Colin Cottell meets Martin Tucker and Mark Turner, joint managing partners of the leading recruiter in this year’s FAST 50, sponsored by Hitachi Capital Invoice finance.
Mon, 26 Jan 2015 Colin Cottell meets Martin Tucker and Mark Turner, joint managing partners of the leading recruiter in this year’s FAST 50, sponsored by Hitachi Capital Invoice finance.

In the recent years of public sector austerity, spending across large swathes of central and local government has been tightly squeezed. So at first glance it is remarkable that the fastest-growing private staffing company in the 2015.

Martin Tucker,
Secret of Success, “There is often no substitute for hard work”

Recruiter FAST 50, compiled by Boxington Corporate Finance, is a public sector specialist. What is more remarkable still is that this company is the sole ‘pure’ public sector recruiter in the entire table.

Yet this comes as no surprise to Martin Tucker, joint managing partner of the 95-strong executive search and interim management provider GatenbySanderson. “Austerity has actually been a driver of growth for us,” says Tucker, as he and fellow joint managing partner Mark Turner meet to discuss the company’s achievement with Recruiter at the its offices in the City of London.

Mark Turner, Secret of Success, “Recognising that every relationship can have a value”

If public sector austerity and the success of a niche recruitment company serving that sector appears at first to be a contradiction in terms, Tucker soon squares the circle as he explains how pressure on budgets is forcing the public sector to change, and how this in turn is fuelling demand for “excellent leadership that is not necessarily in good supply”. These factors have helped propel the public sector specialist to top place in this year’s FAST 50 table, with a compound annual growth rate of 69.09% between 2011 and 2013.

Even the prospect of chancellor George Osborne’s plans to cuts public spending to 35% of gross domestic product (GDP) should the Conservatives win May’s general election seemingly holds no horrors for Tucker. “It’s great to be the fastest-growing company in the industry, but the real journey starts now with our next phase of growth,” he says. Indeed, on the back of a recent management buy-out (MBO), the company has ambitious plans to become a 150-strong firm within three years.

Key Facts
Founded 2002

: Leeds, Birmingham, London

Turnover £24.5m
Staff 65
Gross profit £8.9m

Staff (current) 95
Turnover £37m
Gross profit £12m

The public sector’s transformation agenda has undoubtedly boosted the company’s fortunes by fuelling demand for “the top three strands” of public sector personnel that GatenbySanderson specialises in providing. But the two joint managing partners say that the accolade of becoming the UK’s fastest-growing private recruiter would not have been possible without the company taking a number of key strategic decisions.

Opportunity for growth

As Turner explains, the seeds of the company’s current growth were sown back in 2009-10, when purse strings in the public sector really began to tighten. “Unlike some competitors, who took the view there wasn’t a lot of money in public service in the next few years and decided to focus on commercial markets, we stayed close to those clients who were suffering tough times,” says Turner. “We stuck with them, showed them loyalty, and as the market has lifted that has served us really well.”  

Moreover, whereas some recruiters took fright at what Turner describes as “the biggest public recession we have ever seen”, GatenbySanderson saw it as “an opportunity to reconfigure the business in a way that would enable us to grow quickly coming out the other side”. That said, Turner admits that the actions to trim the company’s cost base, including the loss of some people, made it “a painful time”.  

The company, founded in 2002, built its early success by serving local government, winning contracts with both Liverpool and Barnsley Councils within its first month of trading. However, after Turner joined the firm in 2007, it began to diversify, first into central government and then into supplying interims.

And as public spending cuts began to bite, the company decided to build on its already powerful position within local and central government, the “cornerstones of the business” where Turner says it enjoys around 35% marketshare, by diversifying further. These new areas included the health sector that the company entered in 2010, as well as the education, charity and not-for-profit sectors. The company’s public sector board practice that appoints chairs, non-executive directors and trustees has developed “a dominant position” in its marketplace, says Turner. “The beauty of that market is that it reads across to most of the markets we work in,” he adds.

Interims drive growth

Interims have also been a major driver of growth, with the number of interims out working growing by a factor of eight since 2012. “That is because we have hired some very good people, who know the market and are very successful and well networked, and despite the overall public sector budget falling… the requirement for people who can help public sector bodies do things differently with less money has driven considerable demand.”

