Wednesday 17 January 2018

'Positive' culture is driving force behind recruitment firm's success

Being able to deliver the goods is the secret that has made Sigmar Recruitment the market leader

THE PROCESS: From left, Adie McGennis, Frank Farrelly, Sean Gallagher and Robert Mac Giolla Phadraig at Sigmar Recruitment. Photo: Gerry Mooney
THE PROCESS: From left, Adie McGennis, Frank Farrelly, Sean Gallagher and Robert Mac Giolla Phadraig at Sigmar Recruitment. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Sean Gallagher

Sean Gallagher

"Our employees are our greatest asset" - so goes the mantra of many experienced business owners and organisational heads. Organisations everywhere, whether large or small have come to realise that their current and future success is heavily dependent on their ability to recruit and retain the right staff. But finding and keeping talented and committed staff is no easy job.

Among an endless list of factors, the changing nature of work, competition from increased globalisation and the pace of technological advancement all conspire to make the objective of finding the right staff ever more challenging for many companies. No wonder most organisations now turn to professional recruitment firms to do the job for them.

This week, I met with the founders of one of Ireland's most successful recruitment companies, Sigmar Recruitment, at their company's head office in Hume Street in Dublin's city centre.

Adrian McGennis is chief executive officer and together with Frank Farrelly (chief operations officer) and Robert Mac Giolla Phadraig (chief commercial officer) they have grown Sigmar Recruitment to an annual turnover of €26m and currently employ over 120 staff.

Their story demonstrates just how powerful a company's culture can be in overcoming adversity in business and volatility in the marketplace.

In recognition of their achievement in what is a hugely competition sector, they have been awarded 'Best Large Recruitment Agency in Ireland' by the National Recruitment Federation for the last two years.

"Sigmar really has two markets, employers and candidates," explains Adrian. "On the candidate side, we are constantly advertising across all forms of media in order to identify and attract a consistent pool of talent. It's a space that has changed dramatically in recent years too with the arrival of social media, job boards and platforms such as LinkedIn," he adds.

Yet the company also continues to source many of their candidates through traditional methods such as job fares or through existing personal relationships and contacts.

In fact, an impressive 37pc of all new candidate introductions to the company come by way of referrals from satisfied candidates.

"On the employers' side, we provide permanent, temporary and contract staff to a wide variety of organisations. Seventy per cent of our business comes from new and existing multinationals, a further 20pc from large indigenous Irish companies and the remaining 10pc from Irish SME-type clients," explains Adrian.

Active across many sectors, the company specialises particularly in the area of ICT, professional and financial services as well as life sciences, engineering, office and sales and marketing. In addition, they now work with a growing number of foreign direct investment firms setting up operations in Ireland for the very first time.

"This is an important and developing market for us and for Ireland," insists Adrian enthusiastically.

So much so that, next week, he heads off to Chicago and Atlanta in the US as part of an initiative called Gateway To Europe. Co-founded by Adrian in 2012, this is a not-for-profit collective of Irish business leaders who travel regularly to the US to showcase Ireland as a premier investment location.

Working in conjunction with IDA Ireland, the group is made up of representatives from a variety of sectors from legal, accounting and recruitment to banking, telecoms and property services.

"Our approach is to proactively identify and engage with US companies interested in expanding into Europe and to position Ireland as a preferred location for such expansion," explains Adrian.

"Part of what we focus on is to build trust-based relationships with these firms so they are aware that there are a wide range of essential professional services available to them should they decide to come here," he adds.

Being innovative and proactive have definitely been important elements of the success of Sigmar to date.

Adrian grew up in Templeogue in Dublin and studied engineering in UCD. However, his first job wasn't in recruitment but in managing betting offices throughout the UK.

"While it was a different industry, recruitment was still a key aspect of what we did so it gave me a great insight into the sector, especially from an employer's perspective," explains Adrian.

Due to get married and keen to return to Ireland, he was offered a job with a recruitment company in Dublin in 1990. He immediately loved the sector and found that he had a talent for the business. Three years later he became one of the founders of a new recruitment company, Marlborough.

It was here too, that he met Robert MacGiollaPhadraig and Frank Farrelly, both of whom would later join him in his next venture - Sigmar Recruitment.

