Having met the queen, dressed in camouflage and survived being shot at, Howard Rudder experienced some truly unique experiences during his nine-year service in the Royal Navy, but when the Cold War ended he needed to make a decision: stay with his brothers in arms or start a new career.
Howard decided on the latter, but soon realised that leaving the armed forces and starting over was no picnic. So he created a new company with business partner Chris Buck to help veterans find a new purpose in life.
In just one year of trading, Grantham-based RecruitME has exceeded expectations. Already enacting their plan for year three, Howard has doubled the size of his staff and is planning to double it again soon, becoming the ultimate stepping stone for people leaving the armed forces to find a new career path. Despite intending on starting out locally, the company boasts national clients and has plans to continue its extraordinary growth.
Both Howard’s father and grandfather had been in the Royal Air Force, and although there was no pressure for him to follow suit, he couldn’t help but follow the military path. “As a child I wanted to be an architect and I lived near Farnborough, so I used to go to the Farnborough Airshow where there was a careers event. I spent a week at sea when I was 13/14 and I fell in love with the idea. I took my entrance exam to naval college when I was still at school and got a reserve place there.
Howard might not be a strong swimmer, but he loved his days in the Navy as a Warfare Officer. When the Cold War ended in, he decided that it was time to move on. “We were looking to the future and it seemed a bit rocky,” he said. “There were big cuts in staff, less overseas deployment and fewer ships. It was a case of ‘Do I take the risk of staying in or do I start a second career?’ So I made a decision, like a lot of my colleagues, and left.”
After a few different jobs, he met ex-army Chris Buck whilst working in HR recruitment and there was an instant bond. “Chris and I had known each other for about three years. We started work at the same company together and were given two offices to run. One in Sleaford and one in Stamford for another recruitment company, working mainly on government contracts.”
“From day one we clicked, we worked well together. Chris is ex-army, I’m ex-Navy so we had good office banter.” It wasn’t long before it was suggested by a friend that that two of them should start their own company and they didn’t think that it was a bad idea.
A new beginning
You can take the man out of the military but it will always remain close to his heart. “The original plan a couple of years ago was to do veteran recruitment. But then, for lots of reasons, partly because of funding and the fact that it is quite a saturated market place, we decided that actually we don’t need to focus on that.
“We are both good at recruitment, we wanted to set up a recruitment company which will then allow us, once we had established and grown the business, to be able to spend more time dedicated to the whole veteran thing.”
RecruitME celebrated its first anniversary on March 2nd and already the company has doubled in size. But due to a demand for veteran recruitment Howard and Chris made the decision to bring their business plan forward. Creating a company that was 50/50 civilian recruitment and veteran recruitment.
“The plan was to start local, don’t go big. Then in years two to three, go out to take on more business in Lincoln, Newark, Peterborough and Leister.” However, the duo found that through referrals and the armed forces connections they had, there was a large demand for a veteran recruitment agency.
“We meet veterans and spouses and people still serving, going through that transition phase every week. What we’ve found is that there is a demand for it now, so rather than wait we have combined the two. We have done recruitment for non-forces and ex-forces as well.
“There are some great veteran owned businesses in Lincoln and Grantham that we deal with. There has been a demand from clients that has driven it, rather than our plan. It’s great for us, very refreshing but also it’s great to be able to offer a balanced business. On one side it’s ex forces and on the other it’s not and it crosses over quite a lot as well.”
Challenging the misconception
There is a stereotype surrounding ex-forces personnel, making it hard for many to find an alternative career. For many veterans, being in the armed forces is all they’ve known since they left school.
“There are a lot of misconceptions about people in the forces and that’s probably the biggest challenge people have when they leave the forces. For us, it’s just working with clients to try and encourage them to actually meet people who have served in the forces. But it’s not just people who have just left. It’s people like Chris and I who are on our second or third career.
“A lot of it is to do with civilian companies understanding the transference of skills, of which there are many. But also sometimes a lot of companies, even ones we speak to on a weekly basis, have misconceptions about the forces. Everything from being trauma cases, to suffering from PTSD, to coming in and barking at staff.”
Howard has made it a key goal to knock down any barriers that can be a challenge for civilian businesses to see the skills transference of veterans and he and Chris have made the company a good stepping stone for ex-forces personnel in this situation, pointing them in the direction of careers that they haven’t considered before.
“All sorts of ex-forces people get challenged into what they are going to work in. We’ve got some people who have gone from forces to working in financial services, which they don’t always apply for initially. It is quite challenging for them.
“When you actually place someone, you get a real buzz from it and it’s great, because that’s our business and a couple of our candidates have literally been offered some life changing opportunities. When you get that, it makes you really proud.
“In the first year, not everything goes to plan. It’s a bit of a rollercoaster. At the end of one week you can be on a high and then the next week a low and that created mental exhaustion. When it’s your own business it’s very hard for your mind to turn off. You just have to keep persevering and don’t give up. See everything that goes wrong as a learning experience, so next time you do it better.”
“You’re in a game where you’re working with people, and you’re representing people. 101 things can go right and wrong. Every day is different and it’s very hard to predict in recruitment.”
This feature interview was first published in issue 71 of the Lincolnshire Business weekly magazine.