How is this Manchester company responding to Covid-19 challenges?

Employment & Skills | North West | Technology
John Gaughan

Headquartered in Didsbury, Manchester, Finlay James are a technology recruitment company. The company was established 16 years ago by John and Sarah Gaughan, and launched globally in 2017.

Today they have offices in Manchester, London, and San Francisco., with an additional team member in New York.

They focus on permanent, full-time, tech sales and marketing positions, which is split; 50% UK, 35% USA and 15% Europe. Last year they turned over £4.1m

Business Leader interviewed CEO, John Gaughan, to discuss decisions he made during the COVID-19 crisis.

When did you first realise that COVID-19 was going to impact your business?

We were a little late to the party. Sara, Nick, and I were flying out to Miami for the SIA conference and the event was due to start on the 9th March. We only found out it was cancelled on the flight over.

During the 5 days we were in the states, it was very much business as usual. There was no social distancing and bars and restaurants were full; and at the time, we felt the organisers had been rash in cancelling.

In regards to the business, we had put in a strong performance in March and we were having a great quarter and were busy planning our next office. It was not until the Wednesday, when Trump made an announcement that we realised there was an issue.

Once we had got back to the UK, we were having our own version of the COBR meetings. Every day that following week we sat down and tried to figure out what to do.

Has that impact been consistent across all 4 of your offices?

Yes, although the US less so. The country is huge, so online recruitment and remote onboarding are familiar concepts that people use.

However, we went from 250+ vacancies across our business to only 50 within a 3-week period. Unfortunately, many candidates have had job offers rescinded and getting a new offer is much harder. Usually we will see 6 or 7 offers a week. Last week there was only 1.

On the positive side though we are still seeing people being hired. Two of our UK candidates started today and some global candidates started last week.

At what point did you realise you were going to have to furlough team members?

I felt we attacked the furlough question differently to most businesses. We looked at it as way to protect our staff, first and foremost. Recruitment currently, is like being in a burning building – you want experience and the right equipment, but also the right mentality; and you want team members who are comfortable and confident to work in this environment.

This is why we did not take an arbitrary look at the numbers and decide we needed to save, say, 30% of our expenditure. We asked all our Manchester and London teams whether they wanted to stay and work or sit it out. More took us up on the offer than we anticipated, and the number is still changing.

We advised anybody who was unsure of what they wanted to do, to go away and think about their situation and talk with family. This resulted in 16 of our staff taking furlough before April 1 and since then a further six have realised they could not perform as well as they wanted to.

The reasons for taking furlough varied; it may have been childcare issues, health problems or family-related concerns. It didn’t matter to us – if a team member wanted to take furlough leave, then they received it.

If more people took furlough than predicted, has that made operating more difficult?
Yes and no. We only have 15 people working, but there are less jobs being offered and this means that we can focus more on quality.

There are less people for us to lead, which means the time we spend with those team members has increased and this is resulting in better mentoring and more support for each of them.

How are you communicating with furloughed team members, to ensure that they are okay and kept up to date?

Sara, our CEO, took furlough and is looking after those team members.
They have a WhatsApp group completely separate from the rest of the team and within it, recipes and exercise classes are being passed around, as well as details on any new deals that have been secured. It is important that they remain connected.
Also, at 4.30 on a Friday the whole team get together for a quiz and to compare home haircuts.

Do your US team have a similar system in place?

There’s nothing like the furlough scheme in the US. There is a loan program, but we don’t have to worry about that yet. The US pipeline is good, so the US side of our business is not as exposed.

The furlough scheme has been extended, is that good news? Do you feel it’s been extended for long enough?

I was having a conversation around this last week. The furlough scheme is fantastic, something that has never been done before. What people don’t understand is we are already towards the end of the government’s initial time frame. March was mostly okay for recruitment but April isn’t great, but it hasn’t been cataclysmic. The time we are going to really need the support is in June and July in my opinion. That’s when there will be no roles, no vacancies and no confidence.

I feel It needed to be extended by another month, but I believe it will be extended further. Unfortunately, the decision-makers do not fully understand what it’s like running a business because as soon as lockdown is lifted and businesses can open, their costs will go up. That does not mean that venues will be full over-night, that will take time. If demand is not there, businesses will go bust and until the pubs, bars and restaurants go back and, most importantly, people are going in them, the UK will need the furlough scheme.

Have you accessed the furlough portal yet?
We had visions that our finance manager would be queuing and spending all week on it, however, she got the claim on Monday afternoon and suggested it was reasonably straight forward and that it would be even quicker and easier next month.

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