There may be a recession on but bad news does not tell the whole story. In a new series of monthly articles Barclays Commercial Bank highlights business success in the region. Richard Willsher of The Business Magazine writes.

Anyone thinking about the recruitment sector, especially where it involves filling jobs in finance and accountancy, might imagine it was an area of busi­ness that is on its knees. But Greg Thorpe, managing director and founder of Farnham based Howett Thorpe Recruitment Consultants has a different story to tell.

The company opened for business in 1988. It has sales of over £2 million annually, a staff of 10 and recruits per­manent and temporary staff for accountancy and finance functions of businesses of all sizes, as well as for the ac­countancy profession. Its field of operations covers Berkshire, Hampshire and Surrey.

Thorpe doesn’t deny times are tough but has taken steps to make sure that the firm is well placed to weather the condi­tions. “The penny dropped in about September of last year. We noticed companies with­drawing offers from candidates and putting on hold jobs that they were recruiting for. These are classic signs …. But we are better prepared now than we were in 1991, which was really bad for us. We’ve been in busi­ness a long time so we’ve got a big client base. At the same time a decision we made about three years ago to target some of the larger companies has paid off.”

Howett Thorpe bid hard to get on to the preferred supplier lists of companies like Last­, BMW, Sanofi and Hotels For You. In fact it has 38 clients like these. It means providing exceptional client service to stay on the list but Howett Thorpe is one of the few that clients will turn to when recruiting. The company also recruits for many smaller, SME clients. “Having both types of clients,” says Thorpe, “is a real godsend.”

They have had to take some cost cuts including reducing staff. Thorpe says that he had to sit down with his accountants and decide where to tighten the belt. He has also added more stringent credit controls and makes sure that he works close­ly with his internal accounts col­league to carefully monitor cash in and out of the business.

“But the key I think is the team that we have. You have to keep your key staff because when you come out of a reces­sion – and part of our planning is for when we come out the other end – there is no point in cutting cost and not having much left. I spoke to my key people, made them aware of the situation we were facing and we are all working as a team and pulling together. And if you come out of the recession in this sort of shape then you’re in an incredibly strong position.

The thing about the economy now is that there is so much negative news in the press that it can have an effect on every­body. The fact is that there is business out there and you just have to be more streetwise. Our market share is very small so we are focused on increasing that market share by more ef­fective marketing. That’s some­thing else I learned from 1991; don’t cut back on your market­ing and advertising. You’ve got to keep your name out there and your brand going.”

Another advantage that the business has is that it is not weighed down with debt. Thorpe is full of praise for Barclays Commercial Bank, which stuck with them in 1991 and is being supportive now but all it has is an overdraft facility and that is undrawn. Moreover it uses leased premises and is not burdened with the cost of commercial property. Thorpe says that he is glad he didn’t go ahead with buying a property a couple of years ago.

So what about the market at the moment? “We are seeing this year that people are cutting back on hiring at the senior end but at the junior end there is a lot of activity; a surprising amount actually. A lot of the companies that we are recruit­ing for are going through huge growth. Companies are sorting out their credit control, and their sales and purchase ledg­ers so there’s activity there. At the same time there are a lot of candidates out there at the moment but we still interview all of them. If they have registered with us we will get them in and talk to them. Because when the right job does come along you’ve got to be able to talk about your candidate. When you know your candidate, re­cruitment is easy.”

Finally, Thorpe says that you’ve got to have a strategy. “You can’t have an attitude of ‘let’s just see how it goes from month to month’. You’ve got to have a plan, especially for your staff. They’ve got to have the confidence in you mov­ing forward.” And he remains upbeat because despite the doom and gloom many of his clients are doing really well. “I was talking to one this morning who told me his competitors had gone under and he’s picked up the business from that. He’s now hiring a financial director to help him run the business. There are definitely success stories out there and we are seeing this every day;” … and by the sounds of it Howett Thorpe is one of them.