When you meet recruitment specialist Amanda Watson in her office setting, it doesn’t take long to figure out that she is someone who people enjoy working with.
The proof of that is underlined by the fact that a colleague nominated Amanda for the recent Angels Bring Business Awards in Lincoln, and her members of staff were delighted when she was named Business Woman of the Year.
As the Managing Director of Ambitions Personnel, Amanda was equally thrilled – but she is quite happy to dodge the spotlight, preferring instead to put her success down to a passion for what she does, hard work and the support of a great team.
It’s a good job there are a few useful “numbers” to bring Amanda’s success into sharper focus. 2015 sees Ambitions Personnel celebrating 25 years in business. The company now boasts 12 branches, places 4,000 temporary workers into jobs every week, and has an annual turnover topping £45 million.
Getting this far is no mean feat, but Amanda was single-minded about making her mark from the outset, and she established herself by making some timely cold calls and being blessed with a helping of good luck.
Today, her love of working within a “people industry” remains as strong as ever, but she also juggles it with enjoying time with her husband Stephen and children Amy (28), Luke (26) and Harriet (22); not to mention her two dogs. Somehow Amanda also fits in the gym.
“My first job within the employment sector was when I joined the recruitment agency Reed in London,” said Amanda. “My mum’s family is originally from Newark, but I grew up in Essex. When I decided to set-up my own business I knew the market in the South was very very competitive.
“My solution was to come to Newark and thoroughly research what was available in an area stretching from Lincoln to Nottingham. It quickly became obvious that there was an opportunity to launch a recruitment business in Lincoln.”
Amanda, who recently relocated Ambitions Personnel from the Cornhill in Lincoln, to the former DVLA office on Firth Road, originally launched her venture in premises off Dixon Street.
“I started off by taking space in a business centre off Dixon Street and getting stuck in. Basically, it was just me and a telephone,” said Amanda. That may sound low-key, but Amanda used the experience she had learned whilst working in London. She set her sight high and got off to a flying start when two companies in Lincoln responded and said they were interested in her services.
“My first client was the forerunner of today’s Siemens, which asked me to supply commercial staff, and Anglian Water asked me to provide people for the customer service side of its business.
“I obviously arrived in the city at a good time. It was the beginning of a recession and every time I advertised a job opportunity, staffing-wise I had jobseekers queueing up outside my office,” said Amanda.
Back in the late 1980s/early 1990s running a recruitment agency was very much seen as a male-dominated field, but Amanda not only made her own statement, a few years later her sister Claire Haggar swapped her daily commute to London for the chance to launch Ambitions Personnel in Newark.
Since then the business has grown to have 12 branches. Much of that expansion has been organic and driven by the growth of Ambitions Personnel’s major clients within the food and electrical goods industries.
“We now have branches in Lincoln, Newark, Sleaford, Boston, Grantham, Wisbech, Stamford, Derby, Worksop, Mansfield, Nottingham and Colchester.
“Whilst our core business is from food, manufacturing and distribution clients, we supply all sectors and are continually attracting new enquiries and talking to prospective new clients about their needs,” said Amanda.
Taking the recruitment agency route to sourcing and employing workers has become an increasingly attractive option for companies keen to keep a tight control on their wages bills, especially in industries where their needs may fluctuate according to customer demand. But, there are other benefits too.
“We advertise for staff, do the interviews, test people when this is required, chase references and select the best candidates for the job or jobs. We basically send our clients people who are ready to hit the ground running,” said Amanda.
“In the past, many clients looking for say 10 people for their business would have tended to advertise in a newspaper. Today, many choose to post their vacancies online and sift through the resulting applications themselves, but we can tap into that and offer the whole selection process.”
The recruitment agency boss’ job has become much more diverse in the past few years and the industry is continually being put under the microscope. This has naturally created more work for people like Amanda but, at the same time, given prospective clients added confidence.
“The main thing that has really changed, from our point of view, is the sheer volume of employment legislation which we have to keep abreast of. We find ourselves heavily regulated and we are continually audited by our clients and others.
“We put people into factories, offices and warehouses etc. paying them for the hours they work and invoicing our client. There is certainly plenty of red tape around,” said Amanda.
Ambitions Personnel can supply temporary, permanent or temp to perm staff. In addition to the recruitment, selection and supply of food and manufacturing industry operatives and shop-workers, it has a professional division and the ability to provide staff for a variety of senior, including management jobs.
“A year ago we decided to add a training division to the company. We saw a big need for this, in support of our existing clients and as an added service which we could offer to other businesses,” said Amanda.
“This division can offer anything from forklift truck driver training down to sessions which help people to get to grip with IT programmes, such as Excel. We also provide training on-site at our client’s premises or based out of our training centre in Newark. In an ever-changing marketplace, you have to stay a step ahead of your competitors in order to future proof your service.”
Amanda, who now employs 72 people across her company – including 14 in her Lincoln headquarters – clearly remains as enthusiastic about Ambitions Personnel as the day when it just had one employee, herself.
Why? Well, that’s down to getting herself the right job to start with!
“The thing about this job is that it has never once been boring. My view is – if you find a job you like, stick with it,” said Amanda.
“In this industry, there is always a challenge. We are in the business of dealing with people and that in itself is challenging. They are always coming in the door searching for job opportunities and, at the same time, our clients are on the telephone each day ordering the next day’s requirements.
“We have to supply them with the right individual or group of people for their needs, but I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.”
This feature interview was first published in issue 25 of the Lincolnshire Business weekly magazine.