Blog Img

10 Year Retrospective - Richard Gahagan

Back to Blogs

Our CEO, Richard Gahagan, reflects on a tumultuous and transformative decade at We Are Adam.


Weathering the Bad Times

 80% of businesses will fail in less than two years, according to Bloomberg. There was a time when we almost became a part of that statistic.

10 years ago, we were doing phenomenally well. Growth was on all our minds and we were going through the process of purchasing a new office in Wilmslow to push
the business forward.

I was also in an exciting place personally. My daughter, Pippa, had just been born and my other daughter, Sofia, would be turning two soon.

After a blissful few years riding high, I came back from paternity leave in 2009 to the biggest recession in my lifetime. It impacted us all massively: at the time none of our clients wanted to hire. Business pretty much came to a grinding halt.

When we were down to the last £5k in the bank, we were advised to cut hard and deep with extensive redundancies to survive. So, naturally, we did the opposite.

The Power in Vulnerability

When the financial crash hit, it would have been practical to cut several members loose in order to save the business.

Big recruiters like Michael Page followed this survival strategy. They cut bonuses and made redundancies, as did TMP Worldwide, the second biggest recruiter in the digital marketing space. They went from 300 people in the UK to just ten.

But this wasn’t our way and never will be. Together with the other Adam directors, we decided that, as leaders, we shouldn’t be immune. For 15 months, we went without pay while the business recovered rather than let our staff and suppliers suffer.

We also strengthened our strategy by focusing on retained work where we could offer real value and engage with clients who were committed to hiring. We pitched retained assignments to our new and existing clients to see who was serious about utilising our services.

Concentrating on quality work gave us a powerful competitive edge - we weren’t simply chasing a loss by working for low rates. We wanted to consistently deliver exceptional value no matter how uncertain the future seemed.

Rising from the Ashes


Over the next few years, we made a remarkable recovery with 2010 being one of our most profitable years ever.

This was possible partly because everyone knew they needed to give 110% … and they did. As a result, we built strong, long-lasting client relationships. Plus, the confidence in the market returned. Companies realised that they needed to hire new talent to survive. Both factors put us back on the road to growth.

In 2011, we hired a non-executive to help us ignite progress. His insight helped us turn our top recruiters into supreme managers. We grew from eight to 15 people rapidly, and two years later, we’d built a solid reputation in the region as a boutique headhunter in traditional and digital marketing.

Building on this success, we decided to expand into the HR arena and operate nationally out of a new office in Manchester. This transformed our outlook and our future
but it wasn’t plain sailing from there on.


An Opportunity to Learn

We assumed that more people would equal more profit. But we hired too quickly and put too much focus on increasing our headcount rather than profitability to scale the business.

Consequently, we experienced a lot of churn. And because we lost sight of our original focus on targeting the right people, we were working with clients who were the wrong fit and not committed to our relationship.

It was important to admit to these mistakes and not repeat them. So, from 2016, we concentrated on bringing in the right kind of work and employees. We also improved our back office processes and our marketing while working hard to build a culture based on our personal values.


Our Choices Make Us

The work we did on developing our culture contributed massively to our success. At its core is our united perseverance to do the right thing, which means more to
us than getting a pat on the back for our good deeds.

It’s about building a team of people who share the same values, who are committed to their roles and to helping others. It doesn’t matter if you’re a leader or a
trainee. We all get our hands dirty, work toward the same goals and share in each others success.

Our culture has helped us overcome the lowest of lows to enjoy the highs. By staying loyal to our values, we have achieved our best year yet in terms of turnover and profit.


Looking Ahead

My kids are now 10 and 12 respectively and I can’t believe how fast the decade has gone. And sure, if I could do it all again, there are certain things I would change ... like spending more time in a hot country lazing on the beach with my family. But the majority of it? I don’t regret a single second, despite the bumps along the way.

Because it’s the trials and tribulations that have made the business the success story it is today. Looking forward, I’m more excited about We Are Adam than ever before. We have just bought a new office, our team is the strongest it has been in years and we are working with many exciting clients.

My message to other businesses dedicated to thriving? Stay true to yourself and your values, take care of your people, focus on profitability and success will follow.


More to Come

Stay tuned for more golden insights from the Adam team as we continue to reflect on the past decade. In the meantime, want to share your business story? Inspire us with your success on Twitter.