Craig Burton has never looked back since losing his job at a recuriment agency. The founder of The Works in Leeds spoke to Ismail Mulla.
This year marks a quarter of a century since Craig Burton launched his own recruitment company.
In those 25 years The Works has been through peaks and troughs, Mr Burton has tried retiring from the business three times and the industry generally has seen massive changes.
However, one thing is clear and that is Mr Burton’s passion for people remains undimmed.
The entrepreneur launched his business after being fired from his previous job at a recruitment agency in Bradford. Mr Burton was dismissed “for not being heterosexual”.
The bitter irony was that he had been doing quite well for this company and made them a lot of money, before he was given his marching orders.
Mr Burton said: “I’d worked for them for seven years and I’d done very well for them. I’d made them a lot of money. I was a good guy. I put myself through all sorts of training.
“I wasn’t flamboyant. I didn’t turn up to work in flowery pants and a handbag. I was just a bloke.”
After his dismissal, Mr Burton was urged by his parents to stick at what he knew but try doing it for himself.
Mr Burton said: “My dad lent me his life savings, which was £3,000. I never used that money. I put it in a bank because interest was quite good in those days but I never told him that I never used the money. I always wanted him to think he actually financed me. He died last year.”
Instead Mr Burton somehow managed to obtain a business enterprise grant, after initially being turned down.
He said: “They wouldn’t ever give anybody an enterprise grant for a service business in those days. You actually had to be creating jobs as an engineering or a wool business. Bonkers.”
So The Works was born out of an office in Bradford. Mr Burton was assisted by Debra Hartley, who co-founded the company.
The recruitment boss says he is interested in “poverty of aspiration” and recalls one of his first ever jobs.
His uncle got him a well-paid textile job at Abraham Moon & Sons. But Mr Burton only lasted one week and two days.
When he went to tell two of his colleagues that he was quitting because “he didn’t like it”, their response was ‘you’re not supposed to bloody like it, it’s your job’.
“I’m always conscious of people doing a job that they’re not happy in. I think as an employer you’ve got a responsibility to make work fun. Make it a place where people want to be,” says Mr Burton.
Over the past three decades the biggest change in the recruitment industry Mr Burton has seen is “people’s attitude to work in terms of learning and development, in terms of loyalty, in terms of tenacity”.
The rise in the number of recruitment agencies is down to people moving jobs more “fast and furiously”, says Mr Burton.
The Works employs 15 people and has a turnover of around £6.5m. Today it is based at the Old Lock next to the Leeds Canal in the heart of the city centre.
But it hasn’t all been plain sailing for the firm. Last year Mr Burton had to return to his business after a three-year break in France.
“I was away from my business for three years, I came back and it was feral. I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said. What he found was a company that was lavishing gifts on employees leaving to go work for competitors.
He tells a story about being approached by a former PA to present a bottle of vodka, bought by the company, to an employee as a birthday present. “I said no,” says Mr Burton. “What made me laugh it wasn’t even a nice bottle of vodka. It was really poor!”
The company was also impacted to the tune of £500,000 after one of its clients hit trouble. But The Works will make a profit this year says Mr Burton.
A key talking point following the vote to leave the European Union is the freedom of movement. Mr Burton is unequivocal on the matter.
“We need to get a campaign round Europe, right sharp, to say come and work here because you’re fabulous and we love you.”
Being at the coalface of recruitment, Mr Burton says he sees the contribution that migrant workers make to the country’s economy.
He emphasises the need to treat would-be migrant workers with respect even if they have language difficulties.
Mr Burton says: “The deal is, if somebody is brave enough to pick a phone up and ring an agency for a job and they’re speaking in that pidgin English, for goodness sake listen to them.
“Get them in and talk to them and you’ve got them for life. Show a little bit of kindness.”
He has first-hand experience of employing a young man from Portugal. Mr Burton said: “We’ve got a really bright lad, who realised he wasn’t going to get a job in Portugal and literally put his stuff in a suitcase and got a plane to Leeds.
“He came in here, he didn’t even have a pair of shoes, I’m not kidding, he had a pair of old trainers.
“He came in here and he said I’m looking for a job I’ve worked in an employment agency and his English was sketchy. But he can write English better than some of our people. He’s absolutely dynamite. We gave him a chance and he’s full-time with us now. And he’s got a new pair of shoes!”
The recruitment boss praises the flexibility agency workers can provide to a business. However he has some choice words for firms who use agency workers to simply reduce costs.
“If you’re using an agency because you have to pay them less money than your own workers I think you should close your business because I don’t think you’re effective,” he says.
After quarter of a century at the coalface of recruitment his passion for people remains undimmed.
Craig Burton factfile
Title: Founder and managing director of The Works.
Date of birth: 4.11.65
Lives: Leeds city centre
Favourite holiday destination: South West France, I have a home there.
Last book read: Streets of Darkness by A A Dhand
Favourite film: Uncle Buck
Favourite song: As, Stevie Wonder
Car driven: A fixie bike in Leeds and a Range Rover in France.
Most proud of: Introducing the ‘Happy £’ and new members to Rotary International
Education: Guiseley School. Bradford Management School, Leeds Business School and University of Pau, France.