Profile: Andy Roe on why the future of his digital recruitment firm Hortor lies in robotics and AI

Andy Roe, joint chief executive and founder of global IT recruitment specialist Hortor. Picture Tony Johnson
Andy Roe, joint chief executive and founder of global IT recruitment specialist Hortor. Picture Tony Johnson
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Digital recruitment boss Andy Roe went from managing a global division of 18,000 to starting up his own business and wishes he’d done it a decade earlier, writes Lizzie Murphy.

Christmas is already in full swing at Hortor when I arrive and it’s not even December yet.

The whole office is decorated with tinsel, penguins and Christmas trees and next to me, seemingly breaking through the glass of the meeting room we’re sitting in, are two novelty reindeers.

Andy Roe, joint chief executive, tells me that a member of the finance team spent four hours of their own time decorating the Leeds-based headquarters to the surprise of everyone the next day. “We’ve got a young staff so we want to create a fun environment to work in,” says Roe, 54.

Hortor is a global digital recruitment company that puts together teams to run projects for large organisations in the telecoms, financial services and IT sectors.

Projects include overhauling data centres and implementing new infrastructure for global businesses.

The company, which is based at the Platform building next to Leeds Station, is also setting up a new division to specialise in robotic process automation and artificial intelligence.

Currently, a third of its staff who work on the projects are employed by Hortor itself. By the end of next year, the figure is expected to reach 75 per cent. “There’s a risk to that because if they’re not working we’re paying for them,” says Roe. “On the other hand, we’ll get the consistency and better deliverables. A lot of what we do is outcomes-based so we have to deliver a certain project by a certain time against certain KPIs (key performance indicators).”

Hortor has a £11m turnover, due to rise to £15m by its year end in May, and about 200 staff, including 25 in Leeds.

There are six offices in Leeds, London, Malaysia, Slovakia, North America, Costa Rica. Next year will see the company opening new sites in India Singapore and Germany.

Roe plans to take on another 30 people in Leeds and London over the next 12 months and add 100 more staff on the project delivery side to grow the new robotics and artificial intelligence division.

The growth comes as the business strives towards its ambitious £100m turnover target within five years.

Investing in graduates, particularly those who speak another language, is the key to its growth, according to Roe, who says its main challenge is finding ‘good people’. “We’re not about KPIs, we’re about finding the right individuals to come and work for us who aspire to do well and will fit into our culture. I’d rather grab my own talent and train them in the way that we want to work and I’m pleased to say it’s going really well.”

The company already has a handful of graduates and is looking to take on the next cohort in January followed by another intake next summer.

It is estimated that there were up to 14,000 skill shortage vacancies in the Leeds City Region for digital professional roles in the last year. However, Roe says Hortor hasn’t had any recruitment issues. “We have researchers who are constantly looking for suitable candidates for its database which has in excess of 20,000 people globally. “We’ve never really struggled to find people in what we do,” he says.

The benefit of running a start up, he believes, is the fact they can make decisions really quickly.

There are no ivory towers at Hortor. Roe sits with the rest of the staff, loads the office dishwasher and empties the bins. “I’m not a big one for badges, I’m quite happy helping out, and why shouldn’t I?” he shrugs.

Born in Hainton, Lincolnshire, Roe went on to study economics at City of London Polytechnic.

After a post-university gap year travelling around Australia, he landed a place on a graduate training programme at Norwich and Peterborough Building Society and decided he wanted to climb the corporate ladder.

He did a stint at Norwich Union before moving to Yorkshire in 1998 to work at call centre firm Ventura, which is now part of Capita. As operations director he was part of the team which launched an overseas business venture in India.

“I knew that I wanted to be in operations at the commercial side of things and work my way up to MD,” he says.

“I’ve always been ambitious,” he adds. “I’ve not always made the best decisions but I’ve worked with some brilliant companies.”

He went on to lead a division of Littlewoods Shop Direct Group in Liverpool, where he worked on one of the biggest transformation programmes in Europe to turn a traditional mail order business into a successful online operation during its merger with Great Universal.

He returned to Yorkshire and took a chief operating officer role at Otto UK before becoming managing director of Capita Customer Management where he was responsible for a global division of 18,000 people and £250m turnover.

Setting up his own business, which finally happened in 2014, was something Roe had considered 10 years before but says he wasn’t in a position to take the risk at the time.

His business partner and joint chief executive of Hortor, Andy Nicholson, who has a managed services background, suggested they went into business together with the aim of being quicker and better than their competitors.

Roe says going from running large organisations to setting up his own business was quite an easy transition for him. “The difference is that it’s your own cash now so how you manage that is probably sharper. Managing that every day in the early days was a challenge. The challenge now is how do we expedite our growth and be sensible about how we spend our money,” he says.

He adds: “Andy and I have both run big organisations, therefore, when we talk to people the odds are we’ve faced some of those challenges ourselves. We don’t talk about CVs and candidates. We understand what the issue is and work out how we can help.”

Roe, who has a 14-year-old daughter from a previous marriage, is engaged. He describes himself as “pretty laid back to the point of horizontal”.

“My style is about working with people to get the most out of them as opposed to telling people what to do,” he says. “Why recruit a load of people who are better at things than you and then tell them what to do?”

CURRICULUM VITAE

Title: Joint chief executive of Hortor

Date of birth: September 20, 1965

Education: Branston Comprehensive School and Sixth Form College in Lincoln. Economics degree at City of London Polytechnic

First job: Graduate at Norwich and Peterborough Building Society

Favourite holiday destination: Australia is the place I have been most inspired by

Favourite song: You’re my best friend, by Queen

Favourite film: Where Eagles Dare

Last book read: The Anarchy: The Relentless Rise of the East India Company, by William Dalrymple

Car driven: Range Rover

Most proud of: My daughter and my fiancee.