As Tucker points out, it is quite a transformation from the company’s early days. Then it was an exclusively Northern-based business in Leeds working with local government clients; now it is a company employing nearly 100 people in three offices — Leeds, Birmingham and London — with a diverse range of clients, including higher education establishments and charities, as well as its core local and central government clients.

However, he emphasises it’s not diversification for diversification’s sake. “We have diversified in a very focused way,” says Turner. This means only entering those new markets that are aligned with existing markets, and will add value to the business, he explains. A big consideration is “have we got someone to lead the company into a new sector?”, he adds. 

Martin Tucker’s, Recruitment philosophy, “Belief in the difference that good people can make”

If the seeds of GatenbySanderson’s current success go back to strategic decisions taken in the last four or five years, the relationship between the two managing partners goes back much further. Both men began their careers in recruitment at Hays, where their paths first crossed, before they joined what was then PricewaterhouseCoopers Executive Search and Selection — soon to become Veredus. The duo joined GatenbySanderson in the same year, 2007, becoming joint managing partners in July 2013. With their careers so intertwined, it is no surprise that the two are clearly singing from the same hymn sheet. “One voice, two people,” says Turner, with a laugh.  

MBO springboard

What has undoubtedly given the two a further spring to their step is the recent MBO completed in November. Tucker explains that this came about from a realisation among the board that “developing the business at a faster pace would probably require some additional investment over a period of time”. This allowed Graham Goodwin, one of the company’s co-founders and its major shareholder, the opportunity to exit the business. The bulk of the MBO funding was provided by private equity house Primary Capital, with whom, Turner says, there is “a real meeting of minds”.

He explains: “As a private equity house, inevitably they have an appetite for growth, and we were struck by their real interest and insight into our business and the recruitment sector.”

Mark Turner’s, Recruitment philosophy, “Underpinning everything we have done is an innate focus on quality of service”

With the MBO out of the way, Turner says the company has already identified a number of key areas for future growth. These include education and not-for-profit, as well as markets aligned to the public sector that provide services to the public, such as transport and housing. The company has also developed “a real expertise” in placing commercial talent into the public sector. Tucker says that targeted acquisitions that give access to new markets are also a possibility. The company is also keen to build on its proprietary software that Turner says will allow it to become even more efficient as the company grows.  

None of this will be possible, however, without maintaining the company’s culture that Turner believes has been so instrumental in its success to date. Turner says this includes “a team-based reward system” and a way of working that is based on co-operation rather than consultants pitted against each other. “People have relished that opportunity and have liked working in a different team-orientated culture, and therefore have stayed with us on the journey,” he says.  

Tucker also highlights the importance of relationships between the company’s employees and clients. “It’s the old sales adage ‘people do business with people’ and our colleagues are very adept at growing and nurturing relationships with key decision makers. They develop relationships of trust, and they are often called upon to offer advice in tricky situations.” It is testament to the strength of those relationships that 70% of the company’s work is repeat business.  

The company’s commitment to looking after candidates, including giving feedback irrespective of whether they have got the job, also has paid off, says Tucker. “We’ve found it to be the case that an awful lot of our business comes from people who were once candidates for jobs that we have handled.” The company publishes feedback statistics on its website, and feedback is also incorporated into employees’ appraisal system.

Looking to the future, with Primary Capital on board, Tucker says everything is in place for the company to continue its current growth trajectory and to realise its ambition become a company of 150 staff within three years. “It’s going to be tough, but we have a good formula, we hire the best people, point them at the right markets, and in doing that we will maximise the opportunity for growth,” he says.

With the public sector certain to be in a continual state of flux over the next few years, who’s to say GatenbySanderson won’t remain in the upper echelons of the FAST 50 for some time to come.

Mark Turner

2007- present
GatenbySanderson, joint managing partner since 2013

Veredus, formerly Pricewaterhouse Coopers Executive Search and Selection, managing director 2005-2007

Hays, director of public sector executive search (from 1996) 

Martin Tucker

2007- present
GatenbySanderson, joint managing partner since 2013

June 2000-06
Veredus, formerly Pricewaterhouse Coopers Executive Search & Selection, board director from 2005

Executive Connections,  manager

Hays Personnel Services

  • Recruiter’s FAST 50 is compiled by international sell-side M&A advisory house Boxington Corporate Finance. In 2015 it is sponsored by Hitachi Capital Invoice Finance.

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