The innovative recruitment and staffing solutions firm soaring to success
Following on from their recent win at this year's Fast Growth 50 awards in Cardiff we caught up with Steve Lanigan, CEO of ALS Managed Services to gain behind the scenes insight into their future growth plans, the team behind the company and hear his top advice for other aspiring entrepreneurs.
Huge congratulations on winning 3 awards at this year’s Fast Growth 50 awards in Cardiff. ALS Managed Services were crowned the ‘Fastest Growing Firm in Wales’ – how did it feel to win and be recognised at such prestigious awards within Wales?
Steve Lanigan: It’s probably the first time in 4 years we took time to reflect and feel any sense of achievement. The last 12 months have been transformational for the business, delivering a Management Buyout with support from the Development Bank of Wales, an office relocation, rolling out a national contract to 195 sites, as well as hiring 14 new staff. It’s fair to say the Fast Growth Awards capped off a massive year for us!
The Fast Growth awards have always been a barometer for high potential businesses in Wales, and to join such an esteemed list is a phenomenal achievement. The awards have been well received within our team too, giving a feeling that their hard work during the tough years has really paid off and delivered unprecedented growth.
All previous Fast Growth winners and many of the shortlisted 50 for each year have gone on to deliver incredible growth and profitability, so it also inspires further confidence in our growth strategy as we push into the next phase of our journey.
Can you share with us a bit of background on your ‘why’ behind ALS Managed Services and the team behind it?
Steve Lanigan: I worked in a large Corporate entity and was part of an exciting growth plan in that company across Europe, but always felt the ‘itch’ to try and succeed as a start-up. The sense of “Creating Impact” was the big driver for the decision to leave a successful career and take the leap of faith. The impact on people lives by offering career development, the impact of creating a brand with values that we live and breathe, the impact we can make on the customers and staff we interact with daily. The sheer potential scale of the Social, Financial and Economic impact we could make was the fundamental reason to do it.
We’ve amassed a strong team in the last 4 years, and they’ve really bought into our vision for growth, tenacity to deliver results and set a standard for the competition. Seeing the combination of exceptional service standards, as well as empowering the next generation of leaders has given a real ‘buzz’ to the team, and they’ve excelled. That team is the reason we continue to be successful, and their evolution is continuing to inspire the next generation of talent in our business and helping to fulfill the “why” vision for me.
ALS are known for their ‘human approach’ to business – what are your top 3 tips on building and maintaining a successful customer base?
OUR OPERATING MODEL
Most recruitment agencies operate a High Street model, which is counter-intuitive to servicing larger customers but also doesn’t support prospective candidates. We’ve dispelled the myth that an effective recruitment model is intrinsically linked to branch-based recruitment and we get to know our staff and customers better as a result. We had a very clear plan on our Operating Model, giving us a competitive advantage on price, service and scalability.
OUR INDUSTRY KNOWLEDGE
It’s easy to try and be everything to everyone in the recruitment industry, but to genuinely stick to a sector specialism and do it well is what our customers have cried out for and they reap the rewards from it. We tailor our service to very specific industry requirements, keeping abreast of the relevant pressures and constantly driving innovation into what we do to complement our customer and industry requirements.
We have a simple brand value, “Engage, Enable, Empower”. This is our core leadership strategy and one that’s come to fruition when we look at the talent we’ve built within our business. We’ve regularly engaged our team, explaining why we do what we do, and what it means. We provide the tools they need to enable them to perform well and deliver results. The team are intrinsic to the success of a start-up business, and keeping them engaged, investing in them as well as empowering them have been crucial factors to help our growth.
ALS has grown by an incredible 4,237.6%, between 2015-17 with sales up from £250,264 to £10.85m. Do you have any plans in the pipeline to grow ALS even further?
Steve Lanigan: We’ve more than doubled our growth since reporting those figures and have started to gain real traction in our current sectors as prospective customers become more aware of us. Our service levels also provide strong opportunities for organic growth with our customers, and we must remain focused on that to ensure we don’t erode our current standards.
We’re working on some exciting opportunities now, that help to set the platform for continued growth. We needed to strengthen our infrastructure, so the office move has really helped create valuable capacity. We’ve also recently rolled out our new Cloud Based CRM system, allowing more bespoke support for our customers through the latest digital innovation.
We’ve focused heavily on internal training and development and have recently launched our Future Leaders pathway, recognising the need to provide structured development for our own staff through the Institute of Leadership and Management. We’ve supported colleagues through CIPD Level 5 and 7, NEBOSH and IOSH Health and Safety qualifications as well as provided other internal training to the team. This structured development helps to set us apart, but also creates loyalty and shows genuine investment in our people to help ensure we can continue our growth trajectory.
