Wanted: directors who are in the shop window

Business Essentials: lessons for growing companies

Be careful what you wish for. After jointly founding shopfitting contractor Caledonia Contracts seven years ago, Amanda Boyle's business has grown beyond her wildest expectations, with clients now including Bhs, HMV and Clinton Cards.

Be careful what you wish for. After jointly founding shopfitting contractor Caledonia Contracts seven years ago, Amanda Boyle's business has grown beyond her wildest expectations, with clients now including Bhs, HMV and Clinton Cards.

"It's wonderful, of course, but it means everything changes quickly and we are having problems finding the additional expertise we need to keep up,' says Ms Boyle, the managing director of the business, which specialises in retail projects, commercial interiors and project management.

When the company was established in Dundee in 1997, it employed five people and the turnover for the first year was just under £700,000. By last year, sales had almost reached £4m. The company now employs 22 full-time staff, ranging from directors to drivers, as well as using sub-contractors on a project-by-project basis throughout the UK.

"We're now at the point where we want not only to continue the steep growth, but to learn from what we've achieved already," says Ms Boyle. 'So while we are aiming for a turnover of £6m from April 2004 to March 2005, we also want to employ a finance director and commercial development director.'

Both these appointments were initially filled last year. "We'd been looking around for some time and eventually were impressed with the glossy CVs of two individuals."

Both directors came from big companies and were enthusiastic about transferring this experience to make a difference in a small firm. "We tried hard to manage their expectations,' says Ms Boyle. "But it soon became clear they were not the right people for us.'

She believes there were three reasons for their eventual departure. The first was their transition from a large organisation to a business culture that tried to avoid hierarchies.

Second, the unpredictable tends to happen in such a fast-growing company. "The two individuals we appointed seemed to want much longer than we had to ponder over answers."

Finally, she says, the business can seem unrecognisable from one six-month period to the next. "Yet despite the directors' impressive CVs, they didn't seem able to keep up," she says.

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY

Angela Baron, Adviser, Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development

"Caledonia Contracts fell into the trap of being over- impressed by a glossy CV. They failed to consider what these people would bring to their business, how their experience would translate in a different culture and if they held the same values as existing employees.

"Next time I suggest they sacrifice experience for potential and look for someone who can grow with their business. Enthusiasm and drive may well be worth more than an impressive track record. Look for the talents you want, such as problem solving, creativity, team building and the ability to cope with change."

Tom Hadley, head of external relations, Recruitment & Employment Confederation

"Effective recruitment is a challenge for most companies. The key is to learn from past mistakes.

"Gut instinct isn't enough. Interviews must go beyond discussing experiences and skills. Seeking out behavioural indicators will identify candidates most suited to the culture of the organisation and the specific role. Selection methods can include personality tests, assessment centres and competence-based interviewing.

"The expertise of recruitment professionals can help. The money spent on this will be made back several times over if the new employee is an asset."

Ben Williams, chartered corporate psychologist

"Ideally, they should grow their own directors at this stage of corporate growth. This way, they retain expertise and motivate the relatively small team with visible career prospects.

"If they can't grow their own directors, I'd advise against using agencies. They should establish criteria for suitability ("Will they fit in?" "Do they want the job?") and eligibility ("Can they do it?" "Can we promote them?") for each vacancy, then recruit themselves. Industry contacts may reveal who might be interested and available."

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