John Wyatt is the Group CEO of Recruit I.T., a New Zealand-owned and operated recruitment business specialising in the I.T. sector. Established in 2006 and this year celebrating its 15th year in business, the organisation has branches in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.
Location: Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch
Business Type: Recruitment Specialists
Number of employees: 25 (550 through related businesses)
Current Business Situation: Experiencing continued growth
Relationship with The Icehouse: Owner Manager Programme Alumni
‘I’ve had the privilege of having John as my manager, when he hired me from Switzerland in 2001 to being my now business partner and good friend in our group of companies; Recruit I.T, Tech 5 Recruitment and Enhance Group. John has an excellent level of commercial acumen and brings a strong set of skills around finance, legal, marketing, sales and management, which has given all our businesses we have started and now co-own the foundation to succeed. The Icehouse OMP has enabled John to bring some further governance, structure and new business relationships, which is further helping us deliver on our five-year strategic plan!’ Ben Allen, Co-Founder
Tell us about yourself and why you decided to become an entrepreneur?
I am not sure if that was a decision that I inherently made, but when I look back to my early teens and thereafter, I have always had 'something on the go'. With an affectionate nickname of ‘Delboy’, it does tell a story.
My first major step as an entrepreneur started 15 years ago. It came about when my co-founding business partner Ben Allen and I found ourselves working for the same global recruitment company, and that operation started moving away from our own set of personal values. It got us thinking about whether the organisation was right for us and, more importantly, the people we provided a service to. We, therefore, elected to fly the coop because people and values are incredibly important to us as owners.
How did you become the owner of your business?
The first dip of my toe into the recruitment industry arose when I was looking for an I.T. management role, and I was interviewed by a recruitment company, which invited me to join them as their consultant.
I became the Country Manager for that recruitment company within quite a short space of time. I.T. was always a field that interested me, so being an ex-banker of 17 years, I was able to combine these different areas of expertise to go on and co-found Recruit I.T..
How does 2021 look for you compared to 2020?
Genuinely exciting. We are in the second year of our five-year strategic plan and have just given this year's plan a bit of a tweak. Our group revenues are going to surpass $50m this year.
You may have heard that there is a skill shortage! We have never seen the labour market this tight, and we have a record number of vacancies across the recruitment companies I am responsible for.
Like most companies, the past 12 months have been challenging. When Covid hit, we ran a steady ship and assured everyone that their job was as safe as we could make it. We regularly communicated how we would approach and get through the lockdown periods. We were recently awarded a Covid award by RCSA (Recruitment Services and Staffing Association) to recognise our efforts.
We have made no redundancies across our group of companies, a workforce of 550 people, and a recent staff survey indicates our staff turnover is in low single digits and our morale is the best it's been! Needless to say, I'm exceedingly proud of our team. One of our mantras is that ‘We are a people business, and we care about people’. I think if you have that at the heart of what you do, it makes your core pretty resilient!
Looking back, it's fair to say we have learned a lot from our experiences. When we first started our business in 2006, we were still getting our feet under the desk, then in 2007, the global financial crisis hit. So that was an interesting journey in those first couple of years.
In times of crisis, cash is king, so the Government did a good job when Covid hit in providing wage subsidies to keep cash moving. Knowing how to use cash is handy, so personally, having an extensive banking background and pairing up with a brilliant CFO and HR Manager and experienced co-Directors to form a crisis team certainly helped. We couldn't have achieved our objective without the cooperation of all our people, so I'd say, like most of NZ, we all stepped up!
Our BNZ Partner team of Dirk and Ian were continuously there for us, and the regular check-in calls from them were unexpected but nice to have. Shooting the breeze with your banker is never a bad thing. You get the lay of the land, and knowing the support is there if needed is reassuring.
Back in 2007, there was no Government relief package, so the question then was, how can we increase our cash flow? In early 2008 we took a proactive stance and went out and bought another recruitment company (that had gone into liquidation) with a reasonable contractor book. The purchase immediately improved our cash flow and helped and secured affected contractors too. Acquiring a recruitment company that had been around for ten years or so when we were only two years old ourselves was a bit of a leap! Together, we managed to navigate that in much the same way that we're navigating through things now – by continually staying ahead of the eight ball.
