David Higgins

The harder you work, the luckier you become

As the founder of Harvey Nash, the UK’s largest technology recruitment company, David Higgins recognised early on the potential for growth in the technology sector. Harvey Nash floated on the London Stock Exchange in 1997 and, over the last 20 years, David has experienced the cyclical nature of business. He talks to Smith & Williamson’s Hall of Fame about his commitment to sharing his knowledge and expertise with a new generation of entrepreneurs.

David Higgins Promo

David was convinced that recruitment companies needed a different model and, in 1987, believing that success was all about hard work and that “the harder you work, the luckier you become”, he took a risk to set up his own business. Harvey Nash was built on a unique model, which separated sales from delivery. The consultants had an industry background and therefore understood the needs of their clients better than the competition. This enabled them to identify better quality candidates, which meant that Harvey Nash achieved market-leading completion rates and, as a result, clients stayed loyal to the firm.

The business expanded into Europe, growing organically in Germany, Switzerland and France. In addition, two companies were acquired (in Holland and Belgium) to build out the Group’s European platform. At the same time, the Group opened offices in Asia. In the late 1990s, Harvey Nash acquired a US business and developed a software division in Vietnam.

However strong the underlying business was, it could not escape the technology crash and then 9/11. The company’s share price fell from a peak of £9.73 to a low of 11p and the US business was particularly badly affected, due to its focus on high-growth, technology start-up companies. The bank called in its loan and David put in £2m of his own money and raised the rest from institutions to refinance the firm. The next three years were both the worst and the most cathartic of David’s career, as he restructured the firm by closing offices and making 500 staff redundant.

By 2006, he had returned the firm to profitability and also decided it was time to move on to the next stage of his career. His experiences over those three years had taught him some invaluable lessons, which he was keen to pass on to other business owners. Building sustainability into a business is critical, especially when economic and political influences can change market dynamics overnight. This is even more pertinent today; given the pace of technological change, it is not about if your market will be disrupted, it is about when.

David is a keen advocate of training and understands its importance to skills development and impact across a business. A successful Learning & Development programme creates the right sort of environment for career progression and positive thinking. If staff are confident in what they are doing, then you will create a culture of success.

Today, David sits on a number of Boards, assisting entrepreneurs to scale and grow sustainable businesses. He helps them focus on what they are good at as all too often entrepreneurs take on tasks that are outside of their core competencies. For companies to be successful in the current business environment, David believes that they must have a clear message and a high level of expertise which is underpinned by best in class processes. Modern technology creates greater transparency in customer and employee engagement and these have created new challenges and opportunities to develop better business models. Embracing change propels companies into the future. However, David still maintains that his fundamental beliefs of hard work and investment in training are the cornerstone to being successful.

 

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