Top 50: A bright future for computer recruiters

Computer Futures leads the way in IT recruitment, but its two founders are adamant that their success is just down to having a great team.
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The Independent Online
LIKE MANY entrepreneurs before them, Simon Arber and Bill Bottriell got the idea for their business while working for somebody else. However, where they differ is in that they claim to have learned what not to do rather than any special tricks or facts about their chosen sector.

Mr Arber had been working in recruitment, while Mr Bottriell had followed his economics degree by training as a chartered accountant, working in sales and finally settling in information technology. So when they saw an opportunity in the market it seemed natural for them to launch a recruitment company specialising in IT professionals.

Computer Futures Recruitment Consultants, which takes second place in the latest survey of Britain's fastest-growing private companies by the Independent on Sunday, was born in 1986 when the two founders each invested pounds 3,000 and set out trying to place people in jobs.

Thirteen years later it has grown to the point where it placed about 8,000 IT professionals last year and organised about 3,200 contracts. It is poised to become the country's leader in the IT contracting business and is part of a group that has a turnover of about pounds 215m and which last year made a profit of about pounds 13m.

It is a performance that has helped the London-based company achieve annual growth of 117 per cent in each of the last five years. But, though they came up with the original idea, the founders are keen to downplay their role and - like the leaders of first-placed DX Communications - promote that of the people with whom they work.

Indeed, of the 12 directors besides the joint chief executives Mr Bottriell and Mr Arber, 10 are people who joined the business as trainees. Moreover, they all have equity stakes in the parts of the business in which they work. "I tend to believe that the biggest accolade you can give anybody is giving them a stake in what they have helped create," Mr Bottriell explains.

And he points out that this is particularly important in the sort of business in which he operates. "We are all in the people business," says Mr Bottriell. "Placing somebody in a job and finding contract assignments - the company is the product of the people who work for us."

Mr Bottriell had always wanted to go into business, so when he started this project while both he and his partner were still short of their 30th birthdays, he was especially pleased. But among their early principles were ideas that were the opposites of what the pair had seen happening elsewhere.

"I worked for a number of other companies and I saw more of what I didn't like than of what I did. We thought generally we could do it better," he says.

This is especially true of people development. "Too many people are not given real opportunities," adds Mr Bottriell. He himself says he might not have established his business had previous employers given him a chance and stuck with him.

Having said that, Mr Arber and Mr Bottriell were obviously getting into something at the right time. Back when they started IT was, almost literally, in its infancy in Britain. People clearly had little conception of how it was going to develop, and, says Mr Bottriell, "it has changed altogether".

Now, of course, it has permeated just about every area of life, and created a huge demand for people who understand how the Internet and related products and services work.

Equally obviously, concerns about computer systems' compatibility with the so-called Year 2000 problem has created a heavy demand for the sort of people in whom Computer Futures deals. However, Mr Bottriell insists that the issue has impeded rather than assisted growth in recent months.

"A lot of companies have been holding fire on what they are doing while they make sure that everything is working," he says. "We expect normal growth to resume next year."

So far, the expansion of the business to a pounds 70.5m-plus concern with a nationwide collection of offices. But, with offices already established in Brussels, Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Dublin, Computer Futures is keen to present itself on a wider stage.

"I think a lot of our expansion is going to come from mainland Europe," he adds.

If this might appear to be a bit of a stretch for a company like Computer Futures, Mr Bottriell could well point to one of his guiding principles.

"You've got to be ambitious," he says. "If you aim for the stars you might not hit them, but you will get a lot higher than if you aim too low," he says.