Welcome to the first in a series of interviews with the very top achievers in our industry. To stay up to date with next installments subscribe here.
On Friday I caught up with Brad Lamb, who is a Co-Founder of Venturi, one of the fastest growing recruitment companies in the country, evidenced recently as the top placed pure IT Recruiter on the Fast 50 list of fastest growing recruitment companies and 61st in the Hot 100, which ranks companies by profit per head. I wanted to understand what it takes to build a company to this level of success in just 7 years.
So Brad, how did it all begin?
I graduated University with a degree in Business Economics & Computer Science.
The time in between University and starting in Recruitment was varied to say the least. I was selling phones door to door, as well as selling TVs and VCRs from my Mum’s back bedroom. I was advertising my stock in Loot, but that was sadly short lived due to the dodgy characters appearing at the door to buy the goods!
As well as a keen interest in business, I had ambitions to be an actor, appearing with a few lines in Hollyoaks and having auditions for McDonald’s and Adidas commercials. I soon realised I wasn’t any good at acting so focused full time on business!
I took a role as an Estate Agent for a short period, before joining a business involved in personal finance.
Similar to most people, I stumbled upon recruitment by chance – one of my friends recommended I take a look at contract recruitment as they thought I’d enjoy it. So I put my CV on the job boards, soon after I was interviewed and offered a role by Computer Futures.
How did you fare at Computer Futures?
I really enjoyed my 5 and a half years at CF and was pleased with how it went.
Billings wise, one year I was 2nd highest biller in the whole of Sthree (Parent Company of Computer Futures) and a couple of years back to back I was top biller in the UK. At the height of my billings, I billed in excess of £500,000 each year, hitting a peak of £15,900 WGP with 59 runners out.
When did you realise you wanted to set up your own business?
I always considered myself entrepreneurial and envisaged one day having my own business, without knowing from day 1 exactly what that would be.
In my final year at Sthree, I think I realised I was ready for the next chapter. So in 2009 I decided to set up Venturi.
It looks like a great decision! You were 12th on the recent Fast 50 and 61st in the Hot 100 placings. What do you see as the driving factors in that success?
We’re in the people business – you have to be passionate, focused and enjoy every day of the journey. It’s important to have a plan and stick to it, but along the way to see entrepreneurial opportunities in everything you do day to day.
The thing that inspires me is always looking forward and staying fired up. Being inspired to try new frontiers and new territories, new technology. You can never afford to stand still, so we’re always looking forward to the next milestone.
How do you make sure the rookies feel that as well?
It’s vital to be clear about where you want to go. Never assume that everyone knows where you’re headed just because you do.
Always communicate that this is where we are today, and then where we want to be, territorially, in terms of markets and geographies.
At Sthree we were really good at that – being clear about where we are and where we’re going. This is key to inspiring your team and it shows you know where you’re headed and encourages the team to follow. You can never be complacent with this, so we live by “1000 times the message”.
Do you have specific values?
We had that conversation very recently actually – Our core values are Inspire, Innovate and Invest.
We always consider new technologies, new infrastructure. We’ve had 4 databases – it’s been tiresome but it’s really important to recalibrate what tools are at your disposal and improve.
Always be looking to innovate. Hopefully the net result of that is that it inspires people and lets them know you’re always prepared to invest in them and give them the tools to succeed.
We also have a lot of visual aids in the business. It’s clear where someone is against promotion, against target, where we are against our mission this year and next year.
We have a visual display in the office that shows what we want to achieve in terms of staff numbers, turnover, Net Fee Income, what territory to be in, how many contractors in the field, what disciplines we’ll be in.
For people coming in to interview, it shows them ‘these guys know where they want to get to’ and visualises our ambition and goals.
How do you get the best candidates from your competition?
We look at it as a 2 way process. From how you start things off, it’s their career as well. It’s your company that you want to attract them to work for.
Understanding what they’re looking for and what you’re looking for and ensuring a great match. It’s important that they’re made to feel welcome from when they walk in to interview and can understand what brings them there and where they’re coming from.
It’s important that they meet quite a few of the team members, that really helps them understand what it’s like in the business and the kind of culture they can expect.
It’s also really important to spell out where you want to take the business and what those opportunities look like.
Leave nothing to chance in terms of explaining where you are and what the goals are, at the same time giving them a really positive experience. Have a very straight up conversation so that they know exactly what they’re getting themselves in for.
How big a part do KPIs play in your business and how strictly does your leadership team implement them with your consultants?
KPIs for us do play a big part and we couldn’t be without them. They should be refined and specific for different consultants, in terms of seniority and what works for their markets.
We don’t believe in one size fits all and then bash people over the head with it, that’s where you start to have issues as people don’t understand the benefit and it fails to inspire them.
KPIs to us are a recipe for success and if communicated properly, should motivate and inspire people and let them know they’re doing things in the right way and are on the right track.
Our leaders work with our consultants to help them achieve their results and use Cube 19 who we can’t recommend highly enough.
For me, the key is how they’re communicated and sticking to the right ones for the right people. I think of it like a gym routine – if you want to get fit, you stick to a plan in order to achieve your goals.
Has having an out of city centre head office been a positive or a negative?
Occasionally you may lose someone that only wants to live in the city centre but equally we attract others who don’t want to work in the city centre.
A lot of our best staff have joined us not wanting to work in the city centre. There will always be times when you win people and lose people.
