who was out of the office a lot and I had quite a lot of spare capacity, so I used to go and offer to help out in the sales office which was always super busy. When a full-time position came up as a Sales Co-ordinator I applied and was successful.
Shortly after accepting this position, the division I worked for were involved in an MBO and I was selected by the new owners to join them. I was made an offer that I couldn’t refuse to join them…. less pay, longer hours and less job security…but without any real rhyme or reason, I found the prospect of joining something new exciting, and this was my lucky break. Of course, rarely does luck act on its own, it is usually how you use that luck. As with most start-ups it was a small close-knit team and it was literally all hands-on deck to support the customers, especially as the business was such a success from the get-go. One minute I could be quoting, pricing, entering orders, expediting orders and then the next minute out in the warehouse picking and packing the goods as the customer had an AOG (Aircraft on Ground), or a Formula One team had to get to the track. My path was learning everything from grass roots and every angle of the business – sales, warehousing, quality management, purchasing and credit control. The owners were great mentors, role models and inspirational which was the catalyst to further unlocking my ambition.
As the business was such as success, I found myself after a short space of time, leading my first team as Customer Service Manager. Eager to succeed as a new manager, I decided to enrol myself with the Open University on a Customer Service Management Certificate course. Initially my intention was just to complete this Certificate, but I got the learning bug and ended up completing the full MBA course in my spare time. I was fortunate that I was able to apply the MBA course in the workplace, which really suited my pragmatic learning style and was a key completing the MBA was a key contributor to me being selected for promotions as the business itself grew. When the owners exited the business, I was selected to take the lead role initially as Managing Director and then later CEO as a result of the Group’s growth from a single unit UK based business to a multi-unit international business.
You career path never included recruitment, so why chose to be a recruitment company?
Whilst my career path never included specialist recruitment, people are the heart of the success of organisations so recruiting and retaining the right talent I see is one of THE key ingredients to my own success. I have chosen the recruitment sector as I believe I can make a real difference to the clients I work with by finding them talent that will have a positive impact on their business performance.
From a candidate side, it is a great feeling to know you have had a positive impact on a candidates’ life by finding them a job that matches their skills and requirements and then watch them realise their full potential and ambitions. With recruitment, I can use everything I have learned in business. I can sit in the shoes of a CEO, Director, Manager and not only look at the job description for matching hard skills, but work in unison with them to find the candidate with a view on the softer skills and cultural fit and business strategy/plans.
How different is it being your own boss versus being a CEO?
The biggest differences are that there are no people management responsibilities and the level and detail around financial reporting and compliance. The rest as I see it is about scale…. having a Strategy, Business Plan, Financial Plan are as equally important in a smaller business than they are in a larger business. They are probably even more important especially if you are entrepreneurial in nature. I know I could be very easily distracted by so many opportunities that present themselves and having the Strategy and Plan in place, I personally find it invaluable to help guide decisions when opportunities are presented.
What skills do you consider you had as a CEO that you use today in your business?
There are so many transferrable skills but to name a few. Passion to succeed, positivity, having a growth-mindset and being able to think outside the box is in my blood. A high level of ethics, strong values are all very important and top of my agenda.
Associated with this are transparency and trust which comes hand in hand also with strong communication and collaboration with candidates and clients and is at the heart of building strong business relationships. And last but not least, the ability to listen and keep an open mind which is obviously relevant in interviewing, when receiving a job briefing but also in keeping an eye on what new is emerging in the industry.
Has it been a steep learning curve and what has been the biggest challenge of being your own boss?
Even with so many transferrable skills – YES it has been a steep learning curve but as I said earlier, I am a bit of a learning junkie, so it has also been an incredibly rewarding and enjoyable journey. My weakest subject is IT, so my biggest challenge and frustrations are when the tech bits don’t work. The contractual / legal / compliance side has also been a big learning curve, plus linked with this was selecting the right specialist recruitment software and configuring it. One of the first things I did was joined the REC (Recruitment and Employment Confederation) and went on a recruitment start-up course which was incredibly useful.
You started the company in the pandemic, has that been a good or bad thing for you?
I had started before the pandemic but because of the learning curve and wanting to make sure all my foundations were in place, I had January 20 as my planned date for really starting in earnest with business development and acquiring new clients. In some ways the pandemic has been helpful, such as remote interviewing and all those tools have become mainstream now. You can be anywhere with a decent internet connection and still do quality interviews and screening and it allowed me extra time to get the recruitment software populated and my processes fine-tuned.
The most difficult part particularly in the early days was the business development as key decision makers and HR Managers were largely focussed on what the pandemic meant for their business.
What does Perfect Candidate do day to day and what is your vision for the future of your business?
The focus is still on permanent and fixed-term placements. We are multi-sector; however, I draw on my sector knowledge to specialise in Aerospace, Defence, Motorsport, Energy, Construction and Industrial. I also draw on my extensive network in these sectors covering positions such as Executive and C-Suite positions, Mid/Senior Management, General Management, Sales & Business Development, Customer Experience, Procurement and Purchasing, Finance, Operations and Logistics, Distribution and Manufacturing. The vision for the future is to build a group of carefully selected, like-minded individuals who want to be their own boss too working closely together in these sectors, effectively as a small select franchise. My crazy goal is to have a foot hold also in North America!
Do you wish that you became your own boss sooner?
Yes – definitely.
Lastly, what advice would you give to anyone considering giving up a well-paid corporate role and going on their own?
Be clear about your reason for wanting to go it alone. Make sure you have the full support of your family/friends, have a clear vision, plan and timescale. Decide what you can do or want to do yourself and be realistic in your planning about this. Main thing is - What does success look like, taste like and feel like to you outside of the corporate world and don’t lose sight of this on your journey.
Thank you again for your time and being interviewed by The Business Owner Magazine.