Acquiring in tough times

In 2000 Richard Boggis-Rolfe, former managing director of recruitment giant BNB Resources, acquired two businesses to form headhunters Odgers Ray & Berndtson. He has since grown revenues from £3 million to £30 million.

Richard Boggis-Rolfe was group managing director of recruitment giant BNB Resources. In 2000, he acquired two businesses to form headhunters Odgers Ray & Berndtson. At a stagnant time in the recruitment industry, Boggis-Rolfe has grown revenues from £3 million to £30 million.

Work within your capabilities

I left BNB Resources after 14 years, where I rose to group managing director and established several new divisions. I decided I wanted to have my own small business in recruitment. Being in my forties I did not want to create a start-up – I had been more a manager than a headhunter, so my client list would have been lacking.

I decided to buy an established business. I was lucky that Ian Odgers, who founded Odgers International, had always intended to retire and sell on the business at 60. Unaware of this, I approached him when he was 59 and a half and bought the business, financed by an earn-out, venture capital and a little of my own money.

Be realistic with your ambitions

When I bought Odgers, it was a small but well respected organisation. But my timing was not fantastic, as the recruitment business was retrenching rapidly. We had our fair share of short-term setbacks but we grew turnover from £3 million to £30 million. There’s no secret to the success, I am simply a firm believer in a phrase coined by Winston Churchill; to ‘Keep buggering on’. It’s easy to become unstuck by overambition without working hard enough or getting too fanciful without delivering the goods.

Look for trends that you can exploit

When the Labour Government was elected, I realised that more money was going to be spent in the public sector. Odgers at the time did not cover that area and a lot of other headhunters shunned it as they thought the fees would be too low. We set up a public sector division and now it accounts for 20-25 per cent of our business.

Our competitors in the public domain tend to specialise only in that area, whereas we have experience in both arenas and so have attracted new business, such as BBC appointments and the chief executive of Oxfam.

Build values unique to your business

In the recruitment world, what really differentiates a company is its values and culture – there are no unique clients and we’re all fishing in the same pond.

In our line of work, we pick people for key positions and while this affects the client, equally it could have a life-changing impact on the candidate. So maintaining a long-term relationship with both clients and candidates is key – this has become a trademark of our business. We don’t have a mercenary culture of grabbing the fee and moving on; in the end you would not get repeat business. We might not get paid by the candidate but we’re mindful of our moral responsibilities.

Trust in your staff

We’re very lucky that our staff, whatever position they are in, believe in what we are doing. This is critical. If our people know that what they do matters, they are more likely to ask for advice and work well as a team.

Over the years, I’ve realised that a team always works better than individuals. This encourages a better work environment and ultimately better success as a business. I also think that you must trust in your staff or they won’t trust in you. That’s why we’re very open with our staff about finances, clients and all that goes on in the company.

Marc Barber

Marc Barber

Marc was editor of GrowthBusiness from 2006 to 2010. He specialised in writing about entrepreneurs, private equity and venture capital, mid-market M&A, small caps and high-growth businesses.

Related Topics

Buying a company