Why did you go into recruitment?
I actually started in sales selling digital space. It was intense, you weren’t allowed to have a chair, it was quite funny really and a great learning curve. It gave me the ability to be tenacious and build relationships with people. I fell into recruitment when a job came up locally that I enjoyed. I love being the middle man, negotiating and acting as an ambassador.
You worked in the Swiss banking sector – how did they recruit?
I went there in 2011 and quickly realised their recruitment process was incredibly slow and uninspiring. It would take three to six months to get someone in at director level or above and the clients just accepted this as ‘this is how long it takes’.
What made you want to start your own business?
I was 24 and working with senior vice presidents of banks and companies in Zurich and Geneva who were on £200K. I went into a specialist vertical market covering procurement, finance and supply chain and within 10 days my MD was let go. I spent six months in a 3m by 4m office in flip-flops, just ringing around to build a network. I realised this could be special but I needed support, infrastructure and funding, so I pitched to James Caan and in April 2015 Walter James was launched.
What have you learned?
In the first year it was about building the brand, keeping the sales as strong as possible and creating a team. Now there are nine heads. In year two it has been about developing accounts. My strengths are sales and business development, building relationships and I’m a good leader. The biggest thing I’ve learned is not to do everything yourself, take a step back and find someone better to do it.
Why has your business worked?
We concentrate on recruiting in the retail, pharmaceutical, consumer goods sector. We have made placements in 35 countries with some of the biggest consumer and pharmaceutical brands.
The average salary is £100K, the largest £500K. Even though the team are all under 30 we are knowledgeable about the network and sector and this is by far the most powerful sales tool.
A lot of international clients view UK recruitment as pushy and maverick and we broke into that market by showing we were knowledgeable and pragmatic about executive search.
It seems to have worked.
What has been the hardest part of running your own business?
It has been stressful going from being a billing consultant to concentrating on everything to do with a business. It’s a huge job and you have to manage your time well. I’ve worked on being organised and making sure I hire the best people. Finding a team who are the right fit with commercial and business acumen and have the dynamism to succeed has been challenging.
What is your best achievement?
Building a lean and profitable business. Many new businesses can be bumpy but we’ve been making a profit since April 2015 and it’s quite rare to cover costs so early. In 18 months we’ve broken £1.5 million in revenue and grown our profit 200%. The access and relationships we’ve built so quickly is phenomenal.
What has been your biggest lesson?
The value of other people’s opinions. When I was younger my way was the only way. If you let people have their say, they will work in ways that suit them and you.
Best piece of advice you’ve had?
To have a team who can do what you can’t. Don’t try to learn something that you are never going to be able to do, you will waste time and money. You need to trust and give autonomy to others.
Advice to someone else thinking of starting their own business?
Know your competitors and who are the best and worst in the market. Be the most knowledgeable too – if you have the knowledge base other people don’t, clients will always remember you for it – and that way you build your reputation.
'VALUE THE OPINION OF OTHERS – THAT IS THE WAY TO LEARN AND GET PEOPLE TO WORK FOR YOU'