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E153 | Building a Recruitment Firm Centred Around Care & Respect with Simon La Fosse

Is making sure your company is a great place to work at the core of your recruitment strategy? Are you a fixture on the Sunday Times Best Companies list of great places to work in the UK? 

Simon La Fosse, founder of La Fosse Associates, having had a bad experience in a previous company, where the directors there deemed his contribution not to be worthy of many stock options, decided to start his recruitment company with the goal of building a search firm centred around care and respect, coming up with a unique way to reward long service and loyalty in his team.

Today La Fosse Associates grows 30% per annum – the industry average is 1-2%. He achieves this because of his firmly held belief that treating people well is not just the right thing to do, it’s a better way to do business. 

Simon talks about his journey to date, his plans for the future and a potential float of the business. We discuss what happened last year with recruitment and from their perspective, even in the tech sector, where they are a specialist, they lost half of their revenue. He also shares why he stepped away from being the CEO and why he doesn’t believe he’s really a leader. 

This is a fantastic conversation with some great book recommendations, we hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

On today’s podcast:

  • The atypical recruitment firm
  • The top 40 Best Companies to Work for in the UK
  •  Stock ownership for employees
  • The issue of WFH for maintaining company culture
  • The idea of a management shadow
  • Stepping back as CEO


Creating an Atypical Recruitment Firm with Simon La Fosse

Simon La Fosse has worked in technology executive search for the last 20 years. Up until the end of 2006, he worked for a leading executive search firm and helped to grow the business from an embryonic team to an international organisation of over 500 people. 

After seeing how heavily commoditised the recruitment industry was, he left to start a search firm centred around care and respect, coming up with a unique way to reward long service and loyalty in his team.

An atypical recruitment firm

Simon started La Fosse Associates with the idea to be atypical from the start. They deliberately wanted to be different from other recruitment organisations who tend to have reputations for being filthy when it comes to looking after their own people, let alone candidates, in particular those candidates they can’t place. 

“That just seemed to make no sense to me in terms of if your company’s success is largely determined by your reputation, then why would you not treat people a little bit better and have people positively talking about you as opposed to negatively.”

Simon quickly and easily found an effective way to build his individual brand by just treating people well. And this approach has paid off. They regularly see annual growth of 30% – unheard of in an industry where 1-2% is the norm. 

“The act of treating people well is the differentiator that I think has really helped us continue our growth all the way along.”

The top 40 Best Companies to Work for in the UK

There’s about 900 companies that enter the Sunday Times’ Top 40 Best Companies to Work for in the UK, and they enter the competition year on year, as an external benchmark for how well they’re delivering on their values of treating employees with care and respect. 

“It gives you a sense of where you are doing well in terms of engagement with your staff and where you’re not doing so well, relative to the year before.”

Stock ownership for employees

How you’re treated by others can shape you in later life, and Simon counts his shoddy treatment in the company he worked for previously, for helping shape his decision to give stock ownership to his employees. 

“I’ve always said 100% of nothing is worth nothing, but 60% of something really substantial is. And so all I wanted was a majority control. So I said 60% I’ll hang on to, but over time, I will give 40% away. And we’re very much on that journey.”

There is some cause for concern among employees in that if they leave the company presently, they’ll leave their equity behind, because the only way they’re able to realise any value is if there is a total event, i.e. they sell the company or float it. 

And Simon doesn’t want the journey to come to an end, so he doesn’t want to sell, which is why he’s now getting the company in shape to be able to float. 

“Received wisdom tends to be if you’re worth less than £100 million, you’re going to get a little bit forgotten. And so I think when we’re close to that value, then we’ll float the business.”

The impact of COVID

“It was really horrible. It fell off a cliff, our permanent revenues dropped by 50%. And we lost about a third of our contractors.”

They’re finding that people are less keen to stick with the company the longer they spend away from it because their experience is not a great culture with wonderful people, it’s working from their bedroom in a tough flatshare. 

And if your point of difference is your great culture with people who care, working from home doesn’t allow you to maximise this. It narrows your point of difference to the competition. Young people aren’t getting the benefit of working alongside more experienced staff, which is why, when they’re allowed into their brand new offices for the first time, Simon’s team have said people have to come in 3 days a week. 

“The more junior people need to be in because they need to learn. And the managers need to be in because they need to manage. And so I would say 80 – 85% of our workforce need to be in those three days a week.”

Management shadow

Simon has never seen himself as a quintessential leader, he’s always just got on with it, and hasn’t realised the impact that he has on his team. 

“I’ve always thought about myself as not really as much of a leader, certainly not that kind of dominant leader. But I’m in a leadership role and I have been since I started the company. And as a consequence of that, you cast a shadow.”

Being a leader has never felt natural to him, and now he can, he’s passed on the baton of CEO, preferring instead to take a step back – not away, just back.

“I’ve tried to set a good example, I’ve just been me, and I’ve tried to treat people well. And that seems to be enough.”

Book recommendations

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