Recruiter Fast 50 - February 2016

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John Atkinson Head of commercial business Hitachi Capital Invoice Finance




t’s been a positive but challenging year for recruitment firms. In a general election year, the potential of a new government left some companies adopting a ‘wait and see’ approach, which had a direct impact on recruitment. The expected upturn in the jobs market following the general election didn’t quite come to fruition and more uncertainty followed around the possibility of a ‘Brexit’. Yet the UK economy is proving still to be one of the most prosperous economies. It is within this environment that we recently surveyed over 100 managing directors and business owners of temporary recruitment agencies, and the positive news is that they feel the sector as a whole is growing. Recruiters specifically witnessed an increase in demand for candidates in the retail, manufacturing, healthcare and logistics & construction sectors. However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t challenges. Managing cashflow will always be a test for the temporary recruitment agencies, as their candidates expect to be paid on a weekly or daily basis. Getting back office processes and systems right can also be a challenge, with over three quarters (78%) of recruiters agreeing that establishing a client base is one of the biggest challenges when starting up a business and is essentially why most fail. The fact that the businesses within this supplement find themselves on the Recruiter FAST 50 list shows that they have equipped themselves with a strong candidate pool, effective cashflow management and efficient back office support, and can now plan ahead to continue to grow quickly and enjoy success. We’re looking forward to supporting the next generation of recruitment firms and helping some of the most exciting businesses in the sector to grow. Congratulations once again to those that have made the Recruiter FAST 50 list and we wish you a bright and successful 2016. WWW.RECRUITER.CO.UK 19

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Organic growth continues to be the overarching theme for constituents of this year’s FAST 50 Rank 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50

2015 ranking

3 1 7



13 9


11 18


16 5






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BIE Executive MSI Group Service Care Solutions GatenbySanderson People Source Consulting Swan Staff Recruitment Hallam Medical Transline Group AM2PM Recruitment Solutions Clement May Liquid Personnel Gravitas Recruitment Group Spencer Ogden Networking People (UK) Piers Meadows Recruitment Worldwide Recruitment Solutions Industria Personnel Services Concept Recruitment Group TeacherActive Navartis Sanctuary Personnel CPS Group (UK) Linsco Newcross Healthcare Solutions ID Medical Group NRL Group Austin Fraser Phaidon Holdings Montash William Alexander Recruitment Morgan Law Partners Nurse Plus and Carer Plus (UK) Oil Consultants Premier People Recruitment Frontier International (UK) Kin-Tec Holdings Encore Personnel Services One Call Recruitment Pro-Force HR Essentials Danny Sullivan Group nGAGE Specialist Recruitment Recruitment Investment Group Prestige Recruitment Specialists Sheffield Haworth La Fosse Associates MTrec Premier Group Recruitment Allen Lane Holdings G2V Recruitment Group

Multi-sector Healthcare Healthcare, construction, legal Public sector IT Multi-sector Healthcare Industrial, technical Industrial Multi-sector Social workers Insurance, energy, IT Energy, engineering IT Healthcare Energy, engineering Engineering Multi-sector Education Technical Healthcare IT Engineering Healthcare Healthcare Energy, engineering Engineering, IT, life sciences Multi-sector IT IT Multi-sector Healthcare Energy Technical Energy Technical Industrial, engineering Industrial Agriculture & horticulture Multi-sector Engineering Multi-sector Healthcare Multi-sector Finance IT Industrial, technical IT, engineering, media Public sector IT, engineering, energy

Revenue (£000s) 19,887 55,000 25,612 36,906 28,456 19,002 20,352 178,571 38,365 30,212 52,847 14,593 76,794 23,150 16,111 31,832 21,210 31,210 18,193 24,185 86,147 10,300 20,880 45,440 123,916 172,838 29,234 29,335 27,696 13,401 32,594 35,502 33,602 15,160 21,063 76,525 45,150 12,879 16,647 13,799 76,986 252,451 50,174 24,546 20,193 32,514 24,916 18,928 46,252 52,531

Compound annual growth rate (%) 88.8 65.8 63.0 62.9 61.6 59.7 59.3 58.8 58.0 56.0 55.4 54.8 54.3 52.0 51.5 49.7 49.7 49.2 48.2 47.6 44.3 43.5 41.4 41.0 40.8 40.3 40.1 39.5 38.9 38.2 38.0 37.1 36.7 35.3 35.2 34.2 32.2 32.0 31.8 31.3 30.0 29.3 29.2 29.1 28.4 28.4 28.2 27.9 27.6 26.3


