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Global expansion – a CEO’s perspective

Steve Rawlingson, Group CEO - SKI Corp

In 2014, we set out on a mission to become the world’s market leader in energy and rail recruitment. By offering innovative project manpower solutions, Samuel Knight International quickly reached this target, but we’re still striving for more. Since our inception, we’ve had the goal of global expansion, and this has always been at the forefront of what we do.

This mentality of constant development and progress is what enabled us to become a global player, and we now operate across three offices in the UK, two in the US and a base in the Middle East.

Our first office opened with just four people in Newcastle, since then we’ve required more space and have now fully outgrown our current premises. In early 2020, we will be opening a 11,000 square foot purpose built office space as our Newcastle HQ to facilitate our hiring plans, which will be across three floors, complete with our very own training facilities, bar and social area, plus an indoor park. We want to create a community not just a place to work.

Entering new global markets has always been one of our core targets, however, we did not just hope for this dream to come true, but instead created an aggressive five-year growth plan and talent strategy to reach this goal. By the time we celebrated our fifth anniversary, we had a £16 million turnover under our belt and were successfully supporting high-calibre global projects.

As the CEO of Samuel Knight International, I’ve always had my eye on global expansion, and believed that we could truly achieve this with hard work, dedication and a strong workforce. While developing the company’s core values, I ensured that the mantra “team work is the dream work” was echoed in everything we do, which I believe has helped the firm get to where it is today. Before going into aggressive growth mode, I ensured that the team was working cohesively and seamlessly to ensure any new hires joined the best possible environment to support their – and our – growth. During this period, I devised a core strategy for the business and ensured that every department understands it, believes in it and is committed to helping deliver it.

Having strong leaders in place

One of the main aspects that I attribute the company’s success to is having strong leaders in the right places. I focussed extensively on building a robust senior management team and worked closely with them to ensure Samuel Knight’s visions, values and core behaviours are embedded throughout all teams. As we increased headcount, it was crucial that everyone was on the same page and working towards the same goal.

Hiring an agile team

While growing the team, we always ensured that only the right people were brought on-board, but the focus has never been on specific experience. Instead, we’ve prioritised culture and vision.  While experience is certainly useful, many people possess the right attributes to learn the skills needed to be successful in the field, and it’s up to great employers to nurture that.  And for a constantly evolving business, the skills we need are almost constantly changing, so having agile individuals is of greater importance to us. As such, the individuals we brought on board tended to have a growth-mindset, appetite for success and an entrepreneurial flair about them.

Our Director of Energy, Dan Kerr, is a great example of how giving someone a chance led to impressive business gain. In 2014, Dan joined as a consultant, and although he did not have much recruitment experience, his drive and passion shone through. With focus, determination and vision, he progressed to senior consultant within a year and continued on an upwards trajectory. A highly regarded and respected team member at Samuel Knight, having generated over £2.5 million for the company, Dan leads from the front.

At Samuel Knight, we hire on characteristics that we feel will fit into our culture and teams, this has enabled our success and we have a high retention rate which is reflective of our hiring model.

A truly diverse business

It is no secret that the rail and energy sectors have historically lacked diversity on a global scale. However, with so much evidence now available to prove that companies built up of a diverse workforce achieve greater results, more businesses in the sector are working towards changing the industry’s reputation – creating a more inclusive workforce. In order to lead by example, we also ensure that diversity is embedded as a core business value.

We’ve achieved great success with the help of a workforce that’s made of a mix of abilities, genders and backgrounds, so it’s important to us that we champion D&I. We do this by actively promoting successful females in not only the industries we service, but internally too.

As most business directors are aware of, growing your company and entering new global markets is not easy and certainly comes with its challenges. For Samuel Knight, most of the ‘big’ difficulties appeared at the start of our journey. Being accepted into a highly-saturated market as a new innovative manpower provider, offering something different than just the standard recruitment solution was always going to be a challenge. However, with time and the right support, we were able to overcome these problems and get to where we are today.

As the company began expanding its operations overseas, new challenges cropped up. Operating as a global business means you must have the right talent in place, who are ready for the trials and tribulations ahead. This period required careful planning of the structure of the organisation including the location of key team members.  Getting this right was fundamental for successful global growth. And of course, when operating world-wide, it’s important to have a solid understanding of the local cultures and know what the residents expect from companies. This applies to both clients and potential employees.

As a fast growth business, it isn’t easy to always define what talent we’ll need in the future as we are constantly developing and entering new markets. To overcome this uncertainty, it was vital that we had a strategic workforce plan in place. This allowed us to identify where gaps can be filled by external experts in order to maintain ‘business as usual’ operations regardless of headcount changes. By being prepared, and staying one step ahead, we were able to face any challenges that headed our way.

I’m incredibly proud of what Samuel Knight International has achieved so far. From becoming an award-winning company to attaining a multi-million-pound turnover in our early years, there is a lot to celebrate, however there is still a lot left to achieve. Entrepreneurs are always striving for more, and I believe that this is still just the start.

I think it’s crucial that businesses stand for something and leverage their power to make an impact and a difference, and I’m certainly not alone in thinking this. Social responsibility and ethical practices are increasingly becoming a business must. A recent Cone Communications and Ebiquity Global CSR study found that a staggering 91% of global consumers expect businesses to operate responsibly to address social and environmental issues. And the sentiment extends to employees.

We will also be replicating this in the States. While it’s not easy to always implement change on a large-scale, we can impact our local communities. Our new teams in the U.S will be under the guidance of a founding team member, Dave Allen, who will be able to develop the employees on the ground in line with the values that Samuel Knight stands for.

The path to success is rarely a straight line. Challenges will occur, and businesses will be put to the test. However, by living and recruiting by your values and never losing sight of the goals originally set out, you can achieve the growth that you seek. Business is all about collaboration and team-work. It’s vital to get this right and respect this fact, otherwise, it will be impossible to reach your full potential. Partnering with the best people, and having the right talent approach mustn’t be undervalued.


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