White Out

An unconventional path has led to success for White Recruitment

The success of White Recruitment – or WR as it’s known by clients and candidates – is undeniable. Launched in 2007, the Portsmouth -based consultancy services clients across the whole of the UK, offering permanent recruitment services to the healthcare, engineering, logistics and heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration (HVACR) markets. Boasting hundreds of clients, a multi-million pound turnover, and a headcount of over 40, it is evident the business is thriving. However, the journey it has taken to reach this point has not been a linear one.

Co-founders and company directors, Jamie Wilson and Lewis Richards, originally met when the former was a manager at another local agency. Wilson hired Lewis in 2006 and the pair soon realised they were aligned in their shared drive and vision. Within the year, ambitious plans were put in place to set up shop on their own. Today, the firm has four distinct divisions: WR Health; WR Logistics; WR Engineering; and WR HVACR. Each delivers a range of recruitment services including contingent and exclusive as well as a brand new retained model, WR Search, which offers cutting-edge insight and analysis as well as comprehensive on-boarding support for clients. In the early days, though, it was a very different story.

White Recruitment officially opened its doors in September 2007, but, from the off, there were challenges. As Lewis Richards explains: “We ended up launching the same month that customers queued outside Northern Rock branches – it was the first run on a British bank in 150 years. What was looking like a glorious time to establish a business, suddenly became a bit more daunting.”

Despite the inception of WR coinciding with the beginning of the credit crunch, during the first year the business flourished. As Jamie Wilson remembers, “We were agile, picked up some great candidates, and worked with them in sectors such as sales and engineering.” Since then, the company’s ongoing success can be attributed to its ability to experiment and evolve – and the launch of WR Search is the latest in a long line of initiatives designed to capitalise on shifts in market demands and client expectations.

In 2008, during the height of the last recession, the co-founders made the strategic decision to diversify to mitigate against external economic risk, through moving into health and social care recruitment. The move paid off. During the following 12 months, revenue doubled – and between 2009 and 2010 headcount increased by 100 per cent. By 2014, 11 disparate teams were working under the White Recruitment banner, employing around 70 people and servicing sectors as diverse as veterinary care and building services. However, that was about to change.

Culture shock

Three years ago White Recruitment invested in buying a large open plan space outside of Portsmouth city centre. Teams which had previously worked in silo where thrown together and, as Wilson admits: “the culture shock was evident.” The office move highlighted not only the sheer breadth of markets they were touching on, but also inconsistencies in operations between practices. This, Wilson says, was the catalyst to take a fresh look at the long-term future and direction of the company. It wasn’t long before the co-founders made the bold decision to revaluate the entire business structure – and rebuild the company from the bottom up, with a crystal clear vision and strategy. In doing so, they effectively reduced the number of divisions from 11 to four, almost halving headcount in the process.

Aside from streamlining operations, the directors also used this opportunity to build a rock solid back office infrastructure, strengthening its HR, marketing and finance departments and investing in a new CRM and website. Today, as a result, business has never been better. At present, engineering accounts for around 45 per cent of the firm’s turnover, while healthcare placements are responsible for about 25 per cent. The remaining income is split equally between HVACR and logistics.

While the company has witnessed many changes over the past 12 years, its ongoing success can be firmly attributed to the consistency of service it provides both candidates and clients – along with its ‘fresh slate’ approach to building a recruitment business.

WR Search is the latest affirmation of the company’s commitment to innovation and is designed to enable clients to save time and money while boosting retention. The platform essentially provides a four dimensional recruitment experience, through combining elements such as video and psychometric assessments with traditional CV content. As Wilson explains, “Clients often complained that, in the past, they have interviewed someone based on their CV, only to be disappointed by the candidate in person. It’s a fact that people are hired for their skills – but fired for their attitude – and WR search addresses that by mitigating against mis-hires”. In fact, staff retention rates for candidates sourced through the platform average 96 per cent which is well above the norm. Today, WR Search is all part of the service.

As Richards explains: “The growth of White Recruitment since its birth is a testament to the service we provide both our candidates and clients. We feel that really listening to our customers gives us a competitive edge when making the recruitment process as smooth and efficient as possible.”

Making it up

While other firms may follow a well-trodden path when it comes to putting together plans to launch a new recruitment company, WR’s co-founders are proud to admit that they made it up as they went along. Richards highlights how, “five years ago, we were already thriving, but we had no accountancy or HR experience in house.” He goes on to explain how agencies they were competing against were typically founded by “recruiters who came out of the largest firms, who have a blinkered, standardised, idea of what ‘good’ looks like,” but notes that “when you listen to how some other firms treat candidates, it’s shocking.” White Recruitment prides itself on its commitment to superior customer service. As Richards explains: “processes have been put in place which ensure quality. For example, all clients and applicants are updated at least twice a week.”

As every recruiter knows, any company is only as good as its people – and in order to continue to flourish, WR’s directors know they must have the right talent on board. White Recruitment’s employees – or ‘Whiteonians’ as they refer to themselves internally – are expected to meet four criteria: show grit; act fearless, work together; and be smart. This isn’t a gimmick, as Wilson explains: “The leadership team are committed to employing and rewarding individuals based on these values.”

In order to ensure that all team members meet WR’s standards and fit the business culturally, White Recruitment always trains new starters from scratch. It also has a policy to only promote from within. In order to climb the career ladder, individuals must not only exceed sales targets, but also meet the company values and ‘work in a Whiteonian way’. In new recruits, as Wilson explains, the brand seeks “great communicators who are entrepreneurial, determined and driven by doing a good job.” Previous recruitment experience is not required, but they are always looking to identify “individuals with a track record of success – whether that be through a history of rapid promotions within their previous company, or based on the fact that they have a Duke of Edinburgh award or are a sports team captain.”

Looking forward, WR is projected to increase headcount to 100 over the next three years, through a sustainable talent management strategy in order to truly dominate sectors it specialises in.

“In the past, we have been guilty of being too generalist,” says Richards. “Now is the time to crunch down and cement our position as true specialists in our chosen fields. We are focusing on generating revenues and increasing sales – and developing our people to be the best they can be through investing in training.”

Wilson adds: “We’re an agency on a mission to help candidates grow and businesses evolve. When people are happy at work – they succeed – and so do the companies that employ them.” It seems that is an ethos the directors are applying to their own business, as well as the companies which they serve.

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