Mark Holmes – Founder and Managing Director at Holmes Search Limited

Mark Holmes – Founder and Managing Director at Holmes Search Limited


Was recruitment your first career choice?
No it wasn’t, although I knew that I wanted to forge a career in a business and sales related role.  A friend was working as a recruitment consultant at the time.  I learned a bit about the industry from him and felt that it was a good fit for my competencies and competitiveness.  Recruitment is an industry where you can earn a good salary early on.  It’s also meritocracy based, so I was confident there was no ceiling to my earning potential, which appealed to me.

What were you doing before?
Recruitment was my first full-time job after I graduated from university.  I’ve always had a strong work ethic though.  From the age of sixteen, I worked part-time at my local leisure centre as a sports assistant, life guard and cafe assistant.

How did you transition from being employed to starting your own company?
I had built up twelve years recruitment consultant experience at two large London-based recruitment companies before starting Holmes Search.  I also had eight years as a specialist compliance recruitment consultant.  I’d always wanted to have my own recruitment company and, in mid 2009, I recognised that the compliance market was starting to hire again after the credit crunch.  I saw this as the perfect time to go for it!

What practical steps did you take from there to set up Holmes Search?
To be honest, I started the business as cheaply as I could!  It’s a big risk to set up a company, so I wanted to minimise costs.  In total it cost around £2000, plus six months ‘living’ money.  A friend allowed me to put a desk in an office above his garage.  I borrowed a bike to cycle the five kilometres from my house to this make-shift office every day.  I also had to borrow a lap-top bag so that I could take my lap-top with me and off I went.  It was winter when I started the company and as there was no heating in the office, I had to start a log burning fire most mornings and wear multiple layers to keep warm.

What was your first day at Holmes Search like?
I had worked hard to build up an excellent network of contacts throughout my career as an employed recruiter.  I drew up an excel spreadsheet of those contacts I was able to continue working with (ie. those who I could work with without any confIict with my previous employers).  My first call was to a friend and client called Bharat Samani.  He told me about two vacancies at his previous firm, Commerzbank.  My second call was to Antony Lowther, the Head of Compliance at Commerzbank.  I explained my situation and he kindly let me work the roles. Within three weeks I had made my first placement, so I started to think that working for myself might have been a good idea!

I kept everything simple, working with a small amount of clients at any one time.  I focused on sending good quality CV’s for every vacancy and this is how I continued for the first three months.

How did you grow the business from these beginnings?
I made a good start to the business and this allowed me to hire my first member of staff, Jemma Graffin, who is still with the company today.  I hired one further recruitment consultant and then, crucially, my next hire was an office manager, as I knew that managing the operational side of the business was my weak point.  My new office manager helped to put in the infrastructure needed to move me from being a one man band to a small company.  It also allowed me to focus on recruitment rather than be ‘pegged back‘ by administrative duties.

The company is founded on values that we live and breathe to this day, which our clients and candidates have always appreciated. We have always been very delivery focused.  We like to think that the markets enjoy working with us for those reasons.  The company grew as our markets expanded, but equally we were adaptable enough to be able to contract when the markets did likewise in 2016.  We have maintained our specialism in our niche market, as we believe that our clients and candidates need and welcome this specialist focus.

What attributes do you think have made you successful in your career?
In the early part of my career I worked hard and was a sponge for every bit of knowledge I could pick up about recruitment and my particular sector.  I’m ambitious and competitive, so always aimed to be the most successful and beat my competitors to the placement.  Since then I have become a specialist in the compliance recruitment market and this enabled me to set up a company.  I try and lead from the front and by example, which includes constantly building my network within the market.

What qualities and / or educational background do you look for when employing new staff?
Due to the boutique size of our company, everyone has to be hands on and ambitious. A good educational background is important, but we also look for people with the competencies to fit the role and they must fit with our values.  We like to hire team players who are ambitious, competitive and possess natural interpersonal skills.

What advice would you give to someone looking to start a career in recruitment?
Work hard, listen to senior recruiters, immerse yourself in your specialist area and focus on finding the best candidates for your clients.  I feel strongly that these are the only four pieces of advice you really need and anything else is just ‘fluff’.

What advice would you give to someone looking to start their own recruitment business?
Make sure you are a specialist in a particular market.  Ask the opinion of those around you and some of your trusted clients and candidates.  Be sure that this is something you really want to do, as setting up on your own is hard work, risky and it’s getting harder to overcome some of barriers to entry, such as getting onto psl’s.  I’d also advise keeping your costs low and having a very clear business development strategy.

What have been your biggest challenges in business to date?
When we decided to grow the company beyond the initial eight staff, everything got a bit more serious and our fixed costs grew dramatically.  My role changed and moved away from recruitment. (I didn’t enjoy this and am now, thankfully, fully hands on once again).  I also found that managing a new team of staff was challenging.

This all coincided with a dramatic fall off of the permanent recruitment market in 2016.  The biggest challenge then became downsizing effectively and to the levels nee

ded in line with the changing market conditions.

What would your staff say if you asked them what working at Holmes Search was like?
They would say firstly that it’s by far the best recruitment consultancy to work at anywhere in the world!

I like to think that I have a happy and fulfilled team.  We have set hours of 9–5. This allows all of us to be successful, but also to have a life outside of work.  We have a good approach to flexible working, as a number of us are parents and need time off occasionally.  It’s rare for us to miss important family events, school plays and the like.  The company focus is quite simple.  We have a clear specialist market and are delivery driven. Our consultants are given the responsibility of managing their own time and work-load.  We all work hard but, as we’re a close knit team, we also enjoy each other’s company and have fun.  Our culture is very transparent and any staff issues are dealt with quickly.

What are you planning to focus on in next 18 months?

Our plan is to focus on senior level recruitment in the regulatory market.  This includes compliance, financial crime, risk, front office control, audit and regulatory consultancy.  We are also planning to grow our contract division.  Our ultimate aim is to be the leading regulatory recruiter in the market.

Who is the person / persons who have had the biggest impact on your career?
There are three key people who have influenced my career.  Bernie Schiemer was my first boss.  He was an excellent recruiter, serious about his job and very ambitious.  He also gave me a lot of mentoring.  Andrew Merton was my first MD.  He was ‘Mr Recruitment’, led by example and was very successful.  Paul Stevens was COO and mentor to me at Holmes Search.  He helped me take the business to the next level.

Last, but not least, when you’re not in work, how do you unwind?
We are a keen sporting family, so I play football and, since setting up the company, have run six marathons, an ultra, half marathons and triathlons.  I also enjoy coaching both football and swimming. We love family holidays and days out together.

Click here for Mark’s LinkedIn profile.

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