Engaged staff equal growth and success
Simon La Fosse, executive chairman and founder of La Fosse Associates, speaks to Becky Wilson about the company’s wins at RI’s Awards in 2018, and why its people are key to its success
La Fosse made the decision to set up on his own back in 2007 following a 14-year career at Harvey Nash. Following this, he says that he wanted the opportunity to start his own business. “I wanted to focus on the people, everyone from clients, to candidates and my own staff,” he shares. “As I developed my own career, I just found that by treating people well I tended to get a better reputation, I tended to get more business referred to me, and I tended to enjoy my job more. It just seemed to make sense as a good business model for me.” He therefore decided to create a company with care at the heart of everything it does.
This philosophy has certainly worked for La Fosse Associates. Today, the technology-focused recruitment business has 220 people working across five offices (London, Leeds, New York, Los Angeles and Toronto) and has a turnover in excess of £100 million. The company’s average growth rate stands at around 35 per cent per annum, in terms of headcount, turnover and profitability. It is this continued expansion that helped the company win two RI Awards in 2018: Growth Company of the Year and Best Recruitment Company to Work for £100 Million +.
La Fosse is positive about the current opportunities for the company and describes them as being “as good as we could hope for really”. He acknowledges challenges in the form of Brexit, IR35, and the threat of recession, but explains, “There will always be things on the horizon, but they’re facing every business and I just think we've got critical mass and are well positioned to simply continue doing what we’re doing.”
Understanding the market
There also remain global skills shortages in the technology sector, which is something that La Fosse doesn’t see changing any time soon. To tackle these shortages, La Fosse Associates is continually developing its network and brand; he highlights that candidates in tech have choice, so companies have to provide reasons why a candidate should choose them. There is also emphasis on understanding the market really well: “We’ve got really strong vertical specialisations. We know our markets, whether it’s cybersecurity, or our other specialisations, we’ve got real experts who know the market and the people, so they have better access than a lot of our competition.”
As part of the criteria for the Growth Company of the Year Award, RI’s judges are looking for exceptional growth over a number of years. This is something that La Fosse Associates has been able to achieve, by expanding at over 30 per cent per annum. La Fosse doesn’t believe it was this growth alone that led to success at the Awards, and stresses the link to the Best Recruitment Company to Work For Award the business also attained. “If you’ve got people that are genuinely enjoying what they’re doing, then they’re motivated, they work harder, and they treat their candidates and their clients better,” he says. “It’s a virtuous circle as that in turn allows us to attract a higher calibre of person.” Having strong continual growth provides the company with a variety of benefits, including good profits, which can be reinvested back into its growth. It also provides employees with opportunities for career growth and continual development.
La Fosse describes the wins at the Awards as good PR and adds that, “It’s great to get independent acknowledgement and be able to go back to the company and show that the work we’re doing is independently verified. It helps attract clients, it gives us credibility with candidates and it helps to attract people to the organisation to come and work with us.” After winning Best Recruitment Company to Work For last year, it’s clear La Fosse Associates is committed to putting its employees first. La Fosse explains, “I think fundamentally it’s about making sure you’re a good business, so making sure you’re a business where people enjoy working there, and if you can do that first, then the rest falls into place.”
Following the company’s growth over recent years, he suggests that the business’ attraction and retention schemes have become more sophisticated and structured. The company has a team of five internal recruiters, enabling its consultants and managers to focus solely on their role. He also considers that the company’s size now has an impact on the number of people applying to work at La Fosse Associates, as they hear about its culture and growth from a variety of sources.
Considering the company’s top three attraction and retention schemes, La Fosse suggests the first is its co-ownership model. When he started the business, he committed to giving away 40 per cent of the company to the people that work there. Irrespective of their role or seniority in the company, every single person has a stake in the business. He adds, “I think the second one is that care for the people we have working here is at the heart of what we do, and that just shines through.” Finally, he thinks the company’s growth is a factor, as it gives people’s careers the opportunity to develop. When asked about the culture at La Fosse Associates, he describes it as collaborative, ambitious and caring.
La Fosse Associates has a 70 per cent associate hiring model, which means they hire a significant number of recent graduates. Contrary to the negative press often surrounding younger generations, La Fosse hasn’t had this experience: “The people that either we choose or the people that are attracted to working here are people who are ambitious and focused on working out what they can contribute in order to be successful.”
When discussing the importance of his team as a whole, La Fosse says, “They’re everything, they’re the only thing. Without them, we would not have achieved a thing. I think that’s your only differentiator really, the quality and the values which your people have.” The Award wins the business has achieved help to gain that vital recognition, which motivates staff and attract new employees.
