THERE are more than 18,000 recruitment firms in the UK, according to Ken Morrice’s best estimates. It’s no wonder, therefore, that when he decided to set up his own executive search firm in 2018, Mr Morrice needed to stand out from the crowd.

His firm, MM Search, works on a key principle that he summarises as being ‘professional with personality’.

“We try and enjoy it. A lot of clients use us because we aren’t rigid, we aren’t big and corporate. We’ve got some personality.” Mr Morrice and his business partner Derek MacFeate (the other ‘M’ in MM Search) were colleagues while working at the recruitment giant Michael Page, before deciding to start their own brand almost three years ago.

“I really enjoyed my time at Michael Page,” explains Mr Morrice, “but I recognised that the way I did things was slightly different to the big corporate model, in that I was more people-centric. I was comfortable working across any sector, but my speciality was focusing in on the people, reading them and matching them with the right culture.

“I saw there was a more transparent way to do that, to create a brand that was synonymous with being ‘people specialists’ but without layers upon layers of management.

“I decided to do it, to take the plunge, and I’ve never looked back. I’ve been too busy to!”

Mr Morrice admits that it was daunting to leave the security of a huge, global business to set out on his own. But, determined not to let his nerves ‘get in the way’, he used the time spent on gardening leave to put out feelers to some potential clients – and by its first official day of trading MM Search had signed up two senior posts.

Rapid expansion soon followed, with 13 members of staff now on the books and clients that span countries right across the globe. But when lockdown arrived last spring, the recruitment industry was hit by the widespread uncertainty that saw many businesses put their plans on hold.

Yet MM Search, rather remarkably, managed not only to keep a ‘steady ship’, as Mr Morrice puts it, but to actually grow their revenue. They reported a yearly turnover rise of 42 per cent in September, even after six months of lockdown, and appointed two new staff members in December.

These new hires were recruited to focus on the interim executive side of the business, an avenue that Mr Morrice credits with the financial resilience that MM Search has managed to display.

“If it’s going to take 12 weeks to do a search, including the interviews, then the successful candidate has a three-month notice period, we can put someone in the interim to fulfil that role. That is something that during lockdown has been growing arms and legs. Especially at the moment, businesses might not want every appointment to be permanent, because if they run into financial trouble they can maybe let people go.”

Another factor helping MM Search to sail through lockdown is its focus on being ‘people-centric’. Unlike other recruitment agencies which work within specific industries, Mr Morrice operates in companies spanning widely varied sectors.

“You name it, we work in it. So while, for example, the hospitality and tourism market has dropped quite substantially, others like convenience retail and food production have gone through the roof. We’ve got our finger on the pulse, so when one side drops for us, another picks up.”

MM Search’s resilience during the pandemic has led Mr Morrice to set his sights on even more growth in the months to come. He has ambitions to further the international aspect of the business, potentially establishing a hub in Dublin or Dubai to help boost the firm’s flourishing presence abroad. He also hopes to take on interns or apprentices this summer, offering opportunities to those who might be struggling in the current circumstances.

And for anyone else who is thinking of taking the plunge into entrepreneurship? Mr Morrice’s advice is simple.

“You need confidence in yourself, your idea and the fact that you are going into it for the right reasons. If you only go into something to make money it isn’t a great start. But if you do what you do really well, and become the best at doing it, then the revenue side of things will take care of itself.”