Posted on Friday 18 January 2019 by John Mulgrew

Tina 1

If running several multi-million pound job and recruitment businesses isn’t already enough to keep an entrepreneur’s diary packed, Tina McKenzie is also now heading up the Federation of Small Businesses in Northern Ireland.

The west Belfast businesswoman has grown her portfolio of companies to around £150m.

“My main job is chief executive of Grafton Recruitment, which is now the largest recruitment agency in Northern Ireland – we have around 7,000 to 9,000 people a day working for us,” she told Ulster Business.

“I also run Diamond Recruitment and People Plus – it is an organisation which works with the most vulnerable in society.

“I have been doing recruitment for almost 25 years, and I’m also the chairman of the FSB. When I picked up that role only a year ago, the businesses were slightly smaller.”

The FSB is responsible for around 6,000 members and around 10,000 business in Northern Ireland – dealing with companies with workforces up to 250 corporate staff.

Five years ago, after working away from the UK and Ireland, she returned to her native Belfast to start Staffline.

As for how she’s both carved her position out in business, and led others, Tina says her background has determined how that’s unfolded.

“I think it’s a mix of two things. I think some of us are riskier than others, and some of us are more driven than others, more ambitious and more doggedly determined. That’s not always a good thing – it can sometimes wear heavy on people,” she said.

“I think my background determined my leadership style – coming from a very working class background in west Belfast. I started working in the family business when I was 10. It was nothing for me to go to school and then work at night.

“I think growing up in a family business, you learn quickly that you have to be available, and be prepared to do any job. You must do the jobs people don’t want to do.”

Part of that early career in the workplace also came with being a young woman in business, but being in charge of a much older workforce.

“I was able to influence and manage people from a very young age,” Tina said.

“Especially, when you are young, and people are in their 50s and 60s. That probably gave me the grounding.”

Of course, running several businesses and having numerous other responsibilities means any form of a nine-to-five working existence goes out the window.

“Anyone who thinks it’s easy, or is nine-to-five is much mistaken,” she says.

“I’ve been able to avail of great skills in international business and I’ve had good role models. Always working with great people… they are at the centre of what you do.”

The recruitment businesses she works with deal with staff right across the sectors – with positions from minimum wage, to executive salaries of £150,000.

“We cross all verticals, from retail to agri-food, healthcare, finance, banking and professional sector – from the lower skilled right up to the very high skilled.”

The businesses reach across Ireland, with two offices in Belfast two in Dublin, Cork, Londonderry, Coleraine, Ballymena, Ballymoney, Enniskillen, Portadown, Lisburn and Newry.

Far from an unfamiliar face across Northern Ireland’s private sector, Tina has increased her public appearances backing the withdrawal deal on Brexit. She, like the majority of Northern Ireland business, thinks it’s the best option to avoid a ‘no deal’ scenario.

“I think Brexit, whether it’s Remain or Leave, was always a challenge. It was always a challenge politically. For us, irrespective of the withdrawal agreement, at the FSB we haven’t been sitting on our hands. We have been working hard and engaging with our members.

“(An agreement would mean) we would haven’t have to worry about borders in the Irish Sea or in Northern Ireland. In a sense, NI would sit in the part of the Venn diagram between Ireland and GB as a free port, with tariff-free stats. It could give us a huge advantage and help us become the Singapore of the Western Hemisphere.”

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