My business story…ShortList Recruitment

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March 01, 2017

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Giles Warburton, the Managing Director of specialist IT recruiters, ShortList Recruitment, talks to us about what makes his business tick.

I lived in New Zealand for 10 years, and setup a recruitment agency in Auckland. When my wife and I moved back to the UK, I worked in various senior recruitment positions, and it struck me how transactional IT recruitment was in the UK. There was no view on developing long-term relationships.

The New Zealand recruitment market was very small, and everyone knew each other, so reputations, good or bad, tended to stick. It taught me a lot about being consistent and relentless in my approach.

Around this time, I lost a family member to cancer, and it really was a defining moment for me. It gave me clarity to think ‘life’s too short’, and the shove I needed to do things my own way. So I quit my job. And that’s how I found myself sat at my kitchen table starting my own business saying ‘right, here we go!’

My guiding principle from the start was to ‘do the right thing’ and it’s served us well. The UK IT recruitment market is fiercely competitive which means that no two days are the same and you have to be constantly vigilant.

The thing that gets me out of bed every day is that nothing can beat the feeling of finding the perfect match – it’s often a combination of hard work, sheer persistence and luck.

How long have you been running ShortList Recruitment?

Since January 2012.

Have you run any previous businesses?

Yes, I ran an IT recruitment company in New Zealand for a few years, and had a hand in running an agency in the UK.

What was your first job?

I worked in a ceramics factory in North Wales when I was 18. We made high-end mosaics for the Middle East. I remember one big project we worked on, making an ornate circular village scene which cost around £1,000 per square metre – it was a very labour-intensive job.

How did you fund your business in the beginning?

I self-funded it at the beginning. It was very stressful. When you look at your family you realise failure just isn’t an option. You become very picky about where spend goes.

What was the biggest hurdle in the early days?

Having to limit my hours. I was working 14 to 16 hour days. It took a lot of pressure to stay sane and not implode. There is always the temptation to over-work.

How did you grow?

After 6 months, I’d brought another director on board, and we moved out of the tiny outbuilding at home which had been our office into bigger premises in Chester. A small office never feels real, but moving into a commercial property makes you feel like you’re really running a company. It was the next stage for us.

What is the hardest part of running a business?

Finding the right people. No one is as passionate about your business as you are, and you can’t expect that of them. When you hire them, you’ve got to grow them in your team. We’ve only recently started to hire people who are the right fit for us.

Best business move?

Increasing our fees. As a young business, it’s something you’re really scared to do, but it had a profound effect. It filtered out the late-payers and those who were haggling on price, leaving the genuine customers. It had an exponential effect on the teams’ performance too.

Worst business move?

Hiring experienced recruiters thinking we could make their experience work for us. There’s been a few times where people have had a lot of experience, but they just didn’t fit in with our culture and ethos. It was a helpful lesson, particularly given our line of work.

Who or what has been your biggest influence?

When I first landed in Auckland in 1997 looking for IT contract work, I was looked after by a very experienced contract recruiter. She was a master of what she did and was the best in NZ. She managed me expertly, although I didn’t realise it at the time.

It’s only by looking back I can see her effect on how I approach recruitment. When I set up my first business in New Zealand, I brought her in as a non-executive director. She was a real icon in her field.

How important is customer service to your business?

It’s the key to what we do. We have a philosophy – always do the right thing. Quite often, customers don’t always realise what they need at the time, so we work with clients to overhaul their requirements, even if it makes us unpopular initially.

Many times we’ve had customers who hear this, will go away, and come back saying ‘you were right’.

But it’s through this that we’ve become good at building enduring relationships. You have to build trust. Recruitment is actually a highly emotive industry. Some people are leaving their jobs after 10 years, so they have to trust that you are doing the right thing for them.

What is your plan for the next few years?

To dominate the North West market in terms of being the agency of choice for IT recruitment. We’re definitely on our way.

If you did it again, what would you do differently?

I wouldn’t be so hard on myself in the first 6 to 12 months. It’s all too easy to lose yourself in work and sight of everything around you. I was very rigid in terms of working, but there’s no easy way around it if you want to make it a success.

What piece of advice would you give to a start-up?

You need to be relentless – some days are very tough, others exceptionally good. If you take the blows and believe in yourself, the odds are on that you’ll make it.

Complete this sentence: If I wasn’t running ShortList Recruitment, I would be…

Writing children’s books.