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Key shareholders



Financial year-end

Barclays Ventures Nicky Simpson Richard Freye Primary Capital Jason Baker Stephen Rogers Scott Davies Colin Beasley Pamela Everitt Richard Ward Alexander Elliott, Jonathan Coxon Jonathan Ellerbeck Peter Ogden, David Spencer-Percival Chris Cooke Piers Meadows Mark Brown, Luana Brown Mike Walker Christopher Cass, Elizabeth Cass Simon Ryder, Jason Uppal James Sloan James Rook Jason Grandin, Spencer Symmons Jeffrey Elliott Stephen Pattrick Mo Sacoor, Mike Sacoor, Deenu Patel Andrew Redmayne Derek Simpson, Peter Hart Adam Buck Andrew Larholt William Larcombe David Morgan Sovereign Capital Geoff Lennox, Richard Fielding Aleksei Kern Mark Clarke, Paul Radcliffe Neil McCarthy Louise Latham, Sarah Hockey Andrew Chittock, Sharon Chittock Matthew Jarrett Gary Wilson Daniel O’Sullivan Graphite Capital Management Peter Paul Flaherty Nigel Stabler Timothy Sheffield Simon La Fosse, Linda La Fosse David Musgrave, Robin Armstrong Andrew Peter Woosnam Ben Lane, James Allen James Gorfin

London London Preston, Lancs London Bristol Dartford Sheffield Brighouse, W Yorks Birmingham London Manchester London London London London Altrincham Leicester Leeds Birmingham Doncaster Ipswich Cardiff Nottingham Devon Milton Keynes Carlisle Reading London London Brighton London Canterbury Washington West Drayton Aberdeen Manchester Leicester Peterborough Chartham, Kent Chesterfield London London London Hull London London Newcastle Reading London Bristol

Mar 2014 Dec 2014 Mar 2015 Dec 2014 Mar 2015 Mar 2015 Apr 2014 Dec 2014 Dec 2014 Dec 2014 Mar 2015 Nov 2014 Dec 2014 Mar 2014 Mar 2014 Dec 2014 Nov 2014 Jun 2014 Dec 2014 Mar 2015 Oct 2014 Mar 2015 Mar 2015 Apr 2014 Dec 2014 Dec 2014 Feb 2015 Oct 2014 Dec 2014 Jan 2015 Sep 2014 Mar 2014 Jun 2014 Dec 2014 Dec 2014 Mar 2014 Dec 2014 Mar 2015 Mar 2015 Mar 2015 Jul 2014 Mar 2015 Dec 2014 Sep 2014 Dec 2014 Dec 2014 Mar 2014 Mar 2014 Dec 2014 Mar 2014

* If the head office is not stated, then location closest to registered address used


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AT FULL THROTTLE Recruitment firms are achieving record levels of growth, this year’s Recruiter FAST 50 reveals. Marcus Archer and Mark Maunsell of Clearwater International look at what lies behind the figures f anyone is still in doubt about the state of the UK recruitment sector, the 2016 Recruiter FAST 50 results will provide absolute clarity. Private recruitment firms have delivered unprecedented levels of growth against the backdrop of a favourable economic environment, data compiled by international mergers and acquisitions (M&A) specialist Clearwater International demonstrates. Constituents of this year’s 2016 FAST 50 grew by an average compound annual growth rate of 44%, up from 36% in 2015 and 34% in 2014. The figures emphasise how recruitment firms are achieving pre-recession growth rates. They also support data recently produced by the Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo) that suggests that 75% of recruiters grew during 2014. As with previous years, multi-sector specialists came out on top. Led by BIE Executive, a leading interim management and executive search firm, multi-sector recruiters occupied 18% of this year’s FAST 50. However, this figure was somewhat down from the 30% in 2015 and 36% in 2014. While recruiters with broad exposure to multiple sectors were well positioned to achieve rapid growth as the industry recovered, single-sector recruiters operating in attractive markets are now



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benefiting from a more focused strategy. Healthcare is a good example of a niche sector with strong underlying market conditions. Despite the recent announcement from the Department of Health of plans to curb agency spend, compliant healthcare recruiters are benefiting from increasing patient numbers, chronic skills shortages and high levels of staff turnover as NHS employees switch to agency work. This trend is evidenced by the inclusion of nine specialist healthcare recruiters in this year’s FAST 50, with two appearing for the third year in a row. A special mention should go to the inclusion of larger firms Sanctuary Personnel and ID Medical, which managed to fight off several smaller recruiters to rank 21st and 25th respectively. Large recruiters typically struggle to grow at similar rates to smaller companies. The IT sector again had little representation in the rankings, occupying only six places. While this is attributable largely to the managedservice providers continuing to take marketshare, there is also an increasing level of M&A activity in IT. For example, previous 2014 and 2015 FAST 50 constituent Eurostaff was acquired by Cordant Group in June 2015. The engineering, industrial and technical sectors are three markets that face severe talent shortages.

