In the spotlight: an interview with Angus McDowell

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Angus McDowell joined the Recruitment Entrepreneur finance team as Investment Manager in 2017 and was recently promoted to Chief Financial Officer. He now holds full responsibility for RE’s investment and finance functions, focusing on driving strategy and facilitating growth across the entire portfolio. We talked about the pitfalls of entrepreneurship, career milestones and how becoming a father changes your priorities.


You became CFO in February – what were your aims coming into the role?

Overall, my job is to put the necessary framework and structure in place to enable our portfolio partners to grow and successfully exit. That’s from both an operational and strategic point of view. I wanted the finance team to become more customer-facing; the mentality has to be how we can best serve the portfolio and facilitate growth. To do that, I have to be a couple of steps ahead in terms of where we want to be and how to get there.


Which quality do you most admire in people?



How has RE changed since you joined in 2017?

We’ve grown up a lot. Obviously as we’ve invested in more partnerships and helped scale them, we’ve grown organically. But we’ve also grown up in terms of our thinking, processes and strategy.


What are the key ways you support the portfolio partners with their growth?

One of the key things RE offers is for you to be a business with an agile and niche front office, but supported by the back office of a much larger operation. As part of our portfolio, you benefit from disciplined, best-in-class specialists who you wouldn't have if you were a one-man band. You also benefit from our purchasing power with long-standing partners like our bankers HSBC and our Deloitte auditors.

Specifically in terms of finance functions, we cover the whole operation, from credit control and payroll management to producing management accounts and tax planning. We have the skills and resources to do all the roles most directors won't want to or can't do, such as invoicing and financial accounting. When you set up your own business, everything takes longer and is harder than you think. We also do a lot in terms of analysis and forecasting; we can sense check everything, helping our directors to make more informed decisions and be better leaders. In terms of time enablement and headspace, we add huge value.


What do you do to relax?

I really enjoy spending my weekends with family – now that I’ve got kids, it revolves a lot around trips to the play park! In the evening, we enjoy dinner parties with friends.


What is your goal for RE in 2019?

I’d love to see every member of the RE group reach their potential. We’ve got huge potential within our organisation; on top of steadily hiring new talent, we want to get the best out of everyone who’s already here by giving them the tools and opportunities they need. If we achieve all of that, we'll be in a great place.


What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?

When we get good feedback; when you get a “Thank you” from the people you’re serving, you know it’s a job well done.


How do you balance fatherhood with being CFO?

Sometimes with difficulty. I try to see my children either at the beginning of the day for breakfast or I get back before they go to bed, depending on what my diary is like. Family is very important and it's a challenge to get the balance right.


Where do you hope RE will be in 2 years’ time?

Since I joined in 2017, the portfolio has grown 140% year-on-year. If you extrapolate that out another two years, the picture looks very exciting. We’ve got companies that have grown to 20 people within 3 years – I’d love to see all the new launches get to that stage in the next two years.


In your opinion, what makes a successful recruitment entrepreneur?

There are three main things I look for. Firstly, you have to be an exceptional recruiter with a proven track record, specialist sector knowledge and really deep client relationships. Secondly, you have to have the drive to go out and build a business. It's a different mentality to want to build something yourself and not everyone has it. Finally, you have to be able to lead people; not everyone makes a good leader and manager. Everyone we invest in has to be somebody that I could say I would work for.


What was your very first job?

I was a labourer on a building site when I was 13 – I loved it!


What advice would you give to someone looking to scale their business?

Get your process right and build from the bottom up. Don’t do anything differently in terms of your recruitment process, don’t get distracted by insignificant things, outsource all the processes that aren’t value-add, invest in your client and candidate relationships, and have good people. Hiring the wrong person is a very costly mistake.


What has been the biggest milestone in your career so far?

Each milestone feels like the biggest at that time - I remember walking out of my final interview when I became a Chartered Accountant after years of exams and studying, and also getting my first board position, which both felt like biggest milestones then. Becoming CFO has probably been the biggest change in what my day-to-day looks like; my work had always been largely operational, whereas now it’s a fully strategic role where I have to think differently and delegate more.


Are you a spender or a saver?

A saver – probably a good thing in my role!


Angus with Abid Hamid, CEO of RE

What have you found to be the most common mistake entrepreneurs make?

Spending money in the wrong areas. You need to have a clear vision of what your branding, selling point and talent attraction strategy is before you start spending – once you’ve got that in your head, you’ve got to stick to it and build it up by spending money at the appropriate junctures. If you don’t spend money when you should, you’ll never grow. But spend it too early and you’ll burn through it before you grow.


What would be your desert island book, music record and film?

The Bible, Spotify's "Morning Commute" playlist, and The Shawshank Redemption.


How has the finance team developed this year so far?

We’ve made five fantastic hires since February which helps us better serve and support our partner companies and the group as a whole. Our size and scale means we attract experienced people with the specific knowledge needed to put that scaffolding in place to facilitate further growth. As we’ve built our brand and track record, we’ve become inundated with applications from top quality people, which speaks volumes about our upward trajectory.


As well as individual business growth, how do you foster the portfolio as a whole?

We host regular CEO forums which are collaborative, open forum discussions. They help foster the collegiate feel we want within the portfolio; companies that are five years old with a headcount of 30 and companies that launched last month come together and learn from each other.

All the directors also take part in a customised, strategic leadership programme developed between RE and Cass Business School. As a founding director, a lot of your development is done on the job; Cass nicely compliments this with theory and practice from across the world of business.


Which person, living or dead, would be your dream dinner guest?
Jesus – he knows a lot more than I do!


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