With uncertain times ahead, Lisa Wintrip and Darran Crellin can be excused if they were to say, “Been there, done that!” Darran set up Fletcher George in 2007 as an independent finance and accountancy recruiter, joined soon after by his co-director Lisa Wintrip. It doesn’t take a degree in Economic History to recall what came next. Almost as soon as they had taken the plunge into independence, the worst recession of recent times spread like wildfire across the globe with many companies reevaluating or indeed freezing recruitment.
It was a tough time for the most robust established businesses, but for a new start-up looking to establish a new brand it could have been fatal. The only way to survive was through a determination to succeed and a refusal to lose confidence. As Lisa Wintrip says, “If you can ride the storm and come through, then you have proved that you have something special about your company.”
In fact, she believes that starting in such a recessive market gave Fletcher George a real opportunity to prove themselves.
“It was a challenging time,” recalls Lisa. “. If you don’t have a brand, people won’t pick the phone up. They will call you last or not at all.“
“On reflection, the way the company started out was actually a positive thing. We networked and worked hard to get ourselves in front of firms of Accountants and we built relationships. We pride ourselves on how we build relationships that are long-term and developed with mutual trust, and the start of that was during the early years. We still enjoy working with many of those early clients today”
The two directors met when they were working at Michael Page Recruitment. Darran had previously been a cost accountant for Corus before moving to London in 1990s, joining Michael Page, and then relocating to the Kingston office looking after industry and commerce. Lisa was based in the southern Home Counties and had found her niche of establishing new offices. The pair had a firm belief that their combined skills would excel in a boutique agency, focusing on the accountancy market.
“We wanted to take this level of expertise into a smaller owner-managed business and focus in one area,” says Lisa. “We aimed to develop a brand which was slightly different to the other companies. We saw a gap for an agency which offers the level of service expected from a London company, but operating on a local level.”
“It was a very exciting time. We did notice the difference as we were used to working for a large corporate organisation and we had taken all the back office services for granted. Also it was a new experience not having a well known brand and it was a case of working at the coal face.”
The first job was to decide what the company should be called, and they followed the industry convention of using a combination of people’s names, hinting at blue-stripe respectability. That’s where the convention ended. Fletcher George is not the combined surnames of the founders, but actually an old family name. But then again, Lisa and Darran pride themselves on doing things slightly different, and this is most noticeable in their absolute commitment to providing a bespoke service to both recruiter and candidate.
Lisa explains this ethos: “What makes us different is the individual touch, we offer a boutique service. One of our clients recently said to us: “You guys really care. It’s not an act. It is genuine. You have a real interest in my company and you look for what’s best for the company.”
“It is key to match the right person to the right job, so they stay there and add value to the company. We believe the person we place represents our company and our reputation. We are not after the quick commission. We want the client to know that we have spent time finding a good long term solution. We have had many instances where we placed a candidate who has worked up through the firm and become the recruiter, and they remember the service that we gave them.”
Fletcher George works with finance and accounting professionals resident locally in South West London and Surrey, including the Hampshire and Sussex borders. They recruit for both Public Practice and also for commercial businesses in the local area.
The typical client is quite diverse and includes firms of Accountants who are in the Top 20, Top 30 and Top 50 and have a local regional presence, as well as local independents. They recruit at all levels across a firm.
“Our core business, about 60-70%, is recruiting Accountants into Accountancy firms,” says Lisa. “The other 30% of our business is in placing Financial Controllers, Finance Managers and other senior Finance Professionals, usually where one of our clients in Practice sees the need for one of their clients to have their own Finance Professional in house. As we have the relationship with the Accountancy firm we will recruit the right person, usually on a project basis.”
It will be no surprise to learn that finding the candidates with the right skills and experience is difficult: “Candidates are scarce and we use all our experience to source the right people. The traditional job boards still work, however our best candidates are usually through referrals and recommendations. Also there are the people who may have registered four or five years ago but for whatever reason we didn’t place. We stay in touch with them and keep the relationship going, so when they come back to the market, they are very likely to get in touch.”
It is also important to keep an eye on the local business scene to recognise opportunities, such as mergers or acquisitions.
Lisa comments, “When independents are taken over it is often a move with retirement or succession in mind. Once the acquisition or merger is complete, often one of the partners may step down creating a new managerial role. Also, mergers can unsettle people or there may be a relocation, so firms joining together can often create recruitment opportunities.”
Change is often a positive thing for recruiters, so what about the unpredictable situation we find ourselves in? “Brexit doesn’t overly worry us as we have our own niche market and we are well established. We want to continue with organic growth, so we are moving forward without losing any quality of the service we offer. We intend to further develop the brand within the Surrey market.
“Surrey is one of the leading economic centres in the UK. In the early years we faced quite a lot of competition in the financial recruitment sector, but the reason why there have been many financial recruiters is that there is a strong market in the county. But we offer something a bit different. We view ourselves as a boutique agency, where the relationship with clients and candidates is of paramount importance.”
For further information, please contact Lisa Wintrip at firstname.lastname@example.org, 01372 364160