I often get asked about the history of BB, why I left the stability of the corporate world to set up the business, and what the experience has been like.
My early career followed a fairly traditional path – university, grad scheme, managing my first team within 3 years, and inevitable progression up the ladder to a ‘Director’ role in a FTSE 250 company. (I will come back to why I accentuate that title).
Looking back, I enjoyed lots of that stage, learned loads from some very talented people, and had some fantastic training. Many of my colleagues today are people I worked with in those 12 years, and lots of BB’s most loyal and trusted clients are people I originally got to know then.
For almost all of that time, I assumed I would continue to progress in that world and I wouldn’t change almost anything about it, but I knew something was missing, and while I had the title, in reality, I was not going to be able to really influence the business unless I learned to embrace the political game of the corporate world. Indeed, one day after a particularly vocal board meeting, I was visited by my boss to advise on who and how I should communicate my views if I wanted to continue to progress.
This moment, I think was the start of the end of me enjoying my corporate career. My director title really should have read something like – internal problem / #### sorter. I spent almost all my time sorting out internal issues, disputes, and team problems, getting further and further away from the coalface.
My chosen career was to help clients and candidates, ideally through consulting with both, yet my role didn’t let me spend anything like enough time with my customers. I tried another company to see if it was different, but it wasn’t so I knew the time was right to create my own business with values, service levels and a culture I truly believed in.
At the same time, a gap was opening in the market.
The industry had allowed itself to become transactional in the UK as it matured, and with the onset of the digital job search age clients could source a lot of their own talent themselves. There had also been a lot of consolidation of mid-market national firms, and the UK market was polarised, with the international firms at one end and very good but niche suppliers at the other. Only 8% of the UK recruitment market is made up of firms with > 50 people, and only 2% have >100 people.
This meant there was no mid-market national Finance and IT recruitment business in the UK and I hatched a plan to build a business to fill that void as quickly as possible. I met with 15-20 recruitment entrepreneurs to help me understand how they had built their businesses and much of my thinking and strategy was formulated through these meetings.
Once the plan was built, I had to think about 2 main things: people and people. I knew that once we launched, the priority would be to grow as quickly as possible, sacrifice earnings and profit to expand quickly and create the national footprint in no more than 2 years. One of the things that really stuck in my mind from the advice I took was to be brave and grow quickly. This is not an empty comment but I 100% believe that great people make a great business and this is never more true than in start-up stage.
BB could not and would not exist without its people, the brave 6 who joined in year 1 when all I could do was sell thin air and a plan through to the 50 odd we now employ delivering some of the best service in the industry. People buy people and by hiring some of the very best I have worked with before and many I haven’t we were quickly able to gain the trust of new and old clients alike.
We proved that businesses still wanted expert advice to guide them through the recruitment landscape and candidates wanted impartial and honest guidance on their careers. Start-ups can quickly lose focus and get distracted by ideas and shiny plans, in reality, if you hire good people and sell more than you spend you won’t go far wrong.
We are 7 years in now, future focussed and still growing. We now provide services across multiple functions and international markets, we have a consulting arm that supplies advisory change and transformation teams into our clients and we have offices in 8 UK cities.
Over the next few years, we would like to grow beyond 100 people, move into the top 2%, and expand our international offering in North America and beyond into Germany and Asia. We will do this with an ongoing commitment to our people agenda, staying true to our values, and our recent EVP project led by the team is a testament to this.
There have been ups and downs along the way, but I have enjoyed every moment. I have learned more in the last 7 years than I ever thought possible, been tested more than ever before, made some mistakes, got some things right, and seen my passion for the industry reach new heights. Most of all, I have realised that you are only as good as your team, and it is the people that make a business. BB is very lucky to have some of the very best ones.