James Calder explains how he has developed an idea that came to him whilst cutting his lawn into a £2m turnover recruitment business backed by former Nottingham Forest captain Michael Dawson.
James Calder launched Distinct Recruitment alongside business partner and former Nottingham Forest and England footballer Michael Dawson back in January 2016.
Having spent over 15 years in recruitment working in owner managed and private equity environments, James reached a point where he knew it was time for a change.
He told BQ: “In truth I contemplated walking away from recruitment and entering the property market and If a visit to a property auction in May 2015 had been successful, then Distinct may not be around today.
“However, after taking some time out, the lightbulb moment came to me while I was cutting my lawn. Recruitment is what I know and my track record was pretty good, so the prospect of doing things my way and not having seek permission really excited me.”
Distinct Recruitment specialises in finance, HR, procurement and supply chain, marketing and office support recruitment across the Midlands, covering both permanent and interim placements.
The company was founded by Calder alongside his brother-in-law and professional footballer Dawson, who had been thinking of getting into business for some time.
Calder adds: “Michael is my brother-in-law and we have been friends for over 13 years. He has always talked about us doing something in business together and when I told him I was planning on launching a recruitment business he quickly said he wanted to be involved.
“Having Mike involved has certainly helped raise our profile and the local media always show an interest in what we are doing and in a large part that is down to having Mike on board and his history with Nottingham Forest.
“In the early days, it was also a good ice breaker when talking to businesses in our area, the name Distinct meant nothing however mentioning a premier league footballers involvement certainly helped.”
Another thing which played to Calder’s advantage when setting up Distinct was his experience. Having worked at all levels of the sector up to CEO, he knew the ins and outs of the recruitment game and what he needed to do.
“My first role out of University was as a trainee accountant but I quickly realised that wasn’t going to be the career for me,” he recalls. “I joined a leading recruitment business and stayed for 16 years, starting as a trainee and working my way through to CEO. This was a great experience and I worked with and learnt from some great people.
“I also had the benefit of seeing the business going from being owner managed to being bought by a private equity company, oh, and throw in a challenging recession. My time here was invaluable and stood me great stead to launch Distinct.”
But as with any start-up business, it wasn’t all plain sailing. As he recalls: “In the early days we had the inevitable teething problems associated with starting from scratch but nothing that was too challenging.
“The biggest challenge was the 12 months of restrictive covenants I personally had to honour upon leaving my previous business. This meant there were a significant number of businesses who we couldn’t trade with during this time period.”
18 months on and Calder has now seen the business grow from four staff in January 2016 to 20 staff and is on track to turnover in excess of £2m this year. So, why has it been such a success?
He said: “We have achieved this growth through re-investing everything that the business makes back into new hires, technology and creating a great environment to work.
“Whilst it sounds cheesy, what makes us different is quite simply our people. I’ve set out to hire the best in the business who share my passion and values, and I think we have achieved this in bucket loads.”
Looking forward, Calder now has his eye on the future and is anticipating further growth going forward.
He concluded: “The plan was always to build a strong structure where we have significant experience leading each of our core markets. We are now at that point which will allow us to grow the business through trainees.
“We expect to add between 10-12 heads over the next 12 months and we are set to move to a new 2,500 sq ft office in September which will help us facilitate this growth.
“In addition, we will be launching a new discipline in October which will complement our existing disciplines, you have to watch this space to see what this is.
“Over the medium to long term, we don’t see the business being confined to the Midlands, in time we will expand nationally with a view to ultimately entering the international market.”
James’ top three tips for entrepreneurs: