The Differentiation comes down to quality and focus

The British specialist recruitment consultancy Foundation Recruitment is now offering its expertise in continental Europe. In an interview with ACROSS, chartered surveyor and Managing Director Julian Long explains the background to the company’s success, and the planned expansion.

ACROSS: When was Foundation Recruitment founded?

Julian Long: We started business in the fourth quarter of 2009. Foundation Recruitment will therefore soon be celebrating its fifth birthday.

ACROSS: You got started during very difficult economic times…

Long: Yes, as you know, the economic situation in Europe at that time was exceptionally bad, especially in the UK. The British property market was wading through a deep recession in 2009. There was almost no investment or development activity. The shopping center industry had nearly come to a standstill, which made things very challenging for us. But we also benefited massively from the challenging situation. Our first assignment was to conduct a search for the Operations Director at “Liverpool One.” Since little else was going on in the market at that time, people quickly took positive notice of us due to this major instruction. It became apparent to us that there was a significant gap in the UK market for a professional recruitment consultancy with a strong understanding and commitment to retail and shopping centers.

We are delighted that we were able to succeed and grow during the recession; we have learnt a great deal about our strengths and capabilities.  We now see that the market is improving – and our business along with it. Owners are currently seeking new center, leasing, and asset management professionals. We are now benefiting from the excellent contacts that we built up during the crisis and are now the market leaders in shopping center recruitment the UK. We hope that the shopping center expertise, for which we are well known for in the UK, will help us to gain a foothold in other countries.

ACROSS: Could you please describe the services Foundation Recruitment offers its clients and candidates?

Long: We are pure real estate recruitment specialists, working across all sub sectors – commercial, industrial, retail. We provide professional recruitment services for our clients, who are property developers, investment funds, managing agents, facilities management providers, and retailers.

We are the only UK recruitment specialist to have a team dedicated entirely to the shopping center and wider retail industry.

ACROSS: In what way does Foundation Recruitment differ from other Recruitment consultancies?

Long: The differentiation really comes down to quality and focus.

We are genuinely passionate about our work and strive to consistently deliver premium service but not necessarily at a premium price. We are not the cheapest, however, nor do we endeavour to be. Our success is based on our recognized excellent knowledge of the shopping center arena and the aforementioned momentum we built up during the economic crisis.

Both our clients and candidates benefit from working with us: a well managed, honest, professional consultancy, working in markets that we are committed to in every respect. This commitment and understanding ensures we are very accurate in our activities.

In the UK, for example, it is not uncommon for a Recruitment Agency to send a customer ten resumes for a vacancy with only one or two of these ending in interviews. It is obviously a waste of time for clients to read “inappropriate” CV’s. With us, however, clients receive an average of three CVs, all of which typically result in interviews. We can do that because we know our clients and candidates extremely well and our “hit” rate is therefore very high. Over 75% of our first inter­ views lead to a second interview. This high rate, based around a truly consultative approach, sets us apart from our competitors.

ACROSS: Is it also part of the new standards Foundation Recruitment wants to set in property Recruitment?

Long: Definitely. Our core values of Standards, Knowledge, Integrity and Professionalism govern everything we do.

It is essential to us that our candidates feel secure and comfortable placing their CV’s with us.  It is vital to us that they feel we genuinely understand their desires and abilities. We realize that finding a new job is no walk in the park. We respect this fact by treating each applicant professionally and fairly.

We want our clients to feel they can work with us in a collaborative and open manner. We work hard to gain clients’ trust and we never take on instructions that we feel sit outside of our capabilities.

ACROSS: Foundation Recruitment currently has offices in London and Manchester and is focused on the British market. You already mentioned that you want to gain a foothold in other Countries. Please explain your plans to us!

Long: We believe that the organizational structure of shopping centers – mall management, leasing, asset management, development – is basically the same in Continental Europe as in the UK.

Through our extensive involvement with the ICSC over the last twelve months we have met with many senior shopping center professionals across Europe at various conferences. Many have explained to us how challenging it can be for them to identify and secure quality professionals – particularly within on­site mall management; an area in which we excel as a business. There would therefore seem to be a real appetite for our specialisms.

We are of course aware that there are a number of property recruitment consultancies already operating in the European market; many of which are larger and more established than us. However, they do not have our dedication and experience in this sub­sector. Nor do they match our fundamental understanding of the business of shopping centers and how they operate.

We see our European client base potentially split into two. On one side are long standing, successful clients operating within the recognized established markets of Western Europe. They of course know their markets better than we do. Nevertheless, we believe we can genuinely provide useful services to them when looking for employees in places like France or Germany. Our candidate network in these markets is growing at a substantial rate which gives us access to a significant talent pool.

On the other side we have clients in emerging markets, where there is certainly plenty of money and available land for building shopping centers. These CEE countries do suffer from a lack of well­trained and experienced people to mobilize shopping centers in development phases, at launch and then manage them through. We have received interest from  Bulgaria, Romania, Turkey and Russia, among other places.

Local clients in such territories generally care less about whether the candidates speak the local language and more about whether they have the training and experience. In established markets, by contrast, they must be able to speak the language well and must understand the culture.

ACROSS: What is your next goal  in the course of these expansion plans?

Long: Our objective is to secure a handful of key clients this year who own shopping centers both in established and emerging markets and who can see the value of working with a specialist such as Foundation Recruitment. This initial base of clients, who we will be assisting intensively and with whom we want to build trusting relationships, will give us a good starting point for further growth in the following years. This is very similar to how we did it in the UK.

We have no immediate plans to open additional offices at this stage, but we will eventually in response to client demand. In the meantime, we travel extensively!

ACROSS: Who are your current Shopping Center clients  in  the  UK?

Long: We are delighted that we conduct work on behalf of Land Securities, British Land, Westfield, Hammerson, and Intu Properties. All very well recognized, major UK names. Additional clients include CBRE, Savills, Jones Lang LaSalle, Cushman & Wakefield. They are all valuable clients who appreciate what we can do for their business and see us as a strong and reliable partner. We distinguish between two client groups, with developers and investors on one side and managing agents on the other. An interesting aspect of this is that the managing agents are generally global. As we have already gained many of them as customers in the UK, we hope that they can open doors for us in our expansion into continental Europe. British developers, on the other hand, do not usually tread beyond the UK. This distinguishes them from other European developers which often hold shopping centers across the continent.

 ACROSS: How many people work at Foundation Recruitment?

Long: There are currently fourteen of us. We hope to grow to twenty employees by the end of the year. We have six consultants entirely focused on shopping centers and retail. This team will grow further as we undertake more international work this year.

ACROSS: Coming back to the market topic: After these challenging years, how is the demand for property professionals in the Shopping Center industry in the UK?

Long: We see an increase in the demand for asset managers. In the areas of leasing and development, we are only at the beginning of a rise in demand but this is certain to gain momentum. In addition, we have noticed that more and more landlords in the UK want their shopping centers to be managed by a retail expert. We benefit from this trend because, as already noted, we have retail expertise. We are not just moving center managers to their next center; that is simply not sustainable. We are bringing a lot of retail candidates into the industry for the first time. There are huge synergies between running a department store and running a shopping center.

Many landlords ask where the next generation of experts in malls will come from, especially in terms of mall management. An increasing number engage young professionals out of the retail business and train them to become future mall managers. This can however cost landlords a lot of money and therefore this is not carried out by all. At the mall management level in the UK, there is definitely a concerning lack of professionals coming into the arena, and until salaries within the center management match (or better) senior retail salaries, this is likely to be an ongoing issue.

Source: ACROSS Magazine, 2/2014

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