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CEO Paul McGuire started his career as a 20 something, working for an international publishing house, he now owns a Global Life Sciences Recruitment company – how did it happen?
Where did it all start?
My ‘proper’ career started at IPC media – one of the world’s top publishing companies. I joined them in the summer of 1996 when IPC had Loaded, NME and Marie Claire - it was an amazing time to be in London and the industry!
And from there?
A friend of mine got involved in a global recruitment company. At first, I was really skeptical about the amount of money and the career opportunities she was telling me about. I genuinely thought it was a scam and she’d joined the mafia!
But, after meeting with them I realised it was an amazing opportunity. In total, I spent 12 years with the business, starting as a trainee and ending up as a director. It was Technology focused for the first 5 years I was there, before diversifying into Engineering, Energy and the Life Sciences. As a director I ran the UK Permanent business for all of the different markets – there was about 150 reporting to me at that time.
What were your motivations for starting your own company?
I grew really tired of working in a corporate company, I’m not the corporate type! I enjoyed my time there, but it reached a point where I knew I had to make a change. I was becoming disengaged. Deep down I knew I wanted to create something, do things differently.
The opportunity came when the recession happened. It’s a good time to start a business if you’re confident in what you’re doing. When you’re a tiny recruitment company and you’re good at what you do, you can always make money. We were confident in our abilities and the opportunity in the Life Sciences Market – it’s a strong sector even in a recession.
So, was it always going to be the Life Sciences?
I knew I didn’t want to build an I.T. business - everyone has done that. At the time, I was considering either Oil and Gas or Life Sciences. Oil and Gas, in fairness, did look like a stronger prospect, but I was more passionate about Life Sciences. I knew more about the industry. Although we had a good Life Sciences business at my previous company we weren’t behaving in a way that reflected the industry. So, we saw an opportunity to do things differently and be a lot more successful.
I know there’s a personal element there too…
Yes, my wife has been in the industry for 20 years. Arguably she knows a lot more about it than I do! It made sense to have the addition security of her background.
What have been the biggest risks you’ve taken?
Biggest risks…starting a company in a recession! As an entrepreneur, when you make the decision to move from a comfortable situation to a high-risk position one of the first things you have to overcome is the fear of failure. For me, that took a while, but it’s a huge step.
The more obvious risks have been around growth. Growing at the right time is important. We’ve opened a number of offices recently; the different locations have different risks associated. New York was a really established, successful business before we opened the office whereas, San Francisco was a colder launch, as was Chicago. They’ve had their own challenges.
What’s been the biggest challenge?
Day 1, getting computers that worked. We honestly spent the whole of the first day trying to buy laptops because the ones I’d ordered hadn’t been delivered!
In terms of building a business Ali (VP – Client Director), Hannah (COO) and I were really confident that we were great recruiters who could do it. We backed ourselves and had a healthy attitude to taking on the competition. But you can’t under estimate the challenges of growing a business. Anything from I.T. (which famously I’m not very good with) to marketing, legal, accounting – so many different facets I had no exposure to when I was a sales director.
Then when you start growing it becomes about people. How do you get people excited about joining a tiny business in a shoe box office? Creating an engaging culture is critical. You have to create a clear vision from the beginning, with a strong sense of brand and identity. We have a really great track record of hiring people so thankfully it was time well spent.
How does culture fit into your role as CEO now?
I think most people wonder what CEOs do! Half the time it’s getting out of the way of other people - trusting and empowering them to be good at what they do. Essentially, being a culture ambassador is a big part of my job spec. Our culture is unique as it’s grown organically through collaboration with Meet’s people. A lot of the ideas we have implemented have come from within. However, a CEO spends a lot of time looking outwards too; it’s important to me that we’re influenced by other companies with strong cultures.
Meet is known for its culture, it’s something everyone who works here, or we work with, comments on. So, it’s important to spend time vested in improving it.
Is there a milestone you’re most proud of?
There have been so many. One of the reasons I wanted to start a business was because I wanted to celebrate the wins again. I wasn’t doing that in my old role. Whether it was the first deal, the first 10 deals or the first time we were paid an invoice – they were absolutely huge achievements at the time. Those early days and early milestones were hugely rewarding.
Our growth over the last few years has been phenomenal – opening 3 US offices and Berlin later this year – all significant milestones. The important thing is to recognise every success. Achieving a Gold award from Investors in People is another example, a recognition of the culture we’re so proud of.
Already this year we seen some huge performances and have eclipsed lots of milestones. Are they more important than that first deal? They’re just bigger. They all feel the same.
How about your personal drivers?
I’m hugely competitive, still really ambitious, and quite restless. As I said, on this journey it’s important to recognise every success. But I will celebrate a win and quickly want the next one. I think that’s a common trait of people who build companies. It’s not in my character to sit back and think ‘brilliant I’ve made it’. My lifestyle now is obviously very different to 10 years ago, or even 5 years ago, yet my personal drivers remain the same. I want to see how far we can go, to be successful and now that I’ve got a family, be a role model to them too.
Finally, if you weren’t the CEO of Meet, what would you be doing?
As a student I thought I was going to be a rock journalist and travel the world with Oasis. I’d like to think I’d be doing that.