Red Berry Recruitment managing director Helen Lacey loves working with berries. She tells Michael Oliver why that’s a good thing.
Recruitment Matters: How did you start in recruitment?
Helen Lacey: I started in a local agency in Barnstaple in North Devon, working on the industrial desk. I was the quickest promoted manager they had, turning the desk around from nine temps to 150 in three months. It was good fun, but I thrive off challenges and got bored quickly. I was headhunted by a national agency in 2003, but I’m not a corporate girl and I like to do my own thing. I was offered a chance to take on a franchise, but my gut instinct told me not to do it. From there, Red Berry was born.
RM: What sectors do you cover?
HL: We have three branches in the Somerset region. We are multi sector, which means we do everything in temp and perm.
RM: Brand seems pivotal to Red Berry, would you agree?
HL: It’s very, very important to who we are. We call ourselves berries. Berries are highly-professional people with can-do attitudes, and you feel that throughout the business. In fact, I was disappointed at the last awards show we went to when I was the only one who wore red! Our brand is an important differentiator, especially for a small agency up against larger ones. Everyone talks about the importance of branding, but if we’re not doing it properly then other companies will and you fall behind.
RM: Talent is the word of the moment—what does Red Berry do to keep its people?
HL: The biggest buzz I get is seeing my staff develop. I always work better with praise, not someone who pushes and pushes. That’s the environment I want Red Berry to be in. Two years ago I started in-house awards because I knew we had such a good team and I wanted that acknowledged—but I knew the success of those awards had to come from within the company itself. That’s why every award is voted on by everyone working here. Having staff can be a headache, but they are your most important asset. Human nature is nobody will ride your bus all the time, but there are always going to be those who want a seat and want your company to thrive.
RM: That philosophy’s been noticed outside of the industry with winning at the Somerset Best Business Awards.
HL: That’s right. We are very loyal to our clients and candidates. I’d like to think we’re exponents of good old fashioned values. Recruitment has become more digital, but relationships are built with people face-to-face. You can’t work with anyone unless you know them. As a business, we practice what we preach: we train, we grow and we develop.
RM: You frequently invited to speak to schools about jobs and work. Why is it important for agencies to do things like that?
HL: This bit I absolutely love. I am a firm believer that people of all levels of education – girls in particular – can do whatever they set their minds to. When you go into schools and you get talking about employability, careers and positive mental thinking, you can see kids having lightbulb moments. It helps to frame their futures and give them a chance to think about where they and how they consider themselves as future workers. If I can get through to two of them, then it’s worth it.
RM: What are some of the big challenges facing Red Berry right now?
HL: I am looking at a mini restructure. We’re looking to open two new offices in the next 12-24 months. I’ve noticed that as I’ve stepped away to do other duties, there’s been a gap in the company’s ‘ruthlessness’. So we’re bringing in a ruthless sales manager to fill that. It’s going to be an exciting time for us.
RM: Is that were the future lies for Helen Lacey?
HL: I’m looking at taking on more non-exec and charity work, particularly with older and more vulnerable people. I want to get Red Berry to a stage where I can offer myself more there. Secondly, I’ll be busy as the first female chairperson of the Somerset Institute of Directors. I want to bring the IOD’s brand back up.