Nick Bamford is the Managing Director of Graham Matthews, a specialist Healthcare IT and Workday HCM recruitment company based in London. Since its inception in 2015, much of Graham Matthews’ focus has been providing staffing solutions to the NHS. Now an approved Crown Commercial Service Supplier, Graham Matthews is at an exciting time in terms of growth and expansion into new markets. We chatted to Nick about his hopes for the company going forward, working with the NHS, and the difficulty of switching off and relaxing.
Graham Matthews was recently approved as a Crown Commercial Service Supplier – what is the significance of this?
Fundamentally what it means is that we’ll have access to a far broader range of roles, within the NHS specifically but also in other public sector organisations. Over the last few years, we’ve typically worked on a very specific range of job roles – and outside of Framework. The new Framework opens out the opportunity to diversify our offering not only across our traditional areas, but also those we haven’t even scratched the surface of yet.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned as Director of Graham Matthews?
Never assume anything. It’s been an interesting learning curve as I’d never worked in an organisation that does a lot of work with the public sector before, specifically the NHS. Goal posts change all the time and you have to work around tight budget constraints. Everything can change in one day so we’re constantly looking for ways to de-risk those situations.
How do you relax?
I find it really hard to relax physically and prefer to focus on mental relaxation. Sounds a bit Zen when I say it but I find exercise clears your mind. I’m addicted to the endorphins released through exercise but a positive by-product is that it clears your mind. I will often start a run, swim or long bike ride with a load on my mind and by the time I’m finished, without even thinking, I’ll have solutions and clarity. It’s hard to be stressed when you’re physically knackered.
When forced by my wife, however – a box set, film, or beers with friends.
What does being on the Framework entail for the business and how it will operate?
As soon as the Framework gains traction, that gives us the opportunity to transform the business model from what has traditionally been business development-focused to a delivery model. As the Framework brings a lot of work in, new business development, whilst still important, becomes less of an issue so I’ll be looking to build a strong delivery team. What’s really exciting is that the sky’s the limit as far as that’s concerned – our competitors, who have been working through Framework for years, are generally 50-100 people strong. The key is ensuring the Framework offers us volume and once that starts coming through we need to develop a model and build a delivery team that that are agile, quick, and efficient. Alfie Spencer, who has done a great job on the NHS side of the business, is excited about the new development and I have every confidence in him stepping up and driving the Framework opportunities forward.
What is your guilty pleasure?
Which characteristics do you always look for when hiring?
It’s a gut feeling but generally someone who is ambitious, honest, and has integrity. Strong communication skills: someone who can hold a conversation, not just in a work setting; who can connect with anyone. That’s what this business is all about. I look for people who are going to create an impression, not just with me but also the clients and candidates that they will be dealing with. Be memorable.
How do you define success?
Success is subjective and it all boils down to one thing: happiness. Many outwardly successful people are miserable and vice versa.
What culture have you built at Graham Matthews?
We are currently a small team so it’s important that we all pull together and get on with each other. We are open and honest with each other and I try to instil a culture where there are no surprises. What this means is that we communicate constantly about what’s going on. This is easy to do in a small team obviously, as we hear what’s going on and what everyone is doing. The important thing is to maintain as much of this as possible as the team grows. I think it’s important to enjoy your work, get up every morning with a smile on your face and with a sense of purpose but this can only come from being successful so part of my role is to enable the team to be just that. Focus on the positives, however small the win may be, but deal with the negatives…in a positive way. The world of work is changing and those company cultures that are stuck in the ’90s will struggle to attract and retain staff with the younger generation coming through.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
A pilot. My dad was a helicopter pilot; I ended up joining the army cadets and going to Sandhurst by default rather than the Airforce, which was an error in hindsight.
Which aspect of being part of the Recruitment Entrepreneur portfolio do you find most beneficial?
The fact that my consultants can simply get on with the recruiting. In previous roles, I found a lot of time gets taken up by other things – credit control, marketing, payroll and so on. All that’s taken care of by RE. There’s also a real opportunity for cross-selling when the various directors get their heads together and there’s a quid pro quo mindset of information sharing.
