The cut and thrust of business vs university? Business life won
Andrew Lynch is the recruitment sector's fastest rising star. The affable and sharp-suited chief executive launched his Dublin-based recruitment business Mason Alexander just under three years ago, at the tender age of 26.
Now his company, backed by rugby star Rob Kearney, has a turnover of €1.5m a year. It helps clients from stockbroking firms to hedge funds find the best talent across Ireland and the UK. Recruitment is always one of the first sectors to feel the impact of any economic recovery and Mason Alexander is capitalising on Ireland's.
It's been a circuitous road for English-born Lynch, who moved to Ireland with his family in his early teens.
Unusually for a young person working in a professional role, he does not have a university education.
He graduated from Kildare secondary school Clongowes, the Jesuit boys' boarding school, in 2004. While most of his classmates went off to college, Lynch decided he could think of nothing worse.
"I knew from very early on that I wanted to be out in the working world as soon as possible," he explains.
He retains close ties with his alma mater though, and was recently elected as the youngest ever president of its student union. Former presidents include John Bruton and Michael Smurfit.
Lynch's first job was at a commodities exchange business, where he got a taste for sales. These skills were bedded down at Cornmarket, his next move, where he sold financial products to the public sector.
Then, a position opened up at Brightwater Recruitment, where he spent two formative years. Brightwater is one of the country's biggest specialist professional recruitment consultancies.
Lynch loved recruitment and Brightwater, but soon began hitting roadblocks, aspects of the business model that clashed with his sociable nature or he found ineffective.
The Irish recruitment industry, he found, had become wholly focused on technology. "There was, and is, a huge emphasis on using LinkedIn and social media to source candidates and post jobs. At a lot of recruitment companies, if you leave your desk to meet a contact, you aren't be doing your job."
This misses the point for clients in financial and professional services firms, he realised.
"For accounting and law firms, banks, stockbrokers, private equity and hedge funds, it's about so much more than a candidate's CV. These companies receive thousands of CVs every week. What they need is a recruiter who knows exactly what they are looking for, who they trust, who will only put a person in front of them if they already know that person is the right one.
"Clients also need a recruiter who will sell the company on their behalf. I'm certain that recruitment is the one sector where technology cannot replace personal touch."
"I also just enjoy that approach more - I like being out and about, meeting people, building relationships".
The hierarchical nature of the industry also troubled him. "I have always been full of ideas but couldn't find an employer that wanted to hear them!" he says.
So he decided to go it alone.
"People thought I was nuts," he recalls. "Two years into recruitment and I wanted to launch my own business. But I was certain I could make it work."
He rented a cramped office on Baggot Street and got to work with just a laptop and a phone to his name, starting out by targeting accounting firms. He recalls early meetings where he found himself pretending his own office was busy because he didn't want clients to see how small it was.
Rugby star Rob Kearney, who Lynch met at Clongowes, and private equity specialist Pierce Casey, were early investors. Both took a 20pc stake and sit on the company's board of directors. Kearney holds two other non-executive directorships as well as the position of chairman of IRUPA, which looks after the welfare of Ireland's professional rugby players.
Casey has a record of co-founding, chairing and disposing of recruitment companies, including Walker Hamill and Imprint. He also chairs UK headhunter Norman Broadbent.
Three years on, he has delivered what he set out to create: a specialist executive search business that is wholly driven by its networks. Mason Alexander does not advertise on recruitment websites or social media.
The company now has eight employees and expects to have 12 by the end of the year. It has moved from its first home on Baggot Street to a bigger office on Dublin's Georgian gem, Fitzwilliam Square. He has ambitions to open a UK office.
All of the company's staff are in their 20s, some hired straight out of college.
"I'm not looking for years of recruitment experience when I hire people. I'm looking for drive and the ability to learn. We can provide the training".
Recruits are encouraged to spend months getting to know their market in great depth , making contacts and meeting potential clients, before worrying about making their first hire.
The business model is highly entrepreneurial, he says. Staff are encouraged to try out their ideas and manage their day themselves. "We offer our staff the ability to be heard. There's no hierarchy to the business - everyone is encouraged to put their ideas out there.
"I am really proud of hiring some really great young professionals and seeing them grow in to fantastic recruitment consultants and work in a very entrepreneurial way.
"This has created a really charged, hard-working environment with our staff focused on delivering for their ever-growing client base. We also have a lot of fun as well."
Sunday Indo Business