Interviews

What life on a farm taught one successful growing business owner

6 min read

26 October 2015

When Simon Conington, founder of BPS World, tells people what he used to do for a living before he founded the fast-growing global recruitment company, they can’t imagine that the two worlds could be connected in any way.

However, Conington believes that the lessons he learnt as a farmer still hold good in the business that he has built up and still runs today.

“A common misconception about farming is that it’s all about driving a tractor. In reality it’s a very commercial world,” he said. “You need to plan, budget and be flexible to deal with uncontrollable variables – for example, the weather. After all, even the forecasters don’t always get that right. So, as with any other business, being flexible and agile enough to respond quickly to such challenges is a key driver for success.”

Congington developed an understanding of the business world at an early age. He got his first job at just ten years-old. When he left school his passion for agriculture took him to his local farm where he was quickly promoted to underfarm manager.

But, like other businesses, farming too had its work politics and Conington’s frustration at the lack of investment in the business set him on a mission to join the City of London and raise £1m of his own to buy a farm.

As part of that mission he did a stint in recruitment and was a member of the leadership team that took the company he was involved in from zero to a turnover of £120m in just seven years. 

Conington found himself hooked on the sector and knew that it was where his future lay. However, again it was existence of hierarchies and politics that he found frustrating so he decided to launch his own company.

“I wanted to set up an organisation in my own vision,” he explained. “Another lesson from my farming days was an appreciation for growth. Farming is all about nurturing crops. How can you develop and cultivate for maximum returns? In my recruitment organisation I am fascinated by growth and passionate about investing in the next generation by bringing in raw talent and nurturing them into senior professionals. I was determined that once I was in charge, that was what I would do.”

BPS World was initially financed from loans. A key milestone was securing their first recruitment process outsourcing contract in 2003 to deliver 200 workers to a multi–discipline engineering firm.

Conington said: “We certainly celebrated that night. However, the next day we faced the harsh realisation of making sure we delivered.” In fact, all 200 positions were secured on time and ahead of the client’s budget – an experience that BPS continues to achieve replicate with other clients.   

As an SME, BPS World has experienced its fair share of ups and downs. Conington said: “My advice to other SMEs would be, during those inevitable times of troubles, stick to your principles and plans. When we faced particular difficulties, the easiest solution was to write every issue down and tackle them one at a time. By prioritising you can create solutions and start to make a real difference.”

Today, BPS World is an industry leader as has been nominated three times in a row as the REC Best Company to Work For, with client relationships that have existed since its beginnings and strong growth forecasted. 

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Conington has developed considerable influence amongst his peers, being successfully nominated to be on the council of REC and the chairman of the REC Engineering and Technical sector. 

In 2014, BPS published a white paper called “Total Immersion”, which called for HR directors to work more closely with marketing directors to avoid businesses being left out in the cold in post-recession UK. The paper, which was welcomed by the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, the industry body, argued that the biggest challenge businesses face today is not having enough skilled staff. 

It urged employers to think about how to set themselves apart. The research found that organisations need to become the “employer of choice” and to do that required to get noticed in a marketplace where skilled staff can be more selective about who to work for.

Conington explained: “What the company offers in its brand has to be matched by HR. The two have to work together to ensure potential employees hear about the company and then HR has to prove the benefits promised do exist. That is also an effective way of retaining good people; at a time when they can be more picky about who they want to work for.”

His strategy over the new few years is to grow the company and to provide a platform for his employees to do the same and maximise their potential. “From mighty oaks,” as they say in the farming world.