Our 10 Year Anniversary: A conversation with Neil Purcell

From the very beginning, to now: Talent Works International

Talent Works International turns 10 this March. This is an incredible milestone for us as an agency and a fantastic cause for celebration. As a business, we at Talent Works believe in transparency. So, in such spirit, we decided a conversation with our founder and CEO Neil Purcell would be a fantastic start to a series of blogs celebrating the last 10 years.  

So, grab a cuppa, sit down and take some time out with our CEO.   

What inspired you to start up your own agency?

Talent Works was born more out of frustration than anything else. I was frustrated by the lack of quality being delivered, the lack of innovation, agility and flexibility in some solutions offered by other organisations in the recruiting space. So, that made me feel like, why can’t recruitment be something a bit different? Why does it always have to be the same thing, done the same way? So, that’s when I decided to start a business of my own.

I’d done very well in other people’s organisations, I was running a successful division. So, everyone said to me, why do you want to go and set up on your own? I didn’t need to explain myself, I knew what I wanted to do. There’s always an added motivation when people think you can’t do something. Someone, who will remain nameless, told me I’d be done in 6 months.

So, what convinced you that Talent Works would be successful?

Lots of industry experience, confidence and belief. I didn’t know it was going to work. If I’m brutally honest, I think I back myself with having the right mentality and desire to want to do something. If you set something up on your own, you have to have absolute unwavering trust in your own ability and belief that you can make it happen. Along with great people to work with, and a clear vision of what you want to do.

How has Talent Works changed in that time?

If you look at Talent Works today, it isn’t what it was ten years ago, we’ve evolved and become something very distinctive. We’re a real big point of differentiation in the market now for Employer Branding, our RPO offering, with Creative and Digital integrated into it. I believe more in Talent Works today than I did 10 years ago. That’s not to say I didn’t believe in it in the first place, but I think given the timing in the market and the agile nature of what we deliver, it’s a great time to be offering a brand led recruitment solution.

Probably 80% of candidates now are passive. This means you’ve got to be more creative and deliver a better candidate experience from the minute you go out onto a digital platform. It’s not just when you’re in an interview process, candidate experience starts right at the very beginning, before you even have a physical conversation, and that’s the beauty of digital. Where we are now, we are developing employer brand and putting the candidate experience right at the forefront and heart of everything we’re doing. I love it.

Was the success of Talent Works a surprise?

No! No, not at all. I had absolute confidence in myself, and the people I hired in the beginning. I have huge belief in what we’re doing. If you’d asked me 10 years ago, did I think Talent Works would be what it is today? I would have said no. We’ve been on a long journey and we’ve achieved so much.

In the history of Talent Works, what are you particularly proud of?

I’m really proud of what everybody here has been able to build in such a short space of time. To give you a bit of context, we entered into the market in a recession in 2009. That was the best time to have entered because we were offering an alternative approach, that I felt had more value.

We started with Talent Mapping, so we were effectively an alternative solution to Executive Search. Like when we started our employer brand business and then brought the creative and RPO businesses in, we wanted to do it and deliver it differently to challenge what everyone else was doing. We came into a market that had been dominated by the same organisations for years, but we challenged in every single market and continually reinvented ourselves. So, that’s what I’m most proud of.

So, looking forward, what do you see for the future?

That would be telling! Where we are now I think is the most evolved we’ve ever been. We’ve got RPO, Creative Comms, Digital, Recruitment services. We’re proving ourselves in all those areas, it’s how we move forward again while introducing new things and continuing to add value.

It almost feels like the start again. Every time we get to a certain milestone I can tell you it’s been years 3, 6, 8 and now 10 – we feel like the business is in start-up mode again. I like to think of myself as an entrepreneur. People always say to me, you’ve only had one business, but I say, no, I feel like I’ve had 4 business. I get excited and motivated by seeing the levels of engagement within our people, seeing how excited they are about what they’re doing.

Essentially, what you’ve got to look at is that this started as my dream. So, that for me is where I get the excitement and motivation to keep going. It comes from a combination of seeing the dream materialise and the genuine motivation that comes from seeing other people buy into and help deliver it. The future, for me, is really, really bright. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of it?

Can you think of any special memories from the last 10 years?

I think there’s loads that stand out. If I think back to the day we moved into the barn (our first office), before anyone came in, I went in the barn, cleaned everything out and set everything up. We had my desk at the head of the office, 4 white tables that I bought from somebody for £20 and some chairs. When I set it all up, and everyone came in, there was this minute where we went, woah, here we go. This is it. That was pretty exciting for me.

Then, probably when we won our first big clients. One was Wincanton, and one was PepsiCo. So that was pretty cool. At this point I should really thank Mike Lynn-Jones and Rick Kershaw. They both took a leap of faith and trusted us to deliver for their respective organisations. I’m pleased to say, we did.

You know, it’s a strange feeling when you realise it’s working! I had this complete, unwavering belief that it was going to work, there’s no way you can think that it won’t work, but suddenly we realised we’re doing it! This is the dream. This is what it’s all about. It’s not so much a memory but, seeing everybody choosing to be a part of TWI is a hugely humbling experience. It is a hugely humbling experience for me to know that everybody in this business chooses to be here.

You look back on areas where we’ve messed up, and you learn from these things. It’s okay to mess up! Not all the time, but it’s okay to make mistakes. One not so special memory – we entered the US market in 2011, and for many reasons it didn’t work. Those times didn’t deter me from thinking, right, we’re going to do it again at some point with a different infrastructure, different strategies, different people and it’s going to be at the right time. Having the courage and the resilience, as a collective, to know we can do it better. And we did! And now, we’ve built a multi-million turnover business in the US, as well as the UK. That’s pretty cool.

We’re going to continue chatting to the employees here at Talent Works for our 10 Year Anniversary, so keep an eye out for the second blog in the series!