Future Proof: Niamh O’Driscoll, Fastnet Recruitment
Diversification the key to driving through recession for niche recruitment firm
Niamh O’Driscoll, managing director of Fastnet Recruitment. photograph: diane cusack
Fastnet Recruitment managing director Niamh O’Driscoll always wanted to be her own boss, and run her own business. Having spent several years working in human resources for firms including Creganna-Tactx, she finally decided to take the plunge in 1999, and set up a recruitment firm with her Dad, Pat.
Between them, they have built a company which not only survived the recession, but boasts higher revenues now than it did at the height of the boom.
“Dad had worked in the pharma industry for nearly 30 years. He joined Pfizer in 1971 and moved on to FMC International in 1997 where he was general manager. I had spent three years working for a small recruitment company in Cork and I left that in 1999 to set up Fastnet. Dad took early retirement and joined me.
“There were 44 other recruitment companies in the Cork region when we set up. We knew we needed to be different so decided to follow a niche strategy of targeting the pharma, healthcare and food sectors. We felt that was a smart move as there was a huge concentration of those companies in Cork and we knew the sectors well.”
It was a strategy that paid off, as the firm now counts Pfizer, Novartis, GlaxoSmithKline, Dairygold, Pepsico and Merck Millipore among its clients.
“We have the capability to supply personnel from front desk to boardroom because we focus on a sector as opposed to job function.”
The two also decided to adopt a partnership approach with clients to build long-term relationships, another move that has been successful, as 85 per cent of the firm’s business is repeat business.
Over the next nine years, the firm grew consistently, turning over yearly revenues of €3.5 million by 2008. “Then the economic tsunami hit,” O’Driscoll recalls. “The clients we were working with weren’t hugely hit be the recession. However, we did experience a fall-off in demand for our services, as companies were more cautious about taking on people, and were not replacing people who were leaving.”
It was a tough time for the firm, which three years previously had purchased new, larger premises in Eastgate business park. Staff were reduced from 12 to seven, and management took a 20 per cent pay cut to reduce costs. In retrospect, O’Driscoll believes companies including her own might have been overly cautious, cutting back too vigorously.
In an effort to drum up some additional business, the firm launched an outplacement division to help companies which were restructuring and making employees redundant.
“There was a significant demand for outsourcing in the two years following the crash. Companies procured outplacement services to help their employees. We provide help to employees with regard to CV optimisation, interview preparation and job-searching techniques online. A lot of jobs are never advertised, so job-seekers really need to maximise their contacts and get networking.”
While the outsourcing division accounts for less than 10 per cent of the company’s overall work now, following a pick-up in the sector in 2010, executive search and contract work have grown in the last few years, the former seeing a 40 per cent rise in demand in the last 18 months.
“There is also a huge demand for contractors, for projects and for their flexibility. They allow companies to scale up and down easily. Last year the firm boasted revenues of more than €5 million, its best financial performance to date, although margins were down.
The firm’s next move is to open a Dublin office, which it is currently in the process of doing. O’Driscoll hopes to be operating in Dublin before the end of the year.
“A lot of companies we work with also have a presence in the capital or near to it, so it’s important for us to be there. We are already travelling to Dublin a good bit for various assignments, so it makes sense to have an office there.”
As well as expanding geographically, O’Driscoll also hopes to expand her team.
“We currently have a staff of 11, but to expect to increase that by five between now and January. There is more market share to be gained in our area.
“If we are to expand again, it will be into Europe rather than into another sector, such as retail. We would hope to have offices on mainland Europe ultimately, as most of our clients are our big multinationals.”