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Global growth ambitions, but roots stay in Scotland

IN this week's SME Focus a recruitment entrepreneur explains how he has drawn on funding from sources in Scotland to develop a firm that has been making progress in global markets.

Name: Jamie Livingston.

Age: 34.

What is your business called?

Livingston James.

Where is your business based?

We have offices in Glasgow and Edinburgh.

What services does it offer?

Executive search and selection.

Who does it sell to?

We deliver our services to more than half of all listed businesses in Scotland and also work with much smaller owner managed or private equity backed organisations. Beyond Scotland we have done business in Brazil, West Africa, the Middle East, Malaysia and England.

What is its turnover?

Net Fee income in the past twelve months is approaching £1 million.

How many employees?

Thirteen full time, one non-executive and a three-person advisory panel.

When was it formed?

January 2010.

Why did you take the plunge?

I wanted to progress my career with a search practice that had genuine capacity for growth.

I saw two options – pack the family up and move to London, or set up a business that could be headquartered in Scotland and do it myself. With both sets of grandparents in Scotland and a broody wife, there was one decision to be made.

What were you doing before you took the plunge?

I was a director with a multinational recruitment business where, after helping to grow the Scottish business, I had the opportunity to lead a "greenfield" start-up in Ireland.

It was a time of rapid growth and quick decision making – I was asked if I would do the start-up six weeks before I was due to be married. Six weeks after our wedding my wife Chloe and I were in a new country where we knew nobody. At first it was quite a lonely experience, I was focusing on building the business 24/7 and Chloe was trying to find a job and building our home and social network – we hardly saw each other. Chloe might joke that not much has changed, although I think the biggest lesson was how we worked together as a team.

Knowing that I had the support of my family was very important to me. This support was crucial when it came to setting up Livingston James. The time I spent outside the Scottish market gave me my first taste of setting up a business from scratch, and opened my mind to the opportunity that exists when you consider the size of the global market.

How did you raise the start-up funding?

We were funded from our own resources for the first two years. Much of our early cash flow requirement was funded from the revenues we generated. We recently secured loan funding from UK Steel Enterprise and West of Scotland Loan Fund to facilitate accelerated growth.

What was your biggest break?

It was, I think, when Craig Paterson, the man who founded and built the highly successful Scottish recruitment business Melville Craig, connected me to my business partner, Andy Rogerson. We are two quite distinct personalities with different skills, but we operate very effectively together.

What was your worst moment?

There have been many highs and lows since setting up, but one that particularly sticks in my mind happened last summer. To set the scene: on the back of stronger than expected growth last year and a great Q1, in the space of six weeks we had secured additional funding, hired three new people and taken a long-term lease on a property in Glasgow.

It should have been a time of celebration, but with all these additions to our business came a significant amount of extra cost and we were staring down the barrel of our worst month of sales in two years.

I was heading down to France on holiday and had a single deal that was going to solve the issue and add a level of respectability to our top line for the month.

Driving to Portsmouth on the Friday, the deal was on and we were going to salvage the month (and not least credibility with our new funders, colleagues and landlord).

In France, on the Monday morning, I had a single-line text telling me that it was off.

The few hours after that, walking round the zoo with my family, were probably the lowest point so far.

Fortunately, my wife and children have a wonderful ability to cheer me up, and by the end of the holiday I was refreshed and the team back in Scotland had set us up for what ended up being a record Q3 ... but those few hours in the zoo were not much fun.

What do you most enjoy about running the business?

The ability to make decisions quickly and to empower people to be autonomous in the areas that they are best qualified is a refreshing change to what felt like a more bureaucratic and hierarchical structures that I worked in previously. Our market is evolving quickly.

What do you least enjoy?

Detail is a bugbear, though I know it is a vital part of business success. Fortunately our excellent Non-Executive Director Gillian Hastings is great at bringing Andy and I back to the detail when we are in danger of getting lost in "blue sky".

What are your ambitions for the business?

To be running the market- leading global search and selection practice, with its headquarters in Scotland.

What are your top priorities?

To deliver results for our clients; to find and develop talent within our own business/industry; to refine our business model in line with client demand – likely to include the creation of more specialist and fit for purpose teams/brands; to increase our geographic foot print; to keep steering a happy and efficient ship.

What was the most valuable lesson you have learned?

If you look after your people, they will look after you.

What could the Westminster or Scottish government do that would most help?

Never give up on their dialogues with people who run businesses and pay their taxes, as they should, so that they, and their civil servants, develop a better appreciation of how businesses work.

It's vital that the two Governments also should co-operate in making it as uncomplicated as possible to let entrepreneurs form and develop their businesses.

In return, most business owners will dedicate their lives to making them work.

How do you relax?

Kung Fu (Panda) fighting with my five-year-old son, dancing to The Proclaimers with my two-year-old daughter and grabbing chance late night dinners with my very understanding wife.

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