At the time though, things were going great in Marlborough. So much so that, in 1997, the company became the first service-based business in Ireland to float on the stock exchange. Adrian continued in his role as MD of the Irish arm of the business until 2001 when he left to pursue other interests. A year later he set up Sigmar Recruitment.

"With 30 staff on day one, Sigmar became the largest start-up in Irish recruitment industry history," explains Adrian proudly. "Having experienced staff also allowed us to grow rapidly. From the get-go we focused on empowering the team to be entrepreneurial in their roles and we worked continuously to build a company culture that was centred on innovation, ambition, productivity and reward through excellence," he adds.

It was an approach that paid off, when in 2005 a large services company called the Newcourt Group acquired a majority stake in Sigmar Recruitment. Later the same year, the Newcourt Group did an IPO or Initial Public Offering that saw them move from being privately owned to being publicly quoted.

However, their subsequent diversification into the property market saw them eventually get into difficulty and, in 2009, a receiver was appointed to the group.

"To compound this, the market was imploding at the same time with a drop of up to 70pc in annual revenues," explains Adrian. "It was a tough few years," he admits heavily.

Even against such a backdrop but in an effort to keep the recruitment business going, Adrian took the courageous step of leading a management buyout of the company.

Often, the true test of an entrepreneur comes not in the good times, but in times of adversity.

"We were certainly tested at that time," admits Adrian. "Capital was hard to come by and so most of the investment for the buy-out came from staff. And this was on top of having already taken pay cuts. In addition, we also had to take in some investment from outside the business from people we knew.

"It was a brave move for everyone considering that, at the time, the world looked like it was falling in. But thankfully their faith in us paid off with a good return for them," he adds.

While only about 30pc of the size of their original market still existed due to the downturn in the economy at the time, Adrian and his colleagues got to work on bringing in whatever business they could. Gradually things began to pick up. And with many people now having skin in the game, they were even more motivated and driven than ever before.

"The team were really inspiring in how they dug deep, stayed cool and maintained a positive attitude in what was probably the toughest market conditions the industry has seen in 30 years. But the upside to all this was that it laid the foundation for a period of really strong growth that would follow," adds Adrian.

Today, maintaining a positive culture in the company remains one of his key objectives where everyone is encouraged and supported in working to a personal professional development plan. Being socially aware too has become a central theme for the company with initiatives such as National Employment Week, Mental Health Day and partnering with a variety of charities. It's the company's way of giving back.

With the groundwork now done, Adrian is anticipating continued growth and expects to double turnover over the next three years. Part of this will see the company open more regional offices both at home and abroad.

"Key to all of this," explains Adrian, "is having highly effective processes, strong technologies and above all else, an excellent team, to delivery on both services and results."

Adrian McGennis has a long and distinguished track record in recruitment. He has started companies and been through two IPOs. He understands the sector and the needs of candidates and client firms alike, and has grown a strong Irish business - reaching beyond our shores to Poland and Singapore with more destinations in his sights.

Together, he and his colleagues have known challenge and adversity. It is a company that has learned the lesson that, by helping others succeed, they will too.

They have learned that being reactive is not an option; that they need to be proactive such as heading to the US to promote both Ireland and themselves. But behind all this is a genuine and authentic desire to be of service. If I ever need a job in the future, I'll know who to call.

Sigmar Recruitment, 13 Hume Street, Dublin 2. (01) 4744 600 or

Adrian's advice for other businesses

Culture is as important  as strategy

"Getting your first few hires right is critical. If you are not 100pc happy that the mindset of the first hires is aligned to yours, don't go for them. While it may be difficult to get good staff, having a brilliant business idea is not enough. Your culture really is the foundation that you'll build your company on."

Train and develop your staff

"It's not just about attracting the best staff, you also have to retain them. One of the best ways to achieve this is by ensuring your staff have a plan and opportunities to develop personally and professionally, either through short-term workshops or longer term continuous learning courses."

Have enough cash in place to grow

"Ensure the business is adequately financed and that you have considered all possible eventualities. Projections in service-based businesses, in particular, should be tested and worst case scenarios planned for. The time to be aware of cash flow issues is before they become a problem."

Sunday Indo Business

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