The recruitment industry has the potential for consolidation, so identifying and executing strategic acquisitions is always a consideration. We’re also in the process of rolling out several synergistic Added Value initiatives to our customers, helping to ensure we remain at the forefront of innovation in our sector.
Why have you chosen to base your company here in Caerphilly, Wales?
Steve Lanigan: We always intended to set up our roots in Wales. The Welsh Government are keen to support growth and the Economic Action Plan is a truly pioneering strategy, the Development Bank of Wales is unique in their approach to supporting Welsh businesses, and we’ve benefitted first hand from their Management Succession Fund and continued support.
Wales is such a great incubator for businesses, with Entrepreneurial hubs like the Natwest programme, BeTheSpark and other similar initiatives designed to encourage and nurture the entrepreneurial flair for SME’s to thrive. It really is a great location for start-ups to succeed.
I’m born and bred in the Caerphilly council area and worked here for 7 years in my previous role, so there’s a degree of homeliness and loyalty to my roots. Caerphilly is incredibly well placed for the business too, with excellent public transport links, superfast broadband and significant infrastructure allowing us the facilities we need to expand. We’re close to major Universities too, providing a great combination of talent for our team and an expert support network for collaboration and innovation.
What are one or two valuable business lessons you have learned throughout your entrepreneurial journey?
CASH IS KING
I’d always heard the saying in my previous role, but that was a FTSE250 business so a very different pressure. Our operating cashflow cycle put significant pressures on our growth, and we had such great support from our bank throughout. As we grew at such a pace the impact on cashflow was significant during the earlier years. We pay our temporary worker salaries on a weekly basis and were being paid by customers on anywhere up to 120 days
We’ve always been transparent with our finance providers, sharing a robust Business Plan, forecasts, P&L and Balance Sheet information regularly. We also ensured we spoke every few weeks and met once a month to ensure they had confidence in our plans. The flexibility and support we’ve received from HSBC throughout the start-up phase of our business has been an integral reason we’re still here today.
DON’T BE AFRAID TO ASK FOR HELP
I was incredibly naïve when we started, as I’d been insulated to the demands of a business owner in my previous role. You often don’t realise the level of external support available to a business to help you succeed, nor the internal support from your team often crying out to help you if you’d let them.
I’ve been brought up to be independent, resilient and honest, to find a way to succeed and to be competitive. These are some good traits when starting a company but equally held us back at times. I’ve had to improve at delegating, but also to empower the team to make decisions. I’ve learned to ask for help and advice, from Non-Executive Directors, from Banks, from Professionals, and from my peers. It’s surprising how many people share the desire to see others succeed, and their guidance and experience has proven invaluable.
What is the best piece of business advice you have received that you think could be of value to other entrepreneurs?
“OPERATE WITH INTEGRITY”
In my previous business, I lost one of my Senior Managers to Cancer. We’d spoken quite a bit, and I was one of so many in the team who’d seen Colin as a mentor throughout our time working together. We spoke after his diagnosis, and he’d told me the importance of honesty and integrity on your legacy in business, but also in life. It’s something I’ve always carried forward, I’d rather have a smaller business that we can be proud of, than chase risky profit or compromise my integrity. It’s the old adage of being able to sleep soundly at night.
Why do you think creating a more visible, simple and connected entrepreneurial ecosystem within Wales is so important? /Why do you think the BeTheSpark movement is so important for Wales?
Steve Lanigan: Starting a business provided two fundamental challenges for me, firstly the ‘leap of faith’ of leaving an established company and secure job, and secondly knowing what support and guidance was available and how to ask for it.
The creation of BeTheSpark and the push to a more collaborative ecosystem for Entrepreneurs in Wales solves both of those problems. Hearing business owners talking about their journey, the challenges and the successes help inspire others, but also provides the tools required, lessons to learn from and the mistakes to try and avoid. This can only be positive for the next generation of entrepreneurs and future business leaders.
The work of BeTheSpark and other organisations to bring more visibility to that ecosystem, as well as asking Entrepreneurs to pledge their time and support to see others succeed will inevitably help to create future success stories for Welsh businesses.
What’s next for ALS Managed Services?
Steve Lanigan: We’ve increased our Sales and Marketing functions recently, we’ve gone under the radar for 4 years so now need to increase brand awareness and engage better with our customers and our industry. This helps to strengthen our brand and ensure we achieve the growth targets we’ve set.
We’ve implemented a robust plan to provide structured development to our next generation of leaders, ensuring we provide continuity as we grow, and continue to improve our service levels.
We’re progressing a number of exciting initiatives to continue to enhance our offering for current and prospective customers, whilst also providing increased competency and progression opportunities for our flexible workforce to harness the talent within our workforce and help fill the future skills gaps identified by the industries we serve.