Recent statistics from EngineeringUK’s ‘Engineering UK 2015’ report suggest that 19% of firms have difficulties in finding suitable candidates, up from 12% the previous year. Recruiters with extensive talent databases are well positioned to take advantage of these skills gaps and achieve rapid growth. In this year’s FAST 50, a total of 18 firms appeared that had exposure to these end markets. This year’s FAST 50 is unique not only in that companies are achieving unprecedented levels of growth, but also because the growth is coming from a new breed of progressive recruitment companies, with many appearing in the FAST 50 for the first time. In fact, a total of 33 companies were new entrants this year, beating an historic high of 31 in 2015. One reason for this trend is the fragmented market and low barriers to entry; another is the increasing number of recruitment agencies that are being launched in the UK each year. Analysis from contract finance firm Sonovate suggests that the number has been doubling since 2010 to reach 4,083 in 2014, with many of these now being of sufficient scale to be considered for inclusion in the FAST 50. Unsurprisingly, two of the largest UK-headquartered oil & gas recruiters, Fircroft and Air Energi, were absent from the list in 2016, having been present in 2015 and 2014. The oil & gas


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+ L-r: MARCUS ARCHER and MARK MAUNSELL, compilers of the FAST 50 report from corporate finance house and international M&A specialist Clearwater International

picture continues to be one of struggle, as Brent crude oil prices have fallen 43% in the last 12 months to November, and extensive job cuts have followed. Further, with the market still in a state of glut, there are no immediate signs of improvement. While the effects have not yet been fully felt by recruiters — with six oil & gas recruiters still appearing in this year’s FAST 50 — it will be interesting to see how this trend develops through 2016. Organic growth continues to be the

overarching theme for constituents of this year’s FAST 50. This growth, typically, was driven by either expansion of their office networks or diversification into new sectors. BIE Executive, which recently completed a management buy-out from parent company the Cornhill Partnership, has achieved significant growth off the back of opening a London office in January 2014 and the founding of a South African-based subsidiary to better access the growing African market.

METHODOLOGY The Recruiter FAST 50, prepared by Clearwater International, lists the fastest-growing privately owned recruitment companies in the UK, according to a revenue compound annual growth rate over the three most recent annual reporting periods.

CRITERIA FOR INCLUSION: To qualify, companies must be unquoted, registered in the UK and not subsidiaries, although their ultimate holding companies may be based offshore. Companies that are backed by private equity or other financial investors, either minority or majority equity stake, are also considered for inclusion. All companies considered for inclusion must achieve minimum annual sales of £5m in each of their past three financial years.

EXCLUSIONS: Companies that have filed abbreviated accounts at Companies House without disclosing audited sales are excluded from the FAST 50. Companies whose latest available filed accounts are 2013 or before are excluded. Companies that are not pure-play recruitment companies are also not considered. Recruiters that are co-owned by foreign trade recruitment companies, or where a listed recruitment firm holds a minority stake, are also discounted.

DATA COLLECTION METHODS: Qualifying companies are identified through independent research that uses several financial databases, Companies House information, press coverage and other research sources. Entry submissions are therefore not required, although any firm that believes that it may not be automatically assessed in the 2017 FAST 50 may contact Clearwater International to discuss this. Please email mark.maunsell@


Others have adopted a different growth path. For example, Spencer Ogden has diversified into the rail, marine and construction sectors — a move that will help to reduce the company’s exposure to the energy markets. A further strategy is to leverage strong balance sheets and deploy capital through engaging in M&A activity. This approach has proven particularly successful for NRL, which purchased Surrey-based Petrolic Consultants in June 2013 and, in doing so, added around £30m of revenue for the group. Private equity funds continue to play an increasing role in shaping the recruitment landscape, as they look to invest in fast-growing, profitable and often single-sector-focused recruiters. Consequently, many FAST 50 companies are often considered key acquisition targets for mid-market private equity groups, or already operate under private equity ownership. To illustrate this point, three of this year’s FAST 50 constituents completed transactions with financial investors. Both Nurse Plus and nGAGE Specialist Recruitment — previously known as the Human Capital Investment Group — completed secondary buy-outs, while GatenbySanderson secured an investment from Primary Capital. While the future prospects for the recruitment sector are overwhelmingly positive, the necessity to attract and retain talent is more prevalent than ever and is the most commonly cited growth restraint for recruiters. In a sector that is characterised by high levels of churn, the ability to retain key employees will be an ever-greater differentiator in the future. Also in the distant future is the threat of increasing levels of automation and the use of robots over human capital, which in turn may have a profound effect on the job market. ● WWW.RECRUITER.CO.UK 23

