Steve Ingham: Agency boss banks on a steady surge in global recruitment

A day in the life: The chief executive of Michael Page International is confident it will weather the current financial uncertainty
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Steve Ingham's preferred start to the day is to go for a run before driving to Michael Page International's Surrey offices, but, with the international recruitment company due to issue its first-quarter trading update, he needs to be in London, so he has a driver booked. "It is unusual for me to be picked up," he says. "I have three daughters and I like to be able to do the school run on Mondays or Fridays. They go to school in Ascot, so I can drop them off on the way. On a Friday we always stop off for sausage butties for breakfast."

Being picked up at 5.50am does, however, enable him to use the time it frees up to call Dan Chevasse, the head of Michael Page's Singaporean and Chinese businesses. It is now afternoon in South-east Asia and Mr Ingham wants to confirm the schedule for a forthcoming visit which includes a trip to the company's first office in Shenzhen, China. "It's a new territory for us," he says, "and I like to go out there and get a feel for business in the region. We have offices in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing and Sha Tin but we are now moving beyond that heartland."

He will also discuss senior appointments that are being made. From a two-man operation which was launched in 1976 above a launderette in London, Michael Page International has grown to become one of the world's leading recruitment consultancies. It has 149 offices in 25 countries and 5,052 employees across the globe.


Mr Ingham arrives at the group's office in Bloomsbury. His first job is to see a director of one of Michael Page's London businesses for a much-needed coffee. "We don't have a formal hierarchy here," he says. "When you have a business like ours, which has grown organically, everyone knows each other, you don't need to go through a reporting line to see me. We all started as consultants here." He then catches up with his finance director, Stephen Puckett, to run through the forthcoming investor presentation before he starts taking calls from the press and joining the early-morning conference call for news wires.


The investor presentation gets under way. Already from the wire call, it is clear that all eyes are on Michael Page's banking recruitment division, where activity is noticeably slowing. The trouble is it has completely overshadowed what is a pretty decent set of results, with gross profits up by a third across the group. Analysts and investors pose questions over the web, and the answers are then broadcast by the management team.

It is relatively unusual way of handling such presentations. "It has proved popular, particularly with our US investors, who make up around a quarter of the group's shareholders," says Mr Ingham. "They can submit their questions over the web and then watch the recording, which is better for them given the time difference."

Mr Ingham also has to deal with queries about the impact of the early Easter, which has affected the company's results because that is when many of those who make the final decisions on job applications tend to take holidays. It slows the hiring process and hits the company's first-quarter earnings, something that would not happen if Easter occupied a more usual date in April.


Mr Ingham embarks on a second round of press calls and, again, all the attention focuses on the slowdown in the group's banking business. This has begun to irritate Mr Ingham, and that irritation comes across in at least one of the interviews which will lead to him bear the unfortunate description of "tetchy". It is a little unfair. Mr Ingham is certainly straight-talking, maybe even a little blunt, but his honesty and no-nonsense style is rather refreshing.

There is also some justification for him being irked by the attention given to the company's banking division – it does, after all, account for just 10 per cent of Michael Page's UK operations. "Take me, for example," he says. "I have never been involved in appointing a financial person because I joined the sales and marketing business as the company was starting to diversify. Yes it is an important business but our other businesses are doing well."

The point people seem to have picked up on is Mr Ingham saying that Michael Page is being "cautious" about hiring in some areas. He explains: "If I was really bullish, that would have been the wrong thing to do because, if things did turn down in the next six months, I would get accused of being dishonest. But we have just hired 375 people in three months. I wish more of our clients would do that. Engineering is also 10 per cent of our business and that has been growing really quickly."

"We seem to get a disproportionate amount of coverage given our size – we have just crept back into the FTSE 200 – but then I suppose we are seen as a bit of a bellwether. But the important thing about our business is that we rely on churn rather than new hirings. A 28-year-old professional in Birmingham, for example, is not so concerned about the economy at the moment that he doesn't want to change jobs if he is not moving up the ladder quickly enough, or doesn't like his boss."

He enjoys working at his head office, Victoria House, a huge old building in London. "It's very open plan, a bit like a trading floor," he says, "so I can talk to people, read the boards, and see the activity. It's very busy."

12 noon

Mr Ingham heads out for the first of the day's face-to-face meetings with investors. He is sitting down with a fund manager and group of shareholders he has not met before. "It is good to do these meetings," he says. "As it is face to face, it gives us the chance to talk about the overseas businesses and the other parts of the business which are doing well. It is a good meeting."

He then returns to the office, where he speaks informally to a number of his other executives to get a feel for what is happening, and whether there are issues he needs to address. He particularly wants to catch up with a senior staff member who runs several important operations in London and is due to go on maternity leave, as well as a director who has just moved to the capital and will be covering her role while she is away. Lunch will be a brief affair consisting of fruit. "I was once asked where my favourite restaurant was. I weigh more than 14 stone and I need to run four times a week to keep there. If I was in restaurants all the time, I would be like a balloon," he laughs.


Mr Ingham and Mr Puckett now head for another investor conference, this time hosted by Morgan Stanley. With a presentation followed by a question-and-answer session, the event is set to last an hour. When all is finished, Mr Ingham will head to Waterloo Station to catch the train home.

He will usually be found in his office until 6.30pm, or later, but, given journey times in central London, it is hard to justify returning for what will ultimately be a short period. Besides, this will afford him the time to go for the run the results statement forced him to miss this morning.

He will turn in early tonight because the forthcoming trip to Asia is due to last a week and he will be lucky to get 10 hours sleep over the full five days. He says: "There will inevitably be a lot of socialising in the evenings, catching up with our people for a beer and the like, so it's a good idea to catch up on sleep when I can."

The CV

Name: Steve Ingham

Age: 44

Job: Chief executive of Michael Page International.

Education: BSc in Metallurgy and Materials Science at Nottingham University.


1983: Joined Johnson Matthey as a graduate trainee, moving to its sales and marketing department after "quickly deciding that the labs were not for me".

1987: Joined Michael Page as a consultant with Michael Page marketing and sales. Was responsible for setting up the London business.

1990: Promoted to operations director of marketing and sales.

1994: Appointed managing director of marketing and sales, later taking responsibility for the retail, human resources, technology and engineering businesses.

2001: Joined the board as executive director of UK operations.

2005: Became managing director of UK operations.

2006: Appointed chief executive.