Going global at Digby Morgan

Written by
Changeboard Team

07 Feb 2012

07 Feb 2012 • by Changeboard Team

Creating a global boutique for HR

“No one has grabbed the space to be the global go-to business for HR recruitment. There’s still scope for an organisation to dominate the HR recruitment arena – that’s what we’re striving towards,” reveals Cook.

Cook has been part of the Digby Morgan empire for the past 14 years. He took up the reins of CEO in February this year after John Maxted, with whom he had spent ‘more time than any other human in the world’ stepped down. “It was like a bereavement,” Cook confesses. “John and I were as one. It was difficult getting used to the fact that he wasn’t at the other end of the office each day.”

So what direction does he want to take the company, now he’s in charge? He explains: “Fourteen years ago, our desire was to build a ‘global boutique’ within the HR world, and that’s what we’re aiming for today. My challenge is to take the business from what John and I created to the next level. I’m really driven by that and it’s what I’ll tirelessly aim for. That’s the goal.”

Digby Morgan & Randstad

In November 2006, Vedior acquired a majority shareholding in Digby Morgan, and subsequently merged with Randstad Holding, creating the world's second largest recruitment company. Currently, Randstad employs 37,000 people across 54 countries globally. Of those, 80 are Digby Morgan employees. Although the merger has paved the way for global expansion, Cook is adamant that Digby Morgan will retain its own brand:

“Everyone thought Digby Morgan would be eclipsed by Randstad and we’d have the Randstad HR stamp – it’s not coming. We’ve worked hard to establish our brand and Randstad have put faith in that brand to deliver the service and quality associated with Digby Morgan.

“Under Randstad there are huge opportunities to deliver a high-end HR service; we’re poised to capitalise on that, but we’ll do it through retaining the Digby Morgan brand in the geographies we exist at the moment.”

Establishing a global presence

With offices in the Gulf, Australia and the UK, Digby Morgan already has an established global presence. And by the end of the year, the company is expecting the Gulf office to be 50% larger than at the start of 2011, in response to the ‘phenomenal’ volume of work. “We’re full-on in expansion mode. Companies want to see the pipeline of candidates we can provide from London, Australia, and other network of contacts from the wider Randstad group,” comments Cook.

“Just because an HR professional leaves the UK, the recruiter-candidate relationship shouldn’t stop. We want to track top HR people all the way through their careers. When they move internationally, they often end up working in one of these areas.

“I see the HR recruitment world like a football match,” he explains: “there’s a fixed camera at one end of the pitch…it’s exciting when the ball’s at that end but when someone hoofs it out, all you’re watching is the goalie trying to keep warm. The game’s elsewhere. Our idea was to put different cameras round the pitch so we could see the whole game.

“Large international organisations have a colossal appetite for good quality HR professionals in the Gulf region. We’ve expanded our offices to meet the demand. We’ve learned a lot about how to service that area effectively – it boils down to what made us successful in London 14 years ago when we specialised exclusively in HR – relationships.

Building business around individuals

“While a lot of the market in the UK is being driven down an RPO offering, over there we’re getting more and more retained work so companies feel they have our undivided attention during the course of the recruitment process.

“We’ve also started an HR forum, a physical get-together for 50-60 HR professionals. We’ve led the way in that region and the attendees find it really rewarding. By funding and hosting these events, we’re establishing ourselves as the go-to place within the region.

“Our mandate right now is to expend the regions where we’re based with the Digby Morgan brand. We will change our IT structure to accommodate this. We want to build the business around individuals, not cities. That will be driven by making technology available to key people to enable them to work anywhere.”

The next challenge is Singapore, which Cook admits is currently the firm’s ‘achilles’: “We have a camera in the Gulf and one in Australia – we need a camera in Singapore.”

Whats the current recruitment market like?

It’s varied. The sub-£75k market in the UK is buoyant this year – we’ve hit new watermarks. 2010 was our biggest year in the financial services sector. The first two quarters of 2011 were also strong. Q3 flattened slightly; we’re optimistic in Q4 but not unrealistic; it’s going to be hard work. Our commerce business remains consistent – there’s lots of activity at the £60-90k end.

We’re seeing the most opportunities in the mid-ranging HR business partner roles, which are always popular. In the early part of the year, there was much emphasis on recruitment, talent management and talent acquisition roles. Comp & Bens was also significant earlier this year, but demand has quietened down now. Learning & Development is another key area, with a sprinkling of Organisational Development.

What do HR professionals want from employers?

Times have changed since I entered recruitment. Graduate recruitment brochures had pictures of people behind antiquated desks – with the implication that ‘one day, this could be you.’ Today’s job seekers aren’t like that – individuals want to identify with the peer groups they’re going to join.

People are loyal to their own careers. They’re only loyal to their employers while they’re learning. Once the learning stops, they look for different opportunities elsewhere. Candidates who come to us are usually looking for more challenge and development – they want to stretch themselves. They don’t want to be dipping into the same old dusty toolkit – they want to augment their skills and develop for their next role, through gaining international experience for example. 

HR professionals are much more commercially aware these days – a career isn’t just about pay and rations. It’s about working environment, opportunity, development, engagement – everything HR’s talking about.

How can you take control of your career?

Look at your experience to date – what are your core skills? Think outside the industry sector you’re currently in. Remember, HR is a transferrable skill.

Think about where you want to go in your career and be honest about it. Consider what you want from your next move, and the one after that. Where do you want you be in 15-20 years? Project forward – is your next move the end goal or a stepping stone?

Be strategic about how you’re going to deliver your skills – what tools are you missing and what’s important? For example, is lack of international exposure holding you back?

Be open-minded. By just going through the process of meeting an organisation, you might be opened to opportunities you didn’t even know were on offer. You don’t have to make the leap to your end-goal in one go.

What innovation are you seeing at the moment?

Organisations that do talent attraction really well think about the individual rather than the role. The interpersonal, outlook and qualities of the individual are more important than the mechanics – job descriptions and profiles are built up by a series of tasks. Just because candidates can tick these boxes doesn’t guarantee them success in hiring.

How has social media affected recruitment?

How has social media affected recruitment?

Our recruiters use LinkedIn regularly and we find it a very valuable source of candidates. Our own candidate database is also very useful. We have 100,000+ names on our database and it’s refreshed constantly. We’re a specialist recruiter, so we want a pure-play HR network that can really help us.

We see social media as a channel for CVs but it’s important not to forget that it’s the people behind those that really matter. Social media is a way of communicating – but fundamentally people like dealing with people. If we try and make recruitment a process, we run the risk of losing what’s important, and that’s relationships.

Whats the Digby Morgan approach to recruitment?

HR recruitment is unique – nearly all our candidates are potential clients and vice-versa. There’s a small pool of talent that exists within the HR arena, so the more you put in the more you get out. We’ve always got more from people we haven’t actually placed because they’re interested in that support.

In the recession, we were maxed out with job seekers – we will always try to reach out to them and help. We understand that these professionals will eventually be in the position to hire – and we’re judged on the point where we can help them.

We’re about to survey our clients – what do they want from suppliers? It’s important for us to have the courage to ask – are we any good at what we say we are? If the feedback’s negative, we can do something about it.

What’s your goal for Digby Morgan?

My goal as a leader is to ensure that if I get run over by a bus, I leave something behind that can sustain itself. It can’t all hang on me as an individual – I want to create a robust organisation, and empower people to do what I entrust them to do.

I employ quality people to do a quality job and I let them do it. Underpinning that is a deep-rooted belief that we’re a relationship driven business – do as you would be done by.