07 April 2015

Culture is caught, not taught: 10 years of Kingfisher Recruitment

(L-R) Matthew, Mal and Rohan,
enjoying the 2011 Kingfisher Christmas Party
at the Kyneton races
In 2006 I met Mal Stuart when he attended an RCSA Leadership workshop I was running. He and his business partner, Rohan Christie had started their own recruitment agency, Kingfisher Property Recruitment, the year previously and they were now in the process of bringing another shareholder, Matthew Barnett into the business. At the end of the workshop, Mal said he and Rohan were looking for some external help and I might be the person to provide that help. That conversation started my relationship with Kingfisher which continues to this day.
As the business grew, Matthew was promoted into the role of Managing Director and under this leadership the company has now expanded into Sydney and Brisbane and employs twenty five people.

Matthew kindly made himself available to answer my questions about Kingfisher Recruitment’s past, present and future.
Ross: What was the original motivation for the founding directors in starting Kingfisher?
Matthew: We had been interested in creating a brand and identity that reflected us and how we liked to work. We did not have a vision to get to any certain size or scale, rather we enjoyed what we did and thought we could create a business that was ours and also create a company to be proud of.
Trust was a key driver for us as well. We did not want to enter into an equity position with our employer at the time and as soon as we realised that, we knew it was time to make plans to do something else. When you come to that realisation, you are wasting time hanging around. If someone had contacted us to offer us an awesome role in recruitment before we came up with the idea of Kingfisher, who knows what might have happened.

Ross: What were your original goals for Kingfisher and have you accomplished these goals?
Matthew: The initial goals for Kingfisher changed very early in the piece. The directors were content to service a small client base, work on fewer roles and not chase financial targets. It quickly became clear that this approach appealed to clients at that that time; a time when candidates were in very short supply and often over-sold into inappropriate roles. We then decided to take our relationship-based recruitment and combine it with the more proactive approach of some of our competitors, hence the decision was made to grow Kingfisher into a national business.

Ross: In the early days what was the hardest aspect of running your own business?
Matthew: It is not long before you realise the need for structure and process. This can vary from simply sending out invoices and debt collection through to how information is presented to clients in a consistent manner. The first realisation was that our time was better spent on recruiting rather than administration and trying to balance the books so we hired a part time book keeper; the best money we ever spent!

Ross: What service offerings did Kingfisher start with in 2005 and how have these services evolved over the subsequent ten years?
Matthew: Kingfisher Recruitment was originally known as Kingfisher Property Recruitment as we only serviced sectors within the property market. To take full advantage of our contacts and allow us to fully service our clients’ needs we decided to broaden the focus to the built environment, hence the decision to drop ‘property’ from our name.

Ross: What did you do in the early days to define and create a distinct Kingfisher culture and how has this evolved over the subsequent ten years?
Matthew: More recently I have heard the expression that ‘culture is caught and not taught’ and if I look back, this is exactly how Kingfisher has ended up with the great culture that we have today. Firstly by having a group of directors that strive to be successful but not at the expense of others, coupled with the strong belief that we want to continually improve everything we do. Unsurprisingly early hiring decisions saw us hire like-minded individuals. This created an environment where everyone naturally worked hard without heavy management required whilst really clicking as a collective, enjoying themselves and supporting each other. You can still see this as a key part of the culture today where everyone is supportive, enjoys their work and looks forward to the day ahead.

Ross: What are the three or four core character strengths of those people who succeed at Kingfisher?
Matthew: We have always strived to be the best in our space and this is part of all discussions we have with new consultants. It is important that everyone at Kingfisher has the desire to be the best in their space and posses the drive to succeed. I believe that with these character strengths in place we offer the environment to make good consultants into fantastic consultants. We do not believe in, nor are we able to, drag people kicking and screaming to success.

Ross: Kingfisher has expanded from one office to three offices. What have you learned about growing by expanding your physical presence?
Matthew: Again, the reason for opening offices in other states was to allow us to service our national clients. We realised that we needed to replicate what we had already created in Melbourne and that it was an extension of the existing business as opposed to opening up a new business. This may sound very straight forward but it was challenging on many fronts. First we needed to have good processes in place to ensure the consistency of experience and outcomes for our clients and candidates no matter if they were dealing with our Melbourne, Sydney or Brisbane office. The other aspect was to replicate the culture which meant that early hiring decisions were critical and a lot of interstate travel was required by the directors to model and reinforce the Kingfisher culture.

Ross: What are the most significant changes that Kingfisher have had to deal with in terms of client and candidate behaviour since 2005?
Matthew: With the number of online based recruitment tools such as Seek, Facebook and LinkedIn, our clients are able to identify candidates for themselves like never before. This has seen an increase in in-house recruitment teams and RPOs. These same clients also appreciate the value of engaging recruiters for specialist roles that they struggle to fill themselves hence we are seeing a new hybrid version of RPOs or in-house teams that specifically partner with expert recruiters engaging them exclusively on a regular basis. This has created a market that offers good opportunity to recruitment businesses that can offer highly specialist knowledge, strong candidate referral networks and an in-depth and clearly defined process.

Ross: Tell me a little about the role that technology plays at Kingfisher in 2015
Matthew: Technology plays a key role at Kingfisher. By providing the latest technologies including cloud based CRM systems, iPhones and Surface Pros, consultants are fully mobile and able to access information at any time. This allows us to provide a more efficient and professional service to our candidates and clients. Strong personal branding by all consultants, via social media platforms, is essential for the development of the Kingfisher online community.

We have recently moved to new offices in Melbourne. It’s an activity based environment designed to not only provide a more productive and flexible working environment; including informal, quiet and communal working areas as well as timeout activities, but importantly to provide a transparent and interactive experience for all visiting clients and candidates.

Ross: What are you most proud to have accomplished at Kingfisher?
Matthew: We have created a supportive environment where recruitment services can be provided in a professional and honest way. It is always fantastic to hear positive feedback from our candidates and clients about the service they have received. I am most proud of our consultants saying that they love working at Kingfisher and that they love coming to work.

Ross: What are the Kingfisher goals for the next five years?
Matthew: Our business plan is in place and we are committed to it. The plan is simply to continue to organically grow our current services across the built environment across Australia. We will do this organically by training rookie consultants and leveraging from existing relationships. By developing an in-depth training program we are able to train consultants from scratch in a way that ensures the consistent delivery of the Kingfisher experience to all future candidates and clients.

Ross: How will Kingfisher celebrate its ten year anniversary?
Matthew: With a huge party! Ten years is a big milestone for us and we are keen to share the moment by thanking everyone including clients, candidates, friends, service providers and our staff and families for contributing to our success and making this a reality. Plans are already in motion for a July celebration, details yet to be finalised.

Ross: Thanks Matthew, I appreciate you taking the time to answer my questions.
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