Solutions Driven chief executive Gavin Speirs
With a new office and international growth on the agenda, Karen Peattie finds out how Solutions Driven chief executive Gavin Speirs is bringing digital technology into his recruitment business.
It's a bright, crisp morning and Gavin Speirs – a fervent mushroom-hater, gadget-lover and football fan – displays an equally sunny disposition as he settles down to talk about his Glasgow-based recruitment business and how its approach differs to that of other firms in this highly competitive marketplace. First, however, the chief executive of Solutions Driven has something to get off his chest. His biography on the company’s website alludes to the mushroom issue. “I think it’s the feel and texture of them,” he explains. “I just can’t abide them – never have.”
With that question answered, it’s over to Speirs to explain why he moved his team from the city centre to Buchanan Business Park in Stepps, on the outskirts of Glasgow. “It’s nothing to do with the fact that I live just five minutes’ drive away,” he laughs. “It wasn’t planned that way but I must admit it’s very handy. We needed more space and somewhere that could accommodate future expansion.
“As much of our work is outwith the UK we don’t need a city-centre office with big overheads and this ticks all the boxes – easy car parking and a train station nearby. It’s nice to be in a location that feels semi-rural yet is still close to the city.”
Solutions Driven moved into the new premises at the beginning of June – three weeks before the Brexit vote – taking over an entire floor previously occupied by North Lanarkshire Council. “We’ve got a team of 48 now and room for 70 so we’re well-placed for future expansion,” Speirs explains.
The firm’s gross profit currently sits at £2.8m with that figure on target to rise to £3.6m this year. In 2018, Speirs is chasing £4.5m. “Yes, we’re ambitious and I make no apology for that,” he says. “I’m enjoying the business and I’m enjoying seeing our people grow and develop with us. It’s important to have goals and targets that challenge you.”
Has he noticed a downturn in business post-Brexit? “Some clients have slowed down the pace and put things on hold but we’re still small enough not to feel the impact of certain events,” says Speirs. “We have a major project in the pipeline in the Middle East and if this comes to fruition it will have a positive impact on revenue.
“Since 2014, businesses in Scotland have gone through an independence referendum, general election and Brexit so there’s been a lot of uncertainty and I think people get used to that. Despite downturns in sectors such as oil and gas, we’ve experienced significant growth in recent years and we also factor in the fact that hiring and recruitment trends can be cyclical.”
Solutions Driven – which specialises predominately in the manufacturing, engineering, technology and healthcare sectors – was established 15 years ago by Speirs’s father, Walter. Speirs senior spent his career working for American tech multinationals – including Motorola, Wang Laboratories and Compaq – before moving into the recruitment business after decades in the corporate fast lane.
Born in Ayrshire and brought up in Dunblane, Speirs junior’s entrepreneurial streak started to shine through early in his career. “I worked part-time with Solutions Driven then went full-time when I sold the recycling business I set up after I left university,” he explains. “I went to Glasgow University to study maths and physics and hated it so I did a master’s degree in management with marketing instead.
“I think it’s OK to change your mind. There’s a lot of pressure on young people to choose a career path when they don’t necessarily know what they want to with their lives – I never expected to end up in recruitment and I absolutely love it.
“It’s important to do your own thing before joining a family business – you need to experience different working cultures – so when I joined the company full-time I was ready for the variables and complexities a family business can often have.
“A father-and-son dynamic is always going to be interesting. In my case, dad has been a fantastic mentor and allowed me to grow in my way, not by dictating how I should do things. I’ve made mistakes when I probably should have listened to his advice but equally I’ve proved him wrong – it’s a good relationship and a healthy one.”
Father and son also share a love of football – Airdrie FC, to be precise. “Yes, we’re both passionate Airdrie fans,” he smiles. So passionate, in fact, that at one stage they actually co-owned the club. “At the age of 21, I was the youngest director in British football,” says Speirs. “We’re both still shareholders and football will always play a big part in my life.”
Now company chairman, Walter founded the Glasgow-based business to fill a gap in the recruitment market for a company that not only delivered great service levels to clients but, crucially, understood its clients’ needs. It made sense to tap in to his global contacts and within three years the company had clients in the Far East and Eastern Europe.
“Our aim was always to be a very client-focused recruitment agency and we set up offices in countries such as the Czech Republic and Romania so we could give a really personal service to clients in specialist markets,” says Speirs. “However, with advances in technology opening up fast, easy and efficient ways to communicate with clients all over the world we took the decision four years ago to consolidate in Glasgow.
“We’re still as client-focused as ever but we can manage the bulk of our overseas business from here without the cost of setting up an office in another country. More than 60% of our turnover comes from our international business – we have delivered projects in more than 50 countries now and collectively our staff speak 14 different languages.
“We were awarded a regional selective assistance grant by Scottish Enterprise and that will help us target further international growth.”
As well as moving into its new offices, Solutions Driven has also launched its own talent analytics tool, an interactive online system that saves time and money by enabling the recruiter or hiring manager to agree from the offset what skills and requirements they want for the role.
“Talenytics” simplifies the recruitment process and enables better collaboration between both parties, explains Speirs. “At Solutions Driven we want to develop measured and accountable partnerships – it’s all about measurement and quality,” he continues. “We like to put our head above the parapet so in Talenytics we’ve developed a system that makes the whole process much more transparent for our clients.
“Recruitment can be challenging so this platform is another step towards helping our clients attract the best talent in a way that allows us to work collaboratively. Solutions Driven is all about measurement – it’s quality we want to be known for because that is what helps us retain clients and engage with new ones. It’s about forging great relationships with your clients on the back of mutual trust because in recruitment you are only as good as your last placement.”
But how does a recruitment company recruit its own people? “That’s a very good question,” says Speirs, taking the opportunity to point out that Solutions Driven holds both Investors in People Gold and Young People accreditation. “There is no formal qualification required to be a recruiter and we’re not unlike many other companies in that we want good team players and someone who goes that extra mile.
“We have our own training processes in place and offer flexible working to accommodate staff who have to juggle childcare requirements or other situations at home. I have a young daughter myself and I’m well aware of the challenges having a family can pose.
“Home working is also something we support when appropriate because we want to do everything we can to empower our people. We want people to look forward to coming to work and be passionate about what they do, so it’s important to provide a pleasant working environment with appealing benefits, incentives and bonus structure.”
The office itself has a games room, relaxing areas to sit and have lunch, a well-equipped kitchen, funky breakout areas, and more formal training and meeting rooms. It’s a spacious environment designed to be comfortable as well as practical. “If we want to exceed our clients’ expectations then the company needs to exceed the staff’s expectations,” he points out.
“Staff tend to work in pairs rather than alone or in a bigger group and we have quite a wide age range, too, which means we have a lot of interesting ideas coming through that can be really helpful.” Unlike many other recruitment consultancies Solutions Driven separates the recruitment role from the selling role. “In many firms you have the same person doing the recruiting and the selling – that’s not our approach,” says Speirs. “So we’ve separated the two and have a dedicated team working on securing new business.
“We have a strong point of difference and areas of expertise that set us apart from other recruiters and that’s what will keep the business moving on an upwards trajectory.”