As well as growing the business and looking after staff, La Fosse Associates also gives back to the community with its corporate social responsibility (CSR) work. Since the launch of the company, it has supported a school in Malawi, and now provides around a third of their annual budget. It has also recently started supporting a social entrepreneur who has set up an online tutoring platform to support disadvantaged young people into Oxford or Cambridge university. So far, of the 180 young people that have received support from the platform, 50 have gone on to study at one of these two universities.
Reflecting on the CSR work the business does, Simon shares, “I think it’s significant, but we don't make make enough of a big deal about it, it’s just a part of something we’ve always done. I think charitable donations and those kind of things you do in a quiet way because they’re the right thing to do; if you shout about it too much, it somehow takes away from the integrity of what you’re doing.”
La Fosse Associates made the decision to launch an office on the West Coast of America, in Los Angeles, three years ago and in the second half of last year opened an office in New York. The company has also just opened an office in Toronto. La Fosse reveals that launching in a new location is akin to beginning again as a start-up, as the business has no reputation or infrastructure in place. He shares that having a strong leader – Johnnie Greenwood - in the new location is vital, highlighting, “I think there’s two things that are important: one is having somebody you can trust to promote the culture and values, and secondly having someone we trust in terms of being an entrepreneur and a business leader.”
La Fosse considers the US market to be slightly behind the UK’s in terms of market saturation and the quality of the industry. He says, “For us, it’s an opportunity, despite the fact we’re not really known nearly as well over there, to take quite a successful model and apply it in a market that’s a little underdeveloped.” La Fosse Associates is yet to expand anywhere else across the globe, but he suggests a possible location for the future could be Germany, as the company already carries out quite a lot of business in Continental Europe.
As a recruitment company operating in the technology sector, La Fosse Associates is well aware of the opportunities and possible challenges posed by developments in this area. He shares that there’s, “no point panicking or sticking your head in the sand”. Reflecting on technology changes including the introduction of job boards and LinkedIn, he says, “Undoubtedly, I think technology has already disrupted the industry and I think it will continue to disrupt it. In the next five or ten years’ time, the better applications of technology will be around AI and automation in some shape or form, which I think is a net beneficiary to the recruitment industry because it makes the process more efficient.” Longer term, he reveals he is unsure what impact technology will have on the industry, but he welcomes the changes that enable recruiters to work more effectively.
The recruitment industry helps to find people their dream roles and careers, but can sometimes suffer from negative press. La Fosse tells me that he thinks this isn’t about the people employed in the sector, but the industry itself: “I think the way the industry is managed is to look at short term business goals, so in my view, they think too much about driving revenue, less about what is fundamentally making a good and sustainable business. I believe a business that treats people well is the kind of business that people want to work with, whether they’re clients, candidates or the people in the organisation.”
Part of La Fosse Associates’ mission is to improve levels of candidate care across the industry, and he hopes that the company’s execution of this model will lead to more companies deciding to operate in this way. He explains, “If other companies follow this model, then that’s going to be good for us because it gives the recruitment industry a better reputation. At the end of the day, the industry does a massively important job; it’s the glue that helps the economy perform and what’s more important than helping people develop their careers?”
Train to retain
Looking to the year ahead, La Fosse Associates is set to launch a training business to help ease the skills shortages in the technology sector. La Fosse reveals that many employers are nervous around training graduates who may then leave the business. To help, La Fosse Associates will train graduates and school leavers in technology for free, and then place them in roles with its clients. La Fosse is “excited” about the venture, which is, “Doing some good for the industry and increasing the skills base out there.” He is a real enthusiast around the idea of preparing people early and properly for the world of work they’re going into today and stresses the importance of young people gaining an education that is going to be beneficial to them throughout their career.
Reflecting on his career in recruitment to date, La Fosse highlights that the people remain the key thing he enjoys about working in the sector. “I find people endlessly fascinating because their motivations are uniquely different,” he reveals, “I’m just interested in people, whether they’re my clients, my candidates or the people in the company.” He adds that he also enjoys seeing people grow and progress in the company and is committed to doing what he can to retain good members of staff: “If you’re good at what you do and we’ve trained you, it would be a tragedy to lose you, so we’ll continue to work really hard to understand how we can help you do exactly what you want to do and be as engaged as you want to be.” With this focus on its people and future expansion, it seems La Fosse Associates has its sights firmly set on continued growth and success in the years ahead.