Geographically it’s quite good as we do a lot of business in the capital – it’s ideal for getting in there and also close to the airport.
We do a lot of lunch clubs and they’ll be in Manchester so there’s a lot of connectivity with the city so gives people the best of both worlds.
Venturi is the top ranked pure IT Recruiter in the Fast 50. Is the plan to continue to focus on IT or will you diversify into different sectors?
Never say never but I think what’s in front of us is developing more on our core markets and territories that we’re currently in.
We’ve started our US division and our Germany office is 12 months strong. Our focus is on capitalising on the UK, US and Germany.
It’s always good to keep an eye on opportunities that may compliment what you do, but it needs to make real sense. The beauty of being a small business is you can be enterprising and agile.
We know we’re in a really good market in IT generally and if you can keep specific and in candidate markets where demand outstrips supply it’s a good place to stay.
If you were starting again, what would you do differently?
Good question! Not a lot really. I’m not saying we’ve done everything right, but every decision we have made receives proper thought and consideration and the decisions we made we thought were the right ones at the time.
So I guess one thing is it’s good to be malleable and open minded. It’s Important to define at the start who we are, what you stand for and the ethics of the business.
There are things that haven’t always gone to plan, things that have gone to plan and things that definitely haven’t. Hopefully you make more right decisions than wrong. A key thing is the only thing worse than the wrong decision is no decision.
What do you think makes you successful?
I honestly don’t feel that successful yet! But I think I gravitated towards recruitment when I was 23 because I wanted to work with people. The career of recruitment suited me because I like to talk and I also like to listen. It’s a career where you can get out of it what you put in.
I had 5 and a half great years at Sthree that taught me a lot and demonstrated that you could make good money, change your life and enjoy amazing experiences.
Is there a key driver behind it all?
I’ve always had that desire to achieve and succeed, to grasp any opportunity and capitalise on it. Hard work was so important from day 1 and that desire and work ethic, to work harder and later was necessary because in the first 12-18 months there are lightbulb moments but you’re a long way from having all the answers. You’re making loads of mistakes and stumbling along, but I do think if you apply yourself day in day out then you’ll succeed. Talent plays a part but the application is the key, striving to do better.
If you look at many professional sports people, they might not be that talented but it’s their dedication that carries them to the top.
How do you continue to develop yourself?
I love to read, like to watch youtube clips about things that interest and inspire me. Talking to people in my industry, asking questions, asking for advice is just so important. I’m of the mindset that you should be learning something every day and constantly seeking to discover information and better ways of doing things. I learn from other people that have achieved great things.
What are your favourite business books?
Felix Dennis “How to get rich” – an absolutely brilliant read and I would recommend it to anyone looking to start a business. It was the book I read that inspired me to set up a business.
I also read anything related to entrepreneurship, property investing, financial investing, then books and articles about how the likes of Google, Amazon, Warren Buffett achieved their success are a great read.
Do you have any role models in the industry, either individuals or companies?
Obviously Sthree was where I came from. Specifically CF Manchester 2003 and there were a number of great role models.
Matthew Fleet-Jones, Tim Wearing, Sean Curran all played a key role in my development but if I had to mention someone it would be Andy Almond. We’re still great friends today and I `owe him a lot for the time that he put into developing me. He took me under his wing and I’m sure I must have driven him mad!
Companies that have inspired me, those now outside of Sthree, if you think of the people who have left there are some phenomenal businesses that have come from Sthree and a lot of credit to them for creating so many entrepreneurs who have gone on to do great things.
Sthree is that company where a lot of that happens, more so than any other, and it breeds those types of people.
What are your biggest weaknesses and how do you overcome them?
At Venturi myself and Jim have really complemented each other well. It’s important to be a good all-rounder but I would rather strive to be really good in a few key areas rather than average at most.
A weakness for me would be that I’ve often seen the good in things when I should have been sceptical. Very much a pint half full mentality, but in some situations maybe I’ve been too trusting and sticking with things that can sometimes make you feel vindicated.
What’s the best advice you’ve received?
“You have 2 ears and one mouth, use it in that proportion.”
“Minimise risk, maximise opportunities.”
“What more, what else?” Always thinking what else can you do to have the edge – would a reference attached to the CV give that competitive advantage? Would that extra interview make the difference between making the placement or not?
What advice would you give to anyone looking to start a recruitment company?
It’s not easy. You need to work really hard, day in day out. Particularly at the start, have a dogged determination. What’s really important is don’t be a control freak, empower people and give them the space to succeed.
Reinvest, keep looking forward and continually try and improve and set good standards and stick to them. Have fun and enjoy the journey. We work in a great, positive industry with enterprising and inspirational people, make the most of the experience.
And finally then Brad, what’s next for you and Venturi?
More of the same to be honest, keeping looking forward and keep progressing. There’s a big job ahead. Global domination? Never say never – each year we look and see we’re growing in existing territories and into new ones.
Our focus now is to capitalise on the German and US opportunity while expanding in the UK as well. Across those three locations there’s a huge opportunity for the taking. If we focus and execute that plan, you can build a 500 person business in just those 3 territories, but I’d never rule out having a global footprint.
Our view is to stay grounded but think big.
Thanks Brad, really appreciate you taking the time to explain how Venturi have achieved such rapid growth and provide insight into what’s next for the business.
To find out more about Venturi click here.