Global recruitment specialist Fusion People, based at Whiteley, is number 71 on the 250 list and growing fast. Group managing director Paul Metcalfe spoke to Sue Hughes
When Metcalfe and the rest of the Fusion People board sat down three years ago to form a strategy to compensate for the economic downturn they were faced with two choices: to acquiesce and react when the market turned, or to invest and grow to emerge from the downturn ahead of the competition. Metcalfe and his team chose the latter and the results of that strategy are starting to be recognised with Recruiter Magazine’s FAST 50 ranking Fusion People as one of the fastest-growing recruitment businesses in the UK. Ranked as the third-fastest growing multi-sector agency and placed 14th across all UK recruitment industries, it is growing despite the downturn.
“We set up a business where everybody had the opportunity to contribute. When we launched in 2004, we offered all employees the chance to be our shareholders and raised £1 million in assisting to set it up. By showing our commitment, we took away that element of being seen as a risk which appealed to the bank. We always planned to reinvest and grow quickly, but after a record month in June 2008, the permanent market disappeared,“ explains Metcalfe. “We had to cut costs and in recruitment that means people. We dropped from 220 to 100 staff and had to weigh up whether to cut office operations or seek outside investment.“
The decision to seek the latter resulted in the £44m turnover of 2008 increasing to the current £101m.
“We’ve realised this growth by growing organically, through acquisition and by incubating and supporting start-up businesses. Fusion has diversified into IT, insurance, blue collar rail training and spread its portfolio from just the original white collar built environment. Continuing with successful acquisitions and partnerships with a number of established recruitment teams and companies, we are looking to expand our contract recruitment portfolio. Acquisitions have been made to place the company in a situation where we can make a profit from this year on, and we’re always on the lookout for more, currently in the oil and gas, legal and accountancy sectors.
“Our next goal is to reach £200m turnover and therefore, with successful organic growth, I am optimistic for the next three to five years, but if I had to cite a chief obstacle to growth in 2013, it would be George Osborne.“
Metcalfe recognises that the right people make a real difference. They are his greatest asset: “We pride ourselves on our own staff retention, which sets us apart in an industry where high staff turnover is more ’the norm’. But the way I’ve always seen it is if we can’t choose the right people for our own business, why should we be any better at finding the right ones for our clients? Thankfully we’re good at both. We’re quite entrepreneurial so people do move on and start their own businesses, however, we have very low turnover for our sector.“
The focus on people and personalities, rather than taking the more usual, numbers-driven, ’fill vacancies’ approach, mixes global reach with local, personal service. More than 250 employees operate across the UK, Europe, Middle East and Australasia.
Having taken market share from others during the downturn of 2008-09, temporary contract recruitment is beginning to move again. Fusion People has an office in Australia and future plans involve looking at overseas expansion in Asia and the Middle East. However, its training and apprenticeship arm, Fusion People Training, is growing talent at home, where there is obvious synergy with its rail business and the benefit of government funding for training. This summer will see its first apprentices complete their training.
The first start-up recruitment business to be backed by Lloyds, Fusion People has an invoice financing deal to allow it flexibility in acquiring new businesses but such are also partly funded by its own profits. Not massively ’money orientated’, Metcalfe says the driver for the board, which is historically well established, is work. Below that level, there is a generous commission structure and staff can earn six-figure sums.
“We compare very well to competitors, taking the market share in built environment and seeing white collar organic growth of 40%,“ he continues.
Agency Workers’ Regulations, pension changes and the administration associated with legislation hold back the business, in as much as Metcalfe remarks ’a salesman could sell in the old days’. New contracts require a massive amount of detailed work before a person starts work.
A keen weekend five-a-side footballer, he values family time but this year is highly focused on growing the business. “I’d like to see us move from the 14th fastest growing across all sectors in Recruiter Magazine’s FAST 50 ranking to the top 10, make a healthy profit and maintain the low staff turnover.“
He feels strongly that the Government must cease the culture of endless cuts: “We don’t have an optimistic psyche in the UK overall, therefore piling on more and more austerity measures wears people down, people who are consumers and can put money into businesses if they have it. Businesses have got to take risks, yet the Government is not.
“Recruitment has always been an exciting sector and taking risks has brought us some great opportunities, which we want to keep growing as different specialist brands. Each of our divisions specialises in its own particular industry, but also draws on the resources and experience of the entire group.“