Posted on Saturday 22 January 2011 byUlster Business
Last year was an award-winning one for Grafton Recruitment Managing Director Cathy McCorry. Despite a challenging jobs market she says the future looks good for the company in Northern Ireland and beyond
Grafton Recruitment's Cathy McCorry believes that many of the attributes that she brings to her role were instilled in her at an early age.
Ms McCorry was in 2010 named the Institute of Directors' Young Director of the Year for both Northern Ireland and the UK, and also picked up Business Leader of Year at the Recruitment & Employment Confederation awards in the UK.
She says many of the simple things that formed her approach to business were picked up while working in her father's sandblasting business as a teenager, where she learned how to build relationships with customers.
"The attributes I bring are the ones I learned from being in a family business. The value of a pound, the customer is king, you work hard and you treat everybody the way you want to be treated yourself," she told Ulster Business.
"From when I was very young I was dealing with a lot of customers, and everyone's money was the same. It gave me a good grounding and you were always aware that it was important for any business to generate money, be profitable and don't grow ahead of what you can sustain."
Upon her appointment as Managing Director at Grafton in 2008, McCorry had a clear objective and a five-year road map for growth. However with the economic downturn and a 40% reduction in client requirements, adjustments had to be made to that plan.
With a management team that had never experienced such a recession, the need for strong leadership was vital and while the company lost 65 staff in Northern Ireland and more in the Republic, McCorry led it to a profit of almost £2m in 2009 compared with a loss of £350,000 the previous year.
She says her own success with awards reflects the company's own progression.
Grafton Recruitment now has a global presence covering 70 offices in 16 countries, and employs over 180 people within the organisation.
She has been at the company almost 14 years, prior to which she worked for another recruitment firm, was in insurance for a short time and also did some consultancy in the US.
"My background is in accountancy, but I hated it. I did a lot of auditing and it really wasn't for me. What it did give me was good exposure across a wide range of companies both small and large. I had a real interest in how some of these companies were growing and others were losing money. How some were making money at the topline but losing it at the bottom line," she said.
"I fell into recruitment but I came to Grafton at a good time. It was still relatively small in the Ireland space and we had just opened in Prague. When I came in to Belfast I wanted to drive an agenda that was about taking local jobs into local communities."
She initially spearheaded Grafton's campaign to grow into regional towns and now sits on the group board, giving her the opportunity to help shape the company's direction globally.
With offices in locations as diverse as Chile, Poland, France, Belgium and Hong Kong, and a range of brands under the Grafton umbrella, McCorry sees the company's reach as one of its big advantages, noting it is one of the few agencies that connects its client databases globally.
"Internationally we have a fairly aggressive expansion programme planned over the next three years. Like any business at the moment we are looking at what is the best way to finance that, which is a challenge," she said. "I enjoy the international side of our operations and I'm looking to do a bit more of that in the next 12-18 months."
Grafton is also planning to go into mainland UK, a densely populated market in terms of agencies and one which it has previously avoided. But as clients increasingly want to see them represented there McCorry says it is looking to make "one or two acquisitions" this year.
In Ireland the business is focusing on diversifying the range of core services it offers customers while also moving to a new base.
"We are bringing all our Belfast operations into one location in The Boat in January. That will be quite exciting as we'll have our flagship office space in Belfast, which will re-establish a headquarters for us in Northern Ireland," she adds.
"We are also amalgamating all our international finance operations into Belfast, which is a positive reinforcement of the capability we have here in our Northern Ireland finance team."
While the jobs market has undoubtedly taken a beating in recent years, the Grafton MD says activity is picking up, both among employers and candidates in employment looking for new opportunities. There is also a growing trend of people returning to Northern Ireland.
"We would say there has been a steady increase in job activity, employers looking for people in the last seven months, that has been consistent growth and it is a good sign. A number of sectors such as IT, accountancy and finance, retail, distribution, pharmaceuticals, would all be fairly buoyant.
Admin, clerical and front offices support jobs are growing, and that's a positive sign because those would be the sorts of jobs that people would have tended to cut first," she adds.