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In the spotlight: an interview with Andrew Robinson and Laurent Halimi

Founded by Andrew Robinson and Laurent Halimi in 2015, Elitegroup is a cyber security recruitment firm based in Newcastle. They partnered with Recruitment Entrepreneur in 2016 with their sights set on scaling the business. They’ve since built an impressive brand, operating across Canada and Europe. We chat to them about the rocky road of entrepreneurship, their favourite thing about being their own bosses, and why they set up in Newcastle.

 

How did you meet each other?

Andrew: I was hired by another firm where Laurent was my team leader! We worked together for four years before launching Elitegroup in October 2015.

 

What made you take the leap and start your own business?

Laurent: It was always our goal to set up on our own; we wanted the freedom to create our own culture and brand and to do things better. That’s why we called the company Elitegroup – we wanted to make an impact and manage staff differently to the KPI-oriented, ‘factory recruitment’ approach. For us, KPIs are simply a tool, rather than the focus of how we manage.

Andrew: We take a very entrepreneurial approach with our employees. We operate with total transparency – everyone knows how the business operates at the high level and what our net profit is each month. Everyone on the team also has to approve new hires; we don’t take any risks in terms of disrupting the office atmosphere. Being so involved gives everyone on the team that sense of ownership.

 

What do you love most about working in Newcastle?

Andrew: It’s a small community where you can make your business well-known locally, which ultimately is a big help in terms of talent attraction. Compared to London, there’s a cheaper cost of living and less competition, which gives us more freedom.

 

Elitegroup turns 4 this year. What have been the highlights so far?

CEO of RE, Abid Hamid with Laurent and Andrew and Elitegroup’s Business Development Director, Annabel

Laurent: Last year we made some bad decisions and opened new offices too early. What we’ve learnt is the importance of all being together under one roof and running a steady business. Underperforming last year and being under pressure really pushed us to do the maximum; rather than running away from the problem, we had the mindset to overcome and achieve, which we’ve done.

 

Why did you choose to partner with Recruitment Entrepreneur?

Laurent: The skills of the people involved. As recruiters we want to focus on what we know how to do, not all the other aspects of running a business.

Andrew: RE’s proposition is to help businesses scale up and that’s always been our aim. We never wanted Elitegroup to be a lifestyle business.

 

What was your first job?

Andrew: Selling shoes when I was 16. I was good at it but I hated it.

Laurent: I did door-to-door sales selling €10,000 encyclopedias on finance around council estates. I hated it but the commission was crazy good.

 

What’s the most challenging thing about recruiting into the cyber security market?

Laurent: Cyber security is one of the most demanding and challenging markets in the world right now. It’s constantly changing as new technology is always being created; because of that, the main obstacle is finding talent with the right experience and knowledge. There are currently approximately 420,000 cyber security jobs in Europe and it’s a rapidly growing market. It’s definitely challenging but the same time, we are working on very important and sensitive topics.

 

What is the biggest advantage of co-directorship?

Laurent: We’re friends who can count on each other and bounce ideas off one another.

Andrew: Two skill sets. We share the burden and use each other’s strengths.

 

If a genie could grant you one wish, what would it be?

Andrew: Infinite wisdom.

Laurent: Either to be a multi-millionaire or to be immortal. No, wait – I would wish to have infinite wishes!

 

Which characteristic do you always look for when hiring?

Laurent: Someone who is friendly, open and chatty. The right personality match is more important than experience.

Andrew: Someone who is driven with goals. You don’t have to be driven by money; we want people who want to learn and grow. Every one of our employees is working towards that same vision.

 

Laurent and Andrew at LinkedIn HQ

What is one challenge of operating in such a global market?

Andrew: At the moment we are recruiting into France, Germany and Canada (mainly Quebec). The challenge is the language barrier and having the cultural knowledge; as well as everyone being fluent in English, we have specific language speakers for each market.

Laurent: We also customise our offers to each country as different countries have different perceptions of recruitment – doing business with a French company is not the same as with a German company. Generally, recruiters are more well received in Europe. The UK is a saturated market so people have a lot less time for recruiters. In France, the recruitment industry has only emerged in the last five years so it’s much more niche. It’s quite common for us to work exclusively with clients in France and Germany, whereas UK clients are far more reluctant to do so.

 

What are you currently reading?

Andrew: Men’s Health. Otherwise I haven’t read anything in a long time!

Laurent: I’m reading ‘The Millionaire Mindset: How Ordinary People Create Extraordinary Income’, by Gerry Robert.

 

What is your favourite thing about being your own boss?

Laurent: The freedom to implement our own strategies and make our own decisions. Everything we do is for us, not for someone else.

Andrew: Creating high-earning jobs for people is really rewarding too. We create possibilities for our staff and help them build their careers.

 

What’s the first thing you notice about someone when you meet them?

Andrew: Their confidence or lack thereof.

Laurent: How articulate they are.

 

What’s the biggest sacrifice you’ve made in starting your own business?

Laurent: Personally, you have less time to spend with your family because building your own business is so time-consuming. Your partner definitely has to be very patient and supportive if you’re going to do it.

Andrew: Having the ultimate responsibility for people’s jobs and being prepared to do whatever it takes to defend them. You have to drop anything at any point if something goes wrong and you always have to be available. Nothing is ever not your problem.

 

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?

Andrew: Don’t try and run before you can walk. Establish your foundations first.

Laurent: Vision, mindset and patience are the three most important things.

 

What are your goals for this year?

Laurent: To keep our staff happy. We set targets based on their own motivations, working around their goals. Laureen and Margaux are both currently working towards senior promotion targets.

Andrew: To develop our staff so they are confident in managing people and stepping up within the business as we build teams internally.

 

How have the Elitegroup team developed as individuals?

Laurent: Almost everyone has overachieved since we relocated to one office and we’ve signed some amazing clients. The office move had a direct impact on our productivity per head and we’re very proud of the whole team. Our newest team member Coralie Bretez had no experience at all in recruitment and within her first month and a half, she’s already made three placements. I think when you arrive in a company where everyone is billing and the standard is high, you learn quickly.

Andrew: Before joining us, Margaux Robin and Laureen Djerraf were both working at other recruitment firms with average results. Now at Elitegroup they are producing fantastic results, with Margaux on track to make £200k this year. It shows that our methods of developing staff and nurturing potential are more effective than simply managing by KPIs.

Laurent: Michael Robinson has been at Elitegroup since the beginning and over time it’s become more than just a job to him. He’s now involved in the strategy and staff development side of things. Annabel Estephan became our Business Development Director after only two years of experience, which is proof of how quickly you can rise the ranks if you put the work in.

 

If you’re a consultant interested in joining the Elitegroup team, head to www.elitegroup-recruitment.com to find out what career opportunities are available.

Consultants Laureen Djerraf and Annabel Estephan

 

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