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For Rob Walker, chief executive of the No.1-ranked FAST 50 firm, BIE Executive is the latest in a string of high-performing projects. His success is partly down to a competitive spirit but also remembering that recruitment is still all about relationships, he tells Colin Cottell PHOTOGRAPHY PAL


With getting on for three decades in recruitment, Rob Walker, CEO of BIE Executive, has pretty much seen and done everything in the sector. After cofounding accountancy recruiter Walker Hamill in 1989, he went on to launch Imprint with Walker Hamill co-founder Brian Hamill before floating it on AIM, the Alternative Investment Market, in 2001. HANSEN As an industry veteran, and one with such a track record, Walker might have been forgiven for resting on his considerable laurels. However, this year’s Recruiter FAST 50, compiled by corporate finance firm Clearwater International, which ranks the 50 fastest-growing privately owned staffing companies in the UK, proves that the passing of time has failed to quench Walker’s ambition. With a compound annual growth rate of 88.8% over the past three years, BIE Executive, a newcomer to the FAST 50, is a clear winner — more than 20 percentage points ahead of the runner-up. Although Walker is delighted by the news, it is not just BIE’s exalted position as the UK’s fastest-growing staffing company that is contributing to his high spirits. As he speaks to Recruiter from a tiny interview room in BIE’s City of


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“I am as passionate and enthusiastic as I ever was”


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“My belief is that you have to keep evolving the business. You can’t keep doing what you have always done”

London offices, what comes across is his continuing passion for recruitment. “As a recruiter it is easy to become tired and burn out,” he says. “I am as passionate and enthusiastic as I ever was before, with the team of people we have here and the product we are taking to market.” Asked to summarise the secret of his success, Walker’s response is telling: “I know it’s a bit of a curse, but never [being] satisfied. We can always do better. Fundamentally, I am a competitive person as well.” After a career that has gone through several iterations, Walker shows no signs that his competitive spirit has dimmed. Indeed, he clearly continues to revel in the battle to stay ahead of the game and 26 RECRUITER


BIE Executive 1996: Formed as BIE Interim Executive 2012: Merged with Archer Mathieson 2013: Management buyout led by Walker 2014: Advisory practice launched Number of staff: 30 2013 turnover: £15.96m 2013 profit after tax: £590,757 2014 turnover: £19.45m 2014 profit after tax: £1.066m

outwit the competition. “My belief is that you have to keep evolving the business. You can’t keep doing what you have always done,” he says. And at the core of that, he adds, “you have to look at your clients and the relationship you have with them, and what else you can do with those relationships”. The latest demonstration of Walker’s consistent ability to evolve and adapt those relationships came in 2014, when BIE launched its management consultancy practice, complementing its existing search and interim management practices. Fabrice Rodrigue, a former management consultant, was brought in to lead the practice. “I often refer to it as a one-stop shop,” says Rodrigue, describing


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how the consultancy side, typically supplying management consultants for business transformation and change projects, generates opportunities for the other arms of the BIE business. “Interim expertise to backfill functional roles, and permanent staff to fill future gaps in the organisation that result from the business transformation. “We don’t always have to sell all three to a client; it just ends up that way. Once you do the consultancy services, you end up doing all three,” he says. “It’s not just about having a transactional conversation but discussing an alternative between the interim side and what management consultancies have to offer, because there is a whole pool of candidates who are ex-consultancy that are a notch above regular contractors,” he adds.

Integrated service Rodrigue believes that adding an advisory service and offering it as part of an integrated offering sets BIE apart from its competitors in what is a congested interim and search market. Having three strings to the company’s bow, is “another reason to go and talk to clients; it is not just another recruitment offering”, adds Walker. “This is an area that we would expect to grow more quickly [than interim or executive search].” Offering an integrated service is great in theory, but as Walker admits, achieving it is not necessarily easy in recruitment, where recruiters “are used to building their own desk” and not thinking about the bigger picture. That is precisely why Walker places such emphasis on BIE’s team ethos, something he makes abundantly clear when asked what differentiates the company from its competitors. “Without coming out with all the old clichés — quality of consultants, integrity and honesty — what does stand out is the team ethos,” he says. The company focuses a lot of its training on crossselling, “helping staff to understand the buying signals for other parts of the business, so they can sell the integrated proposition”, he says. “For example, if they are part of the finance team they will be listening to their contacts for opportunities for transformation to get Fabrice involved, or maybe an opportunity for supply chain or HR.”


