To celebrate KDR’s 10th birthday, we interviewed Managing Director Mark Dexter about how the industry has changed since he founded the company in 2003. His answers are honest, heartfelt and insightful…
- Technology has been transformational
In 10 years, Mark’s approach to recruiting hasn’t changed but the use of technology has transformed the business.
Back in 2003, his technology stretched as far as an A4 pad with a list of names, telephone numbers and key skills written on it, plus a fax, mobile phone and laptop (remember them?!) As a start-up business founder, Mark juggled many roles including IT support (learning a lot about the intricacies of POP3 and IMAP when setting up his email) and marketing (designing the company’s first logo and website.) He could work from anywhere and his first office was the spare room. Interviews took place in coffee shops and hotel foyers (and in fact, still do when he is not in Knutsford despite the smart new office with meeting room.) Candidates used to email CVs to him and he’d simply store them in folders on his laptop and search for them on there.
Of course, this way of working was not sustainable so as soon as employee number one joined KDR, record keeping had to move online where it has stayed ever since.
- No-one had heard of master data management 7 years ago
A big change in the last ten years has been that KDR’s niche has now opened up to be a major part of the world of not just Information Technology but business in general. The management of data and Business Intelligence has now become the largest part of the various responsibilities of the IT department. Seven years ago, no-one had heard of master data management and even data governance was relatively unknown until 3 years ago. Now the hot topic is big data. All change driven by business needs but underpinned by technology.
Why has data become mainstream? Businesses have realised that data is actually an asset and not a liability. Customer data is no longer something that simply needs storing away safely somewhere. Companies like Tesco and Dunnhumby blazed a trail in the early 2000s for placing customer insight at the heart of business strategy and now everyone has replicated that model. Data Analysts are now asked to create initiatives that deliver revenue, linking them more closely to the sales and marketing functions. The result of this boom in the Information Management industry is that it has opened up a wealth of potential client sites where candidates can find relevant roles. Whereas ten years ago there was a limited pool of companies to place a quality data architect with, these days, they can pick and choose the companies that might best suit their personality and career goals.
Another of KDR’s clients spent $100m implementing a global data warehouse. Analysis of some of the data presented by this warehouse identified $10m in savings in one country in its first month of operation, quickly justifying the spend and making it easy for the project team to ‘sell’ the system to other countries and business units.
- LinkedIn has been the game changer
LinkedIn has been a real game changer for the whole recruitment industry and has offered both opportunities and challenges. The biggest difficulty presented by LinkedIn is the fact that your intellectual property is made public property, and therefore open to anyone with a LinkedIn account. Candidates who you used to represent exclusively can now be found easily by clients and other recruiters meaning that those with highly sought after skills may have a choice of roles and you have to work harder as a recruiter to keep their loyalty. Talking to, working with and understanding people hasn’t changed, but you’ve got to get it right or else someone else can turn their head.
The upside of the openness of social media is the ability to find candidates with very specific skills who you previously couldn’t reach via traditional advertising. Indeed, many might not even be looking for a new job but are often receptive to an approach via LinkedIn. This has undoubtedly helped to service client needs more quickly and effectively.
- Information Management professionals aren’t seen as geeks anymore
In 10 years, the skills needed by Information Management professionals have changed. There has been a narrowing of the gap between commercial leadership and IT as more and more businesses have moved IT out of its silo and integrated it into business decision making. People who understand data now also need to understand its practical applications for the business and how it impacts customers. Mark has found some of the best data people now come from commercial backgrounds such as accountancy or marketing which gives them that necessary wider perspective.
- Candidates will no longer put up with poor recruitment processes
On the permanent role side, clients and therefore recruiters, now have to work harder to attract the best talent. Employer brands existed 10 years ago but their importance has increased in the last decade as brands like Google, Rackspace and SAS have raised the bar. As the age of deference has petered out, candidates won’t put up with a poor recruitment experience. If they get messed around, they simply turn down the opportunity to go for the interview or the final job offer. Mark has also observed some employer brands getting it wrong – becoming so narrow in their culture and focus, that they put a diverse selection of good candidates off.
- Clients demand more from contractors
On the contract side, Mark has seen increasing pressure from hiring managers to find the perfect candidate when such a person may not exist. The nature of contracting usually means that an urgent task needs to be completed and Mark has seen great candidates with the right skills turned down because of a lack of sector specific experience. The client may then have waited months to find someone who ticks all their boxes but at what price to the delivery of the project? In Mark’s experience, people can demonstrate their ability to learn new industries easily and is surprised that some clients don’t see this too. Finding the right skills remains essential but more flexibility on the job description would help a lot of clients. Perhaps with so much internal pressure to deliver return on investment and so much greater accountability, some hiring managers are having a crisis of confidence?
- Investment in your own brand has become business critical
The value of the recruitment industry reached its peak in 2007/08 when it was worth £27billion in the UK. After the lean times of the recession, the industry should finally surpass that peak by the end of 2013. Over 600,000 people found a new permanent job through a recruitment consultant in the last year and there are estimated to be 1.1 million temporary workers on assignment at the moment. (Source: REC.) So future growth forecasts look positive and Mark believes that clients still value the contribution of recruitment agencies.
However, it’s harder to be recognised as a specialist when more and more competitors claim the same thing. Investment in brand and marketing has become business critical rather than a nice-to-have. Mark puts KDR’s success down to developing a great presence with his candidate base through contributing to industry groups, attending industry conferences, aggregating industry news and keeping our clients and candidates up to date with regular newsletters.
- Legislation has had minimal impact
Has legislation changed the recruitment industry? No not really, or at least not at the level at which KDR operates. Some of the wider reaching legislation is aimed at gang masters and low level temp agencies where their temps urgently needed more protection; initiatives like the Agency Workers Regulations or the Working Time Directive may have raised moans but have helped low paid workers get a fairer deal. At the more professional level of the recruitment industry, companies just adapt to meet new legal requirements but nothing has been too onerous.
- Homegrown talent is the best
We asked Mark what he’s learned over the last ten years. Reassuringly, there is one thing that technology will never replace and that is using your instincts to assess what will make different people tick. He also had sage advice for other fast growing businesses - always make sure your finance is sound. Without the expert accounting assistance of his then future wife Kara, Mark doubts that KDR would have made it into year two! When the recession of 2008/2009 really bit, KDR was financially sound enough to weather the storm without making any redundancies despite a 50% collapse in turnover. Mark recommends having a long term plan but also to keep an eye out for an opportunity. In his case, he hired two people because he knew they were good rather than having a specific role for them and they have both stayed with the company for years, been promoted and now form the backbone of KDR. Mark has also learnt that homegrown talent is the best – take on bright, young people, mentor them and they tend to perform better than senior people.
- Yes, I’d do it all again
For a business celebrating its tenth birthday, the killer question has to be whether Mark would do it all again if he had his time over. The answer is a resounding yes. The buzz of finding a great role for a great candidate and hearing about the impact his work has had for a client is addictive. Mark is a huge believer in the power of data to help businesses grow, and for KDR to play its role in the sourcing of the right talent to manage that data, whilst maintaining the integrity and ethics that have been core to KDR since the beginning, is a source of great pride.