Simon La Fosse
Building a business around principles
Simon La Fosse founded La Fosse Associates in 2007, determined to build a business around the principle that people shouldn’t have to choose between a caring and ambitious organisation. Thirteen years later and that business is one of the fastest-growing companies in Europe, with over 150 specialists working across four offices in the UK, US and Canada.
Treating everyone with care and respect may not sound like a radical business idea but, in the world of recruitment, it has proved a key point of differentiation for Simon La Fosse.
The clear set of values that the business was founded on are still front and centre, having been sustained and adopted by each new staff member as the business has grown.
Simon became an entrepreneur at the age of 42, starting La Fosse Associates at a ‘do or die’ personal crossroads when he had been with his employer for 14 years and could no longer see any way to progress. He felt he could create something with a different flavour, away from simply sales targets, and so set out to do just that.
Explaining his motivation for leaving, Simon commented:
“My clients would say that my brand and the company’s brand were slightly different. I felt that if you treated people well rather than always looking at the numbers then it was a better way to work. That meant getting the basics right but also understanding that you were dealing with people at a vulnerable point in their lives. I wanted to treat candidates well, to treat clients well and to treat my own staff well.”
However, his timing wasn’t ideal – he started things in 2007, just months before the global financial crisis hit and the recruitment market dried up. This, he admits, gave him some sleepless nights.
Regardless, Simon pushed on. The business soon received a large contract to recruit for the Royal Mail from a long-term contact, which helped get the business through the difficult years in the wake of the crisis and, as Simon asserted:
“The better your relationships, the luckier you get! It was a big task but [the client] trusted me and he knew I’d do anything to make sure it was done well. Our existing relationship was his due diligence and it really showed me the importance of trust.”
While there were elements of running a business that Simon found difficult – namely the pressure to be organised, a good manager and a good leader all at once – he relished that the buck stopped with him:
“There was nowhere to hide, you can’t blame anyone else – I loved that.”
The values-driven ethos of the business – treating everyone with care and respect – doesn’t stop at clients and candidates; most importantly, it applies to ensuring staff are trusted and rewarded. To this point, Simon says:
“If you treat someone like a child, they tend to behave like one. If you say ‘you need to be in at 8am, take your lunch from 1-2 and stay until 6pm’ they will find ways to rebel. Of course, you need systems to monitor people’s output but just monitoring the time at their desk tells you nothing about what they’re actually doing while they’re there.”
Previous experience has also taught him to be generous when sharing the success of the business. Simon owns 60% of the business, with the other 40% gifted to those who have helped it grow over the years – his employees. He wanted to foster a collective sense of shared ownership in the business, believing that “people work harder if they are more engaged”. This has helped to create a unique culture, particularly for a recruitment company, whereby employees at all levels work together and look after each other as they work towards a common goal.
This is particularly important today as the company deals with the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. In spite of financial pressures, the organisation has upped its spending on key areas, such as mental health. As Simon notes:
“We already have a regular counsellor and hypnotherapist but we have doubled the amount of time available and introduced new services to further support the mental health of our workforce.”
Simon is also acutely aware that today’s candidate may be tomorrow’s client. In a digital age, reputations can be won and lost very quickly so care and attention is crucial. La Fosse Associates see around 20,000 candidates a month and, if any of them have a bad experience, it could have a ripple effect on further opportunities. As such, he has sought to build this into the collective consciousness of the firm; through setting an example by caring for the wellbeing and happiness of his employees, he believes that they in turn will be better equipped to care for their clients and candidates.
While Simon’s immediate focus is on the difficult weeks and months ahead, La Fosse Associates still has long-term ambitious plans. Having just moved into a new office and launched two new consultancy service lines within the past couple of years, Simon still has real enthusiasm for the business.
“Recruitment is a great business. It’s not just doing a job and going home. It’s so interesting, speaking to clients and candidates and building enduring relationships – I never get bored.”
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