Rob Walker 2013-present: chief executive officer, BIE Executive 2010-13: chief executive officer, the Cornhill Partnership and BIE Executive 2007-10: non-executive chairman, Hexagon

2004-07: various nonexecutive director roles 2000-02: chief operating officer, Imprint 1989-2000: joint managing director, Walker Hamill 1976-87: British Army officer

Fabrice Rodrigue 2014-present: head of BIE’s advisory practice Previously: management consultant, Ernst & Young (now EY), Atos KPMG Consulting, Chaucer Consulting and Accenture

“So it is not just about me; it is what else is going on within this business that I can introduce colleagues to.” Walker emphasises that operating in this way is not an option, but is integral to the company’s identity and culture. “It’s a ‘must have’, it’s part of the induction, and so when we are interviewing for staff we make it clear that this is actually a benefit to them, that this is how we operate. “We don’t believe in people working in pure silos. In the majority of meetings, at

least two people won’t be from the same team. It is rare that two people from the same team go along.” The team ethos is reflected in how the company’s staff are rewarded. “The remuneration is geared to encourage people to go and cross-sell,” he says. In addition, it’s reflected in the openplan nature of the company’s offices. Indeed, it is also one of the reasons why the company plans to shut its original office in Windsor, opened in 1996, WWW.RECRUITER.CO.UK 27

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and concentrate all its resources in London. “We are bringing the whole team together because you hear about opportunities, you talk to other people, and that communication is absolutely key to it,” says Walker. He describes the Windsor decision as his most difficult to date. “It is not a negative because it is going to make the business stronger, but for the people there it is a disruption.” The challenge is “to make sure it’s seen as a positive move by those people who were based in Windsor”, he adds. The latest phase in BIE Executive’s story began following a management buy-out led by Walker in 2013, when the firm was part of the Cornhill Partnership. “It was a fantastic opportunity, a good name, a great platform, and some good people I was happy to go into business with and wanted to work beside,” he says. “I consider myself as the person who defines the strategy and then ensures that we deliver,” he adds. “We have a strong team around me, so I see my job as the glue that holds it all together.” Six of BIE Executive’s senior management team, including Walker and Rodrigue, hold stakes in the business, with private equity firm Barclays Venture holding the rest.

Changing the model The company’s recent growth has been helped by the encouraging trading environment, says Walker. “Anecdotally, in the market it is quite busy — it’s probably back to 2008 pre-recession levels.” That’s not to say there have been no changes — in particular in how BIE is remunerated. “The old model of ‘a third, a third, a third’ is difficult to achieve on a regular basis,” he says. “You have to be more imaginative around fees. Rather than taking it in three stages you might take two — a retainer fee and then on completion. It’s not unheard for us to do four stages, where the final stage is three months after the person has started.” He continues: “We try not to move on the quantum or the amount. What we will do is show some flexibility around payment.” He always bases his fees on results, he says. “I have never understood why any client would go on 30-, 60-, 90-day payment whether or not you produced somebody or not.” 28 RECRUITER


“First and foremost, recruitment is all about relationships” Looking back over his career, Walker says the biggest change has been the way the market has become more sophisticated. “In 1988/89, if you met someone at a party, and they liked you, the next day you were doing some work for them, whereas now you have RPOs [recruitment process outsourcing firms], PSLs [preferred supplier lists] and procurement getting involved, and that only happens rarely.” But despite the barriers between recruiters and clients that have grown up over the years, they can never hide a central truth about recruitment, he says. “First and foremost — and it is something that has remained from

day one when we set up Walker Hamill — is that recruitment is all about relationships,” he says. “There are people I talk to today I would have got to know 28 years ago, so relationships are the core to all of it. “I remember times when I have not filled a job and the client has been absolutely delighted with the process,” Walker adds. “I have also seen situations where the job has been successfully filled but the client is particularly unhappy. It is how you deliver that is the key to it.” When the CEO presiding over the fastest-growing staffing company in the UK makes such a suggestion, perhaps it is time for others to sit up and take notice. ●


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