This week I’m delighted to host my friend Helen Reynolds who is well known for her work as Chief Exec of the recruitment trade body, the REC. Helens tells a very exciting story, starting up one of the UK’s fastest growing recruitment companies HB RIDA. Keith
I often find that these types of stories begin like a Dickensian tale with “I came from humble beginnings” and I guess my story would begin somewhat the same. My father was a builder who ran his own very small, regional firm. My mother was a Director of a microfilm bureau and I was a traditional latchkey kid. I have always admired my mother. She managed to not only run a successful business but also managed to be a fantastic mother.
I was brought up to believe that our family name motto was: “To want to is to be able to.” It was only later in life that my sister and I found out that our parents had totally made this up (the family name motto is actually “Industry Enriches”) but perhaps that will give you an indication of how my parents wanted us to view life. In other words, if you really want it you can make it happen, but don’t expect it to be handed to you on a plate!
I was not really an academic at school, I did what I needed to get by and pass my school exams. Whilst I did progress into Higher Education, my impatience to work won through and after a year of studying Business and Finance, I decided that my time would be better spent working and studying at night school. I left home at 18 and decided to jump in at the deep end and get a mortgage. It’s unbelievable now to think that I could buy a freehold flat for £25k! I continued my studies and gained a real passion for business and how businesses were structured. I became particularly interested in understanding the things that really enable growth as well as sales & marketing. Surprisingly, given the fact that I wasn’t particularly academically focused, I became really interested in business law.
My first job was as a Court Clerk at the local Magistrates Court and I think this is where I really learned about people. As you can imagine, I came across all walks of life, (some of whom you would never wish to meet again) and others who had ended up in circumstances beyond their control. I drifted from job to job until I fell into recruitment. In those days no-one set out to work in recruitment, it just happened. I quickly came to love the industry and found a natural flair for sales, relationships and making money. In fact I recruited for Keith Potts at Jobsite when it was itself in its embryonic stage, based in a tiny office in Chichester.
I moved quickly through the industry and its sectors before ending up as a Director. I was a turnaround expert, taking poor billing desks/branches to super billing status. A fluke call one day led me to the door of the industry’s trade association, The Recruitment and Employment Confederation where I ran a subsidiary company mentoring startup businesses. After 6 months I was asked to apply for the Deputy CEO role on the main board. I moved into the role of CEO 4 months later due to the very unfortunate and sad illness of the late Marcia Roberts where I learned a huge amount about the overall UK recruitment market. Like most recruiters my exposure had been very regionally-centric up until that point. I regained my passion for law in understanding and studying the complexity of the ever evolving legislation surrounding the industry and also the potential detrimental effects of forthcoming legislation on the commercial stability of the recruitment sector. During this period of time I also managed to fit in giving birth to my first son, Luca.
It was at this time that I met my business partner James Caan. I’ve never been the type of person who has been content working for someone else as an employee. I see myself as a fixer and once I have fixed an issue I crave the next challenge; direct employment does not always present those opportunities. Looking back on my career I may have dealt with some situations differently, learned not to scratch that itch to move on when the job was done, and perhaps channel my enthusiasm into new areas.
But would I actually change anything? No I wouldn’t, it’s who I am and how I got to where I am today.
So one fateful November evening I found myself at a dinner at which James was a keynote speaker. We talked and debated the good, bad and the ugly of the recruitment world. While I thoroughly enjoyed my dealings with fledgling recruitment businesses, I felt that established agencies also needed huge support to be able to create true value. James asked me the direct question “so how would you fix it?” I went back to my hotel that night and drafted the business concept, what the business aims would be and how the business might be positioned. My time at the REC had made me realise how SME driven the industry is and how very few go on to make significant returns.
As I have said, I’ve never had a desire to be an employee for the rest of my life and I felt that fate was staring me in the face, daring me to take the leap. I had just moved house, doubled my mortgage and had a very young son yet here I was writing my resignation letter with no safety net. What I should also say is that James and I were going to be partners in the true sense of the word, a straight 50/50 split. I remember friends saying are you mad, you are going 50/50 with a multi millionaire, have you won the lottery and not told us?”
The truth was I hadn’t won the lottery and I hadn’t inherited a fortune from a distant relative but I had an absolute belief in what I was doing. I gathered as much cash together as I could, maxed any credit card I could get my hands on and secured as many loans as I could under my own and my husband’s name ( sorry darling ?? perhaps you never realised what those forms were you signed!) To top it all, we were just entering the height of the recession.
Yet some 7 months from that dinner James and I formed HB RIDA. Its purpose quite simply is to support, develop and where required, invest into SME recruitment businesses.
Our first year was a great success investing in 5 agencies and now as we come to the end of our second year, there are nearly 15 businesses in the mix. Never being one to do things by halves, I’ve also had another son Senna, who is just coming up to 6 months old. I am known for running my life by my diary and having children is no different. Babies for me have to turn up on their due date! At 6.30pm on 19th August 2010 I was in a business meeting, at 9.30pm I was having a baby and at 6am on the 20th I was on a conference call to Australia negotiating a shareholder’s agreement. Having said all that I adore my family and would do anything for them and I am always there for the important stages in their lives.
I really do admire stay at home parents, I just choose not to be one of them. It’s been a very conscious choice for me to be a working mother and it’s hugely important to my identity. I am blessed to have a husband who has chosen to be the stay at home parent and without his support I could not do what I do. It still amazes me today to see some of the negative and disapproving reactions to this, but it works for us. I would encourage people to break with the tradition of women giving up their careers to raise children. We do not have enough women at the top in business and it’s about time we were able to break the mould. Hopefully I am assisting in leading the way there.
As I sit here this evening writing this blog, my children and indeed husband are tucked up in bed and the house is quiet and I am extremely proud of the risks I’ve chosen to take. Approaching our third year, HB RIDA is now worth some £31m. People are always interested in how you’ve become successful in business. As a superstitious person I could say I was in the right place at the right time or that the gap in my teeth really is lucky (I once considered veneers but I was so scared that my good luck run would end if the gap was no longer there, that I chickened out in the dentist’s chair) but I actually think that my lucky talisman is me and yours is you. My parents made up motto of “to want to is to be able to” is poignantly relevant. Passion, desire and determination makes people successful. It’s not where you come from or how clever you are; it’s the all-encompassing belief in yourself and if you have that anything is possible. My final words are ladies; you really can have it all. Hopefully I am proof of that.