Investing in People: The Key to Growing a £34 Million Recruitment Company, with James Fernandes, Ep #79

To be the best recruiter in your chosen sector, you must commit to continuous improvement. That means making learning and development a priority when allocating budgets for your business. My special guest, James Fernandes, believes that every pound invested in L&D will return five-fold. 

James is Managing Director and Co-Founder of Carrington West, a recruitment company with over 60 team members specializing in placing technical talents within industries such as in highways, traffic & transportation, town planning, rail, buildings, utilities & water.  In 2020, they won the ‘Best Learning and Development‘ award at the Investors in People Awards.

Episode Outline and Highlights

  • [1:34] Growing from a start-up to a team of 60 people in 10 years.
  • [8:08] Setting up a system for scaling – James shared how they prepared for growth in terms of technology, structure, values, and culture.
  • [17:18] Money as a motivator? Digging deeper into the true motivations of your team members.
  • [19:25] What is Work-Life Blend? 
  • [22:06] James shared the key phases of Carrington West’s growth.
  • [32:39] Shifting to a Managing Director role – James shared his learnings.
  • [34:40] Focus on Learning and Development – creating a culture of continuous improvement. 
  • [41:12] Why invest in L&D? Hear why James believes every pound you invest in learning and development will come back five-fold.
  • [45:55] Carrington West’s future vision.
  • [50:29] Practical approach to your team’s well-being.

Humble Beginnings in a Garage

Carrington West is an award-winning recruitment company that was founded in 2011. James shared their humble beginnings when they started in a converted garage with a makeshift desk and two laptops. Their inspiring story is full of learnings for anyone who wants to start or scale a recruitment business. 

James revealed the phases of their growth as well as how they set up their technology, structure, values and culture in preparation for growth. 

My takeaway in that part of our interview is James and his co-founder’s clear vision of their WHY. This is how he put it: “You come to understand that you don’t know what you don’t know… We had a very strong why when we started… Really trying to be the best that we could be. That’s continued throughout the business. That is what got us out of bed in the morning. That demanded even harder work from us, we were never stopping… Because we have this fundamental why – we believe we can be better… That was our driving force in the beginning.”

The vision statement reflects the founder’s original purpose: “Our Vision is to be the best possible employer and the best possible recruitment partner for all stakeholders within our chosen sectors.”

Work-Life Blend

Carrington West’s focus on their people’s development and well-being created a culture with an emphasis on the work-life blend. Why not call it work-life balance? James said, “A lot of people would describe it as work-life balance, to me that seems that would be more like 50-50. You can spend more time at work than at home, so the balance is the wrong term. Blend to me is looking at people’s well-being. I’ve heard an interesting [saying], ‘If you don’t look after your well-being, you’re gonna end up looking after your illness.’ We don’t need people here ‘til 7 o’clock every night burning themselves out. Actually, we’ll get a lot more from them if their well-beings are high, and they’re very healthy and they’re enjoying themselves at work.” 

James explained Carrington West’s practical approach to taking care of their team’s well being, such as managing on trust (not micro-managing), offering flexi-time and work from home arrangements.

Creating a Culture of Continuous Development

When Carrington West started, they had a strong sense of WHY which is focused on trying to be the best they could be. This eventually translated to a culture of continuous improvement and development. In 2020, they won the ‘Best Learning and Development‘ award at the Investors in People Awards.

Training isn’t just for new recruiters, it’s ongoing and continuous. Everyone can benefit from coaching to improve their performance, including the directors who really buy into the value of L&D and receive coaching themselves.  

James explained, “We are so passionate about continuous improvement. When the leadership team behaves in a certain way, everybody else really follows suit.”  Their comprehensive approach to Learning & Development includes:

  • Leadership development program
  • Internal coaching program
  • Online learning hub which is a rich resource of training videos and materials
  • Regular training sessions
  • Bringing in world-class speakers
  • Giving audio books to their staff
  • Company library of business books

What is the ROI of investing so much in the team’s learning and development? James believes that every pound you invest in L&D will come back five times. This investment in people’s development paid off last year during the pandemic when Carrington West not only achieved their targets, they exceeded them.

James Fernandes Bio and Contact Info

James is Managing Director and co-founder of Carrington West where he is responsible for implementing the vision for the business, the development of the management team and driving growth. He is a passionate recruitment leader whose driving force is to create an outstanding working environment where all employees are able to progress in their careers, be healthy and happy at work and deliver best in class recruitment services to clients and candidates.

Since their inception, Carrington West and many of their consultants have won numerous recruitment industry and business excellence awards. Their focus on creating a culture of learning and development extends beyond individual’s careers to include the continual evolution and improvement of company and industry best practices.

James has worked in Recruitment for 17 years since graduating from university where he studied Engineering with Business Management.

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