(l-r) Sam Wason and Gordon Kaye of Edinburgh-based recruitment firm Cathcart Associates
Sam Wason and Gordon Kaye of Edinburgh-based recruitment firm Cathcart Associates tell us how they went from operating locally to globally in just six years.
This 'Around the World in 80 Trades' feature coincides with the annual HSBC Scottish Export Awards in association with Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise, which is being held on 22 March in Glasgow. For information on the event, to nominate or to buy tickets, click here.
Specialist IT recruitment firm Cathcart Associates was founded in 2009 by IT recruiters Sam Wason and Gordon Kaye.
Prior to launching the business, they had accumulated 18 years of experience and had extensive knowledge of both the recruitment and tech sectors.
They have also launched a second business focused on the renewables industry and they have grown to offer their services globally.
Speaking ahead of the 2018 Scottish Export Awards, Wason said: “We are headquartered in Edinburgh and in 2015 we opened our first overseas office in Bangkok.
“We were the first UK-based dedicated IT recruiter to open offices in the Thai capital and are still one of only a handful of recruiters in Thailand that specialise solely on the recruitment of IT professionals.
“On the energy side, we recruited our first German consultant in 2015 and opened our Hamburg office towards the end of that year. This was quickly followed by Malmo in Sweden in early 2017. We are now looking to open more European offices this year.
“Our product is people, and we export our knowledge and skill in finding them their ideal role. We have internationalised the business by recruiting and training our consultants to source local clients and candidates, solving their recruitment problems, in whichever country they operate.
“When our IT business opened in Thailand in 2015, the recruitment sector was (and still is) very immature, so we had to export not only the skills and technology to be able to find the right talent, but also the concept of how UK-based recruitment companies operate in order to solve challenging hiring decisions.”
The pair had aspirations of exporting from the get go however, like so many export success stories we hear, luck played a huge part in their success.
Wason recalls: “We always wanted to operate on a global scale, however, our original overseas office in Bangkok started more by chance than anything else.
“One of our most successful consultants emigrated there, so we asked him to take us with him! The more we looked at the technology scene and the recruitment scene in Bangkok the more we liked it.
“From the original decision to open in Thailand to walking through the door of our new office for the first time took only one month!
“However, it took at least six months to get the business up and running. Thailand is not an easy place to open a UK based company, and there were a lot of hoops to jump through.”
The company’s export success hasn’t come without challenges either.
He adds: “Different countries have different challenges. In Thailand understanding corporate law and the requirements of doing business has been very tough.
“Plus, there is a large cultural gulf between the UK and Thailand in how business is done and how teams are managed, so this proved a very steep learning curve for our British management team.
“Now, all of our overseas offices are staffed with local native speakers, who are also fluent in English, so language barriers are kept to a minimum (although we are subject to the inconsistencies of international bandwidth for video calling!)
“The biggest challenges here are cultural and stem from how our UK based management team interact with the overseas staff. We wanted to maintain our corporate culture as much as possible, but there are many reasons why you have to flex this, depending on where you’re setting up.
“For example, it is common in the UK for employees to socialise outside of work, especially after work and on Fridays. In Thailand this isn’t common so incentivising the staff with Friday night drinks didn’t work terribly well!
“There is also a strong ‘yes’ culture in Thailand. While at first this seemed like a positive thing, it can make it difficult to know what a person really thinks. You need to be careful and ask more questions in order to get someone’s true opinions, and you have to work to create an environment that prioritises openness.”
Opening a business in Thailand also comes with a raft of legal issues, for example, businesses operating their must have a Thai sponsor, similar to how it works in the UAE. For Sam and Gordon however, this proved a blessing in disguise, as it helped them understand the market better.
“We could not have opened in Thailand were it not for the huge amount of help from our local sponsor – a Thai national who is our commercial director,” he added. “She was indispensable when it came to navigating the legalities and systems of Thai businesses.
“We also relied heavily on our back office to help prepare us for taking our first steps into a foreign market and it took a great deal of time and effort on their part to research the market in Bangkok. Our mission was to ensure that we offered the same quality service in Thailand as we did in the UK.
“For trading in Europe, advice is much easier to come by, but in reality we’ve done the vast majority on our own.”
It has now been five years since the pair launched their small consultancy in Edinburgh and with two businesses spanning four nations, they have ambitious plans for the future.
Wason concluded: “We don’t see ourselves diversifying into other recruitment sectors for now, however we will continue to open European offices at Cathcart Energy, and hope to open our first European IT office next year too.
“In South East Asia, we will mimic our European model, using local staff to open satellite offices across the region. In five years’ time we hope to be one of the leading independent recruiters in the IT and renewable energy sectors across Europe and South East Asia.”
Wason’s top tips for budding exporters: “Go for it! Whilst there are challenges great and small, most are small, and it’s a huge amount of fun to uncover them. If you have a product or service people want to buy, why limit yourself to a local market?”