Building a successful business with an inclusive, high-performing culture is something all leaders strive for, and yet economic conditions like the present make it particularly challenging.
Co-host of The Interview Max Webber sat down with David Wicks, Founder and Managing Director at European Recruitment, to discuss their journey to date building a business from nothing 14 years ago to where it is today, and supporting their people in the process.
I was the first in my family to go to university, graduating with a degree in Sports Science from Loughborough, after which I planned to become a teacher, but quickly changed my mind after doing my PGCE. Since then, I’ve spent 23 years in recruitment — starting in September 1999 — an industry where you do best if you’re driven, competitive, and willing to learn.
In February 2003, three of us set up Eurostaff (now Halian), which was in twice in the Sunday Times Virgin Fast Track 100. It’s tough to always agree as a three ultimately led to me selling my 28% in 2008. After this, I took a year off, then started European Recruitment in 2009 from my bedroom. Ed joined six months later, and is now a Director alongside the management team who have been with the business 10-13 years.
We’ve grown European Recruitment through thick and thin, and now have over 60 staff — we mostly take on graduates and train them up — and over £25m in annual turnover. Most of our work is in telecoms and high-tech; we’ve worked with the Apples and Amazons of this world, but typically find it’s the more steady, less publicly known companies (still multi $€£ billion world renowned businesses in their area or exciting stealth start-ups) that make for the best firms to partner with — those that are steadier through boom and bust cycles, and will look to you for a lot of their candidate needs once you’ve earned their trust.
A common theme in recruitment is that graduates often don’t exactly know what they’re getting into, and you also don’t know if it’s right for them — it’s a bit of an experiment. And now, if you’ve graduated in the last 2-3 years, you thought recruitment was quite easy during the post-Covid boom, so now it’s a case of readjusting expectations of the grind that’s needed to consistently earn the sort of money that you can when working in recruitment.
So it’s important that you make it a culture of paying people fairly, keeping the atmosphere high energy, and having some fun whilst working hard. Things like lunch clubs, company trips abroad, and other bigger activities to look forward to are great, but you need to have a solid foundation of a day to day that is engaging and fair.
The clients that have worked with us know that we provide the best service — we don’t over promise and under deliver — which enables us to work with the best companies that are developing new, exciting technologies. From this, you can be known for being the best at what you do, meaning that ambitious people get excited for what you’re building and who they'll be working with. Combine that with being an honest and good employer, and people are much more likely to get behind you as a leader.
Advice is a tricky one, as you have to be self-directed in your learning. Being part of a network of 300 Owners / CEO’s with RDLC, for example, means you are — directly or indirectly — receiving advice from a peer group that helps you get outside of your bubble and keeps your competitive juices flowing.