What was your very first job?
Putting labels on clothes for a company that did distribution for M&S – it was the dullest job of my life.
What’s your key piece of advice to those early in their recruitment career?
Hard work never goes unnoticed; be persistent. I always tell my team to leave something to look forward to the next day. If you wake up each morning knowing you have work to pick up on, that keeps momentum going from one day to the next. Thinking that you’ve got to start all over again each day can make it feel like you’re going nowhere. The key to recruitment is a positive, strategic mindset.
Which living person do you most admire and why?
Roger Federer. He epitomises class, grace, self-control and efficiency of movement (he never sweats…weird!). He’s the best there’s ever been in his sport. It also helps that my mum’s Swiss.
What have you learned from working in partnership with the NHS?
Everyone’s under pressure in the NHS. Also navigating your way through the market is not clear cut, as there are lots of people involved at every step. However, once you’ve tapped into it, it’s a really good market to work in. The candidates all have great skills and are constantly moving from contract to contract, so they are reliant on agencies like ours.
What gets you out of bed in the morning?
My dog pawing at me to be let out.
What do you love about running your own business?
The buzz of it. You know that your success is completely down to you. The flipside is that if you have a bad month, there’s no safety net. The highs are really high and the lows are really low – hopefully you find a balance in the middle. To be an entrepreneur you have to be willing to take risks. You have to have confidence in what you do, understand your business completely, and be able to deal with the fact that there will be lows but have the resilience to bounce back from those with lesson learnt!
If you were stranded on a desert island, what one thing would you bring with you?
My goggles. Actually, no – I reckon a fishing net would be more useful.
What do you think is the most important thing to teach when training recruitment consultants?
The ability to listen. There’s a lot of consultants who think the sound of their own voice is the most important thing; a really good consultant is someone who asks an incisive question and then sits back to hear the answer. That allows you to really understand what people want and are looking for. As a consultant, you’re a facilitator between a candidate and client. Where we earn our value is understanding a client’s and a candidate’s needs, then finding and capitalising on the crossover between the two.
Do you have any secret talents?
No secret ones that I can mention here! I think it’s important to flaunt and maximise your talents, which makes it hard to keep them secret. Anything secret will remain just that.
What is your favourite thing about recruiting in your sector?
We’re part of a solution to a problem the NHS has. It’s nice to know that if a hospital needs people, we can supply that. Also in the private sector you rarely get thanks; within the NHS, they’re always appreciative. Client meetings are always interesting. Visiting hospitals and getting an understanding of how the NHS works beyond the patient-facing side of things that most of us are exposed to is definitely an eye opener.
What tool, object or ritual could you not live without in your workday?
My fold-up bike. I cycle to and from the office from St Pancras every day.
What is your goal for the rest of 2019?
We’ve been held back for the bulk of this year waiting for the Framework bid to be won, so this final quarter is now our chance to really build momentum and push it through. I’m hoping to start 2020 on a really strong footing with all these procedures in place, ready to grow. The first step in that is hiring two or three 180 consultants to join our NHS team.
Which quality do you most admire in people?
Humility and small talk. The latter being something that I find women are naturally much better at than men. The opposite of the former is something I find hard to bear.
What opportunity does Graham Matthews offer to consultants joining the team?
The NHS part of our business really is a bottomless pit of opportunity for the right people who are excited about what they’re doing. There’s the potential to become a specialist, really learn the market and make a tangible difference. People joining the business at this juncture have a real opportunity to be in at the start of this new phase; as we build the team up, they’ll be in the prime spot to progress to team leaders and beyond.
Laura Jarvie who works on the other side of our business – Workday HCM – understands her market very well and has additional experience working other ERP systems, especially SAP. This side of our business is completely different from the NHS but an area that I am keen to develop and build. Having Laura in place means that new consultants joining Graham Matthews will join a small team with real growth opportunities.