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Recruiting the IT crowd is increasingly big business

IN this week's SME Focus a recruitment entrepreneur reports encouraging signs of increased activity in the financial services and IT sectors in Scotland.

GROWTH: 9-20 recruitment's Gordon Brown said that around two-thirds of the company's business is done in Scotland and one-third in the rest of the United Kingdom.
GROWTH: 9-20 recruitment's Gordon Brown said that around two-thirds of the company's business is done in Scotland and one-third in the rest of the United Kingdom.

Name: Gordon Brown.

Age: 31.

What is your business called?

9-20 recruitment.

Where is it based? Glasgow.

What does it produce, what services does it offer?

Recruiting skilled IT people for permanent and contract jobs.

Who does it sell to?

We tend to specialise in the technology sector, professional services and large business consultancies.

Around two-thirds of our business is done in Scotland and one-third in the rest of the UK.

I expect this will change; we plan to open offices in Aberdeen and Newcastle next year and in the Midlands and London in 2015.

What is its turnover? £600,000.

How many employees? Eight.

When was it formed? 2004.

Why did you take the plunge?

As a result of the economic downturn our company, like many recruitment businesses, was hit. Turnover was down to around £450,000.

I was certain that, as the economy improved, there was an opportunity to re-grow the business and so raised the subject of staging a management buy-out.

In 2012, the principal shareholder in the business also decided to go down a separate route of developing IT recruitment software rather than continuing with growing the recruitment business, so the time was right to make a formal approach and offer.

Like any takeover or management buy-out, discussions were lengthy and at times emotional, as we had both put our lives and souls into building a successful specialist recruitment firm.

Eventually we did come to an agreement and together with my financial backers, we formally took ownership of the business in March 2013.

I knew it was the right decision as my family and friends were 100%.

Since then, as owners, we have invested heavily to support our working capital, and recently hired six new members of staff as well as moving to larger premises.

The market, too, is taking-off; in the last six months we have doubled the number of both recruits and placements, in part as a result of new start-ups in the IT sector, re-engineering and upgrading of IT systems by larger companies and a rise in the numbers of spin-outs and techie businesses being formed.

What were you doing before you took the plunge?

After college I was working at Cameron House hotel as a lounge bar and leisure centre manager and was considering a long-term career in the hospitality sector when I met Craig Holborn, director of MSB, which is a sizeable London-based recruitment business.

He spotted something in me and suggested I should work for him.

Later I joined 9-20 on start-up and became a director and minority shareholder.

For nine years I was responsible for the delivery and growth of 9-20 Recruitment and, inevitably, I developed a broad understanding and knowledge on the needs of both the employers and the employees in the sector.

How did you raise the start-up funding?

Through the most traditional method of face-to-face networking and meeting people.

I was invited to present my plans for the business to a consortium of Glasgow-based investors who like to maintain a very low profile.

They have said that they are prepared to make up to £500,000 available to grow 9-20 by acquisition, stage-by-stage, over the next five years.

What was your biggest break?

Securing outside investment in a climate where banks are reluctant to lend and there is a feeling that business angel funding is sparse.

What was your worst moment?

Moving to the bigger office. It should have been a smooth transition but became a major hassle.

What do you most enjoy about running the business?

It is the sense we're riding a wave of opportunity; the economy is picking up and the IT-related sector is beginning to soar.

What are your ambitions for the business?

To build the business, alongside partners, throughout the United Kingdom and eventually Europe.

What are your top priorities?

To grow the business as rapidly as possible and identify IT recruitment companies in strategic locations throughout the UK which we can acquire and develop. We have strong non-executive directors with lots of business experience on board including Stephen Robertson, chief executive of the Metis Partners Intellectual Property analysts and Alan Crockett, who was previously MD of the recruitment business, Margaret Hodge. A further priority is to widen our appeal by developing our Ecommerce, digital, sales and marketing and recruitment process outsourcing divisions.

What could the Westminster and/or Scottish governments do that would help?

They could overhaul the procurement practices of central government and local authorities by shifting their policies to actively favour Scottish and British businesses, the smaller the better. The state represents half the economy in Scotland so its buying power is huge. By purchasing products and services from local businesses it could have a wholly positive impact on local jobs and prosperity.

What was the most valuable lesson that you learned?

Treat others the way you want to be treated.

How do you relax?

Relaxing isn't something I get to do often, but when I do get the chance it is spent at home with my daughter Ruby and wife Melanie. I am also a big fan of everything Northern Soul and my spare time is spent tinkering with my 1957 Zundapp Bella 204. That's a vintage German motor scooter in case you didn't know.

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