Throughout the past 15 years, we have always looked to innovate to provide a point of difference, and we have always stayed on the lookout for new opportunities too. We have been rewarded along the way with some great client outcomes that have benefited our clients, our candidates and ourselves.
I'd be the first to put up my hand and say it hasn't always worked out, and there has been some serious cash burned at times, but sure as eggs, if you don't try, you don't get! In fact, our turnover and profitability are currently double what they would have been had we just pursued a single dream. It has also enabled us to add to and de-risk our income streams and co-share our infrastructure and back office.
We're fortunate in that we have a strong brand and social media presence that attracts great talent to our websites and Facebook page etc., a good network through our consultants, and we're a respected operator that has been around a long time.
Recruitment has changed heaps over the years, and long gone are the days where you could post an ad up on a job board and wait for the candidate to apply. In fact, less than 15% of candidates now come through job boards and generally, the quality is pretty scarce!
The question for employers is, therefore, do you want to settle for a limited view of what's available talent-wise, or should you be engaging good recruiters to liaise with, pitch to, and genuinely research through a whole host of media channels (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc.) to come up with the best resource for your business.
What are currently your biggest challenges?
The skills shortage is obviously a big issue for businesses and therefore our clients, and we're witnessing the problems first and second-hand. We are not immune to the shortage ourselves as we grow and look to secure top recruitment talent. So we certainly have a lot of empathy for clients who need to fill the gaps and have the same pain point!
It goes without saying that employers who look after their people (and that's through recognising what your people really want and delivering to that) reap the benefits, and those that don't, pay the cost.
What kind of support have you received from The Icehouse, and are you looking to keep working with them?
My current role is morphing more into a Chairperson position within the group of companies I co-own. Expanding my CEO network and skillset was one of the things that our board mentioned could be good for me to do. That was the catalyst that sparked me to do the Owner Manager Programme in 2019, and I am very pleased that I did.
We have a top tier of business partners, and then just under that, we've got a strong team of general management, so I hope to use The Icehouse again as we strengthen our ship even more and put in place that next generational layer of lieutenancy.
OMP47 has some real characters and some great success stories too. We're a dangerous bunch to catch up with, so if any of my team take up an OMP and they have half as much fun as we did, I'm sure, post-course, they will be buzzing too.
How have things changed since working with The Icehouse?
I think in two major ways: Going into the programme, my thinking was that no one's perfect and no one knows everything. I think I have 95% of the puzzle, but it comes down to the 5% I don't know. If you think of the distance between first and second in business, it's much less than 5%. So the 5% that you do pick up is just invaluable.
As a business, we're very good at strategic planning, but everyone has their own thoughts on culture, risk, marketing, expansion, shareholder value, etc. With the pieces I took from the OMP, I can tweak those strategic plans (live) to find that 5% difference.
Those tweaks are done with the personal knowledge that what I picked up on the OMP has been ratified and proven to make a material difference. Objectively critiquing and challenging our Executive team with the expertise that comes with credible weight has group company-wide benefits.
I've struggled over the years to let go and let others deliver. I wouldn't say I am there quite yet, but I am on the journey. Certainly, since being on the OMP, I have stepped back and now spend more time than ever before with my family. On that note, my wife Kirsten certainly deserves a special mention for the support she has provided over the years, both to me personally, and hands-on within and outside the companies.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs who are struggling/looking for help?
Do an OMP course if you haven't already! And, as an entrepreneur, sometimes you (that could be potentially me) just can't help yourself by getting involved in the next thing, and you blast away with your great idea. If you've got more than one area of the business that's running like that, but others aren't, then you have to be careful.
Something that echoed on OMP47 was to get independent opinions and prototype your idea to get a great insight into its potential success before sinking in money and time. It is certainly a lesson I wish I had learned earlier. And, on that note, you forget how much time a start-up takes, which can take you away from your core business. Rarely do benefits in one area come about without cost in another.
For me, it's about spending time in the right space and in the right place, really stepping back and also having faith in my great business partners/executive team to run more of the business. You have to accept that while it's not how you would do it, someone could do it better.
Finally, being able to help and direct people in their career and give back to the community that we live and work in is something that we do a lot of. Successful entrepreneurs are often in a position to be able to do something to help others. A saying I came across the other day sums it all up. Ultimately, 'we make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give'.
Follow the link for more information about Recruit I.T. and its range of services and group of companies.