Setting out to create a world beating international recruitment business, where would you choose to start? As a budding entrepreneur you might assume London, perhaps even a city like Manchester or looking further afield into Europe or the US. But what about Newcastle upon Tyne?
The North East metropolis, with a population of over 300,000 is the largest in the region, with a world class university, a thriving technology sector and is now also home to one of the fastest growing international recruitment firms: Samuel Knight International. Despite the rhetoric that London is the shining hub for business growth and prosperity, particularly in the ever-changing digital era, Newcastle based Samuel Knight has proved this is not always the case. Beginning as a small start-up company in 2014 the business has grown into a multi-million pound firm in just four years, doubling turnover year-on-year, expanding from five to fifty members of staff and with an appetite to recruit further. Despite being a relatively new player to the market, Samuel Knight is already a significant force operating in the rail, nuclear, oil and gas, wind and solar markets in the Middle East, Africa and across Europe, sourcing a wide range of roles from engineers to wind turbine commissioners for global companies such as GE and Siemens and regional leaders like the Northern Power Grid. The company has also recently been shortlisted for the Lloyds Bank National Business Awards, otherwise known as the ‘Oscars of Great British Business’ recognising companies which are driving exceptional growth across the country. But what is the secret to its success?
The operative word is evolved according to Samuel Knight CEO, Steve Rawlingson. As Steve says: “Samuel Knight is a people centric business and this is what has helped us evolve and grow. We are all working towards the same vision and it’s about building a workforce of employees with shared values and helping them to achieve their goals.” A firm believer that the sector is in the midst of a major reinvention to match 21st century demand, Steve is passionate that for recruiters to offer real value to candidates and clients, they need to have and demonstrate specialist knowledge. As he says, “This way you know your markets inside out.”
Embarking on his career in recruitment in 2004, by the age of 26 he had rapidly progressed to director level and soon found himself with one of the world’s biggest recruitment firms where he started up his own business area. However, working within this type of environment, Steve felt constrained and decided to branch out on his own. Noticing an acute skills shortage within the rail and energy sector, Steve was keen to do more than just be a simple recruiter – he wanted to create a business that addressed the shortage in these key sectors from the ground upwards. After pitching his business idea he won the backing of a Dragon’s Den star James Caan, although he eventually opted for an alternative investment from elsewhere. This gave him the funds to set up what stands today as Samuel Knight International.
When questioned about why he chose the name Samuel Knight he explains: “My grandpa Samuel, was one of those people who never feared taking a risk, he was never afraid of the unknown. He taught me a lot from a young age and I always looked up to him as a knight in shining armour.” He continued, “This is what our company values are about, being fearless, passionate and striving for the best.”
Starting with a small team of five consultants, there were, of course, initial challenges in attracting the best candidates and clients and building the company up from the ground, but once the ball got rolling Samuel Knight rapidly started to thrive. Now working in over 40 countries worldwide for more than 300 clients of all sizes, the firm offers a comprehensive end-to-end recruitment system, which encompasses a complete range of services, from sourcing candidates and relocation to payroll and in-country support. “I wanted to make sure we incorporated everything. This adds real value as we take care of the whole process and our contractors and clients can focus on the job at hand,” Steve says. But it’s the team, he explains, that truly makes the company what it is today: “Our mantra is, team work makes the dream work, and it’s true. Good management is about removing obstacles to help staff on their way to success. With the team working together seamlessly we can offer a bespoke service to our clients, staying agile and receptive to demand.”
Over the years, the firm has invested heavily in bringing new employees on board, creating an inclusive culture and embracing an entrepreneurial approach. Despite being a heavily sales- led office, Steve takes pride in the evident team-oriented environment and attributes the company’s success to the quality of the talent they have hired. “Our ethos when it comes to talent is to focus less on individual backgrounds or previous experience and instead on identifying people with the right work ethic and attitude. Yet while the company is seriously focused on recruiting new talent, it is equally committed to its existing staff: “We are hugely proud of the team we have built and our approach of potential over background. We recruited a consultant in our early days with absolutely no prior recruitment experience who is now an associate director which shows determination, hard work and the right training really does pay off here.”
Samuel Knight also recognises its corporate social responsibility and has implemented a policy to ensure the firm gives back to all stakeholders including the local community. CEO Steve is a proud STEM ambassador, for example, actively spending time visiting local schools and encouraging young people to pursue engineering careers. But while this commercial success means the firm is often operating globally, it still hasn’t forgotten its North Eastern roots. “We are constantly looking to try and give back to the region we built our business in,” he says. By engaging and partnering with other companies in the region, using their services when it can and supporting several local charities, Samuel Knight never loses sight of its birthplace. As Steve affirms: “Our headquarters will always remain in the North East.”
Earlier this year, Samuel Knight also carried out its first employee engagement survey, to discover what employees really want. From this, the company has put together a target goal to become one of The Sunday Times Best Companies To Work For and this is now a key part of its growth plan. As part of this goal the firm is now also working with The Recruitment Network to offer training for all consultants and managers are ensuring regular 1-2-1s with their teams to help them continuously improve and grow – but what’s the next step for Samuel Knight?
“The last year was largely about consolidation, but now we are geared up for the next exciting phase of international expansion setting our sights overseas on the UAE and US, this will be part of our five year growth plan,” says Steve. The firm is already working away at strategies to help it recreate the success of the Newcastle office. For example, Samuel Knight has now developed marketing, HR operations and compliance departments. Last year also saw the company move towards greater innovation, utilising the latest technology to increase performance by developing a new highly interactive website. “We are constantly striving to stay ahead of the curve and investing in AI to revolutionise the way we recruit and lead the digital transformation of Samuel Knight,” Steve says. Although headquartered in Newcastle, Samuel Knight has now expanded to offices in London and Bristol and bringing in a new finance director to the Newcastle office is just another step for the firm to focus on securing investment, cost saving and taking the company to the next level.
There’s no denying that Samuel Knight has made huge leaps forward in its short history and it seems well on its way to achieving its goal of becoming a £100 million pound company. As Steve says: “We aren’t too corporate, it’s about balance and embracing the old ‘work hard, play hard attitude’. Giving each individual a sense of ownership and incentive, it is the conscientious, considered team approach and in-depth understanding of the industry from each employee that makes Samuel Knight stand out.“Teamwork truly is the fuel for success,” Steve concludes. “Great things can be done by one person, but really great things are done by a team of people.”