Tom Waddell in Conversation with Chris Black – October 2020

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Chris is founder and owner of specialist hospitality and leisure recruiter Ellis Mack. Chris is a qualified chef and his depth of knowledge and understanding of the hospitality industry made him the natural choice to speak with about the impact on the industry due to Covid-19.

Tom - Chris, thanks for taking to time to chat with me today. Let’s start by summarising your business offering.

Chris – Thanks for making contact- Ellis Mack are specialist hospitality recruiters, our business is a mix of permanent recruitment, executive search/HOD/Chef and temporary staffing solutions.  We cover UK and international although majority of business in Scotland.   We also have separate brands involved in the construction & cleaning services.

 

Tom - Excellent, what type of companies would generally use your services?

Chris – Real mixture of blue chip national/international brands and local independents.

 

Tom – Ellis Mack has been a very successful business over the years, explain what happened when Covid-19 first arrived.

Chris - When it first arrived Jan / Feb everyone was of a view we would hopefully not be affected too badly and continue to trade through it.   We initially became aware of the impact mainly in the Hotel sector, some Hotels we supply whose business was reliant on Chinese tourism etc. were being affected badly but in the main most were business as usual and fairly positive.

 

Tom – As the crisis deepened what was the impact on your clients, did a pattern develop?

Chris – Like everyone involved in hospitality our market fell off a cliff when lockdown began. Effectively our clients closed overnight, temps cancelled / interviews cancelled / offers withdrawn.  The whole market came to a standstill.   We still had some business but in reality it was very little.

 

Tom – What were your immediate thoughts about the impact on Ellis Mack?

Chris – Like most, immediate damage control, but not over-reacting whilst assessing what help the government was going to give.   Cost cutting, coming to arrangements where possible, I made it clear to Ellis Mack staff that would do our upmost to avoid redundancies and have thankfully been able to stand by that to date.  We also had a large temp work force that it was initially unclear what assistance we could give but thankfully we were able to assist a large proportion.  

We tried to get the balance between immediate damage control within Ellis Mack whilst helping support candidates & clients where possible (many of whom were in much worse situations than ourselves).

 

Tom – Did you have to “pivot” your business or move into new areas?

Chris –   Yes, we began looking at ways to pivot very early on, identifying other sectors and  markets we could supply recruitment wise.  We also developed new offers within our recruitment products to take to market and opened other revenue streams separate to our core recruitment business.

 

Tom – How did these work out for you, anything you will continue with?

Chris –   Mixed bag, some good connections/network in farming and food production sectors, we could’ve been very effective in redeploying much of our temp work force in this sector (many of whom badly needed the work) unfortunately we found the Gangmaster Licencing Authority (GLA) very frustrating to deal with.  They launched initiatives like temporary GLA licences etc. but the reality was these were difficult and time consuming to obtain (something the GLA should be held accountable for in my view).

With some new products we are just beginning to take to market now, we are confident these will become a part of our “normal” offering. 

The best success in terms of pivoting was the new revenue streams we opened separate to our core recruitment business.  So far they look to be doing their job whilst not taking away focus from Ellis Mack as the market stabilises

 

Tom – Did you have to let any staff go?

Chris – No, we had one staff member leave around the same time but this was separate to anything to do with COVID.  I made it clear to the team we would do our upmost to avoid redundancies and work through this and have been able to maintain this so far.

 

Tom – What support was out there for small businesses?

Chris – Luckily, we qualified for most of the support packages such as small grants, furlough, CBIL’s loan.   I have to say, really feel you can’t criticise the government much for all that they’ve thrown at it.  I was surprised there was as much support given as there was.

 

Tom – Do you think more could have been done for specific sectors such as hospitality?

Chris –   As above, I feel initially they couldn’t have done much more.   My only criticism might be in how things are being handled now?   Not sure they’ve got their facts 100% correct in some of the restrictions they’re currently implementing.   Also concerns that some of the CBILS loans have been too easy to get for sectors that don’t need it quite as much, perhaps should be targeted more to the sectors that do?

Although, it’s hard to criticise too much in my view!  Such a difficult issue to get the balance and every decision right.   All good in hindsight, certainly don’t envy being a politician in times like these!

 

Tom – Looking to the future, what lessons have you taken from the pandemic

Chris – You never know what is round the corner!   Who’d have envisaged 2020 would be like this? Maintaining a cash positive cashflow certainly will be high on our priorities for next few years!

 

Tom – Any words of advice for fellow business owners?

Chris – Some days are easier than others but for me it’s so important to keep your mindset in the right place.   Keep focused on looking for solutions rather than dwelling on problems, be flexible in pivoting, changing your offer and there is always a way through.

 

Tom – Finally, what is the best way for anyone interested to contact you?

Chris – My LinkedIn is best https://www.linkedin.com/in/christopher-black or ping me an email Chris This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

There will be other “in conversation with” features with different business leaders in the coming weeks.

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