Richard Wright grew financial recruitment firm Martin Ward Anderson’s turnover from £1 million to £50 million before starting again.
Richard Wright grew financial recruitment firm Martin Ward Anderson’s turnover from £1 million to £50 million before selling up and starting again. Here are the lessons he learned along the way.
I was given the responsibility of managing a team early in life. I was 24 and younger than the people I was managing, so gaining the respect and trust of staff, while allowing them to recognise that I was performing well and had got my job on merit, was difficult.
Two people under my watch were having a relationship that was creating issues in the office and I had to confront it because I knew it was affecting my business. Talking to older people with more life experience than me about a personal situation was hard. Relationships are often better dealt with after experience and time.
When I looked to build those staff relationships I had a habit of being too consensual; I tried to become friends with the staff. I thought getting to know them and their issues was the right tactic but there is another way of doing it that I recognise now, which is to make it clear to staff the goals of the business before developing the more personal relationships.
As a manager, if you try and get to know people without setting out your direction upfront, they’ll probably find it a bit confusing. Clear direction from the outset is what a lot of employees seek.
People are the core of this industry, but I have made some bad hires. It’s easy to recruit people from other organisations who weren’t necessarily the best but initially looked like the finished product.
I wish I’d had the confidence to take on staff who were slightly more raw and develop them in my own style rather than trying to change more experienced people who had already formed their own ways of doing things and weren’t going to work to my standard.
Experience has made me more pessimistic. I manage around the worst-case scenario, where anything better than expected is a bonus, whereas at the beginning I would be managing around the most optimistic situation, so I could find myself letting down not just myself but other people too because of expectations I had set.
One mistake was relying too heavily on the recruitment-to-recruitment business, which finds recruitment consultants for recruitment consultancies. It’s very expensive and it did deliver the people that we wanted, but 12 months later most were no longer with us. I remember wasting £200,000 on fees that didn’t really pay any dividends that year.
Dutch HR giant Randstad approached us with a bid in the middle of 2005. At that point the economy hadn’t fully recovered and we hadn’t fulfilled our potential, so it was hard to maximise the price at which we sold the business. You can look back on all sorts of ways in which you might have done it differently or be better prepared, but when you sell your first business you are in a naive position, and anyone who says otherwise is lying.
After staying on at the business until 2009, I took on the role of CEO at Archer Mathieson in 2010. It’s interesting to run a smaller business turning over £15 million.
Suddenly I don’t have to handle Dutch executives or hundreds of staff – I have just 20 or so people now and we’re aiming to grow the business, first nationally and then internationally. It should be an interesting challenge.