Prime Appointments (‘Prime’) are a family-owned and family-run recruitment agency, who believe in doing things differently. They’re committed to building long-term partnerships that boost their clients business and contribute to the growth of the economy in their local area. Paul Andrews spoke to the family to find out more.
The Prime journey began over a glass of wine in the local pub when two Witham girls decided to make their dream a reality. Robyn Holmes’ and Margaret Locke’s combined mission to create a recruitment agency with a difference was born. Witham’s recent industrial boom provided the catalyst for the start of the Prime journey over 31 years ago and the rest is written in history.
As Robyn explains, “I had been working in recruitment for a number of years and always wanted to do it for myself and Margaret and I got on well, our husbands got on well too, and we had a shared entrepreneurial desire to build something. We formed a plan, secured £15,000 backing from an entrepreneur and we were off!”
Not ones to make it easy for themselves, they set out to build the business, with Robyn having a baby Jack in a moses basket by her side (he later becomes MD) and so it grew, client by client. The business was created at a time when recruitment businesses were dominated by male leaders and people were very vocal about what the future would hold for two women setting out in the sector on their own but how wrong they have all proven to be.
Robyn and Margaret grew a successful business and sadly due to ill health Margaret retired from Prime and Robyn and her family acquired the shares. They remain good friends to this day and in true family spirit of giving back and a true sense of purpose, the Prime team are focused on raising significant funds to help research in Alzheimers, the illness that Margaret became ill with.
Prime made a profit in their first year of trading although this was before paying any corporation tax which wiped the profits, teaching the team a crucial lesson, and one that has remained with them to this day.
Fast forward to 2023 and the next generation are now firmly ensconced in the business. Jack, the eldest son is now a director with the plan for him to become Managing Director in 2025 when his sister Katie will become a director, and Robyn and her husband Peter are still involved but less so on a day-to-day basis as the business moves with the next generation. As Robyn continues, “Our vision is to continue to offer a really good service, finding the right people for positions, and as a family firm we have to do just that, with Jack and Katie in their roles based on merit and performance, something that enables us to take a step back too.”
Robyn is the first to appreciate that stepping back from a family business is not easy. “This is something that I created, that I have been responsible for growing, and in many respects it is like a ‘third child’ to me. It is hard letting go but it is also important. Jack and the team are suitably skilled to drive it forward in its next chapter and I can add value from the sidelines, guidance from years of running it, and help them take it forward. Change is important for the business to move forward too.”
The family have a shared purpose and vision for the business and a succession plan that will see the transition to the next generation in due course too. As Robyn continues, “Over the years we have seen the pitfalls of being in business with family and never wanted that to happen to us. We have benefitted from sitting in board rooms with clients and that has engendered a really good culture within our family where we do have crossed words from time to time but also respect opinions and are able to have open, honest and authentic conversations too. We all need to be open minded and it is this approach that has helped us to evolve.”
As Jack adds, “Being family run is really beneficial to our business too as so many of our clients are fellow family run businesses. We get it and that helps us develop the relationships that we have with our clients, many that have been on our journey with us over the past 30 years.”
Like many next generation family members there was never any pressure to join the business. Jack and Katie had their own choices to make and whilst Jack started as a temp and progressed with various roles within the business, Katie worked elsewhere for a short time before making her mind up and joining. As Jack explains, “Being a temp provided the opportunity to see the business from the temp side and also the relationship with the client and I got hooked and knew this was right for me. It is a fun place to work with great people around you and from time to time there are special moments such as working in the business with Olly Murs before he became a musical icon and TV star.”
Katie adds, “I loved graphic design which I studied at university before getting a job in London. I had begun to think about the family business and eventually decided it was for me. I started on the recruitment desks as I had to gain the respect of the team and despite not being sure if that was my skill set, I have grown into one of our leading consultants and absolutely love it.”
As siblings, Jack and Katie are different, with different personalities and traits that means they work really well together. As Katie continues, “I am more like Mum and have an opinion whereas Jack is very calm and considered and knows how to handle me. We get on really well, respect one another and have clear roles and responsibilities and have found a way to work well together, collectively sharing the same passion as the founders to make a difference and drive the business forward too.”
As Robyn continues, “We aspire to develop and evolve, ensuring the best recruitment experience possible. With this in mind, our teams work in close collaboration, sharing expertise and knowledge with each other, our candidates and clients. We are a conscientious company that is transparent in all our partnerships. With Jack and Katie now fully involved and leading the business, I am proud to continue to say that we are a family business, supporting other family businesses with their recruitment needs.”
The succession process has clearly been a success but as Robyn explains it did not just happen over night. “We had plenty of conversations and considered all the options but it soon became apparent that Jack and then Katie wanted to get involved. Further discussions ensued and a plan was put in place. It is not easy but planning helped and we have not rushed the process either. It is important to keep it simple, fair and to make sure it is as transparent a process as possible with plenty of communication too.”
This is a family that are truly engaged, living and working with shared purposed and on a journey together, something that they are happy to share. “As Robyn explains, it is important to retain a focus and a purpose. I lost my best friend to Alzheimers and we had plenty of great times starting out and building Prime. This was where it all started and for me to be able to pass on the baton to the next generation who have the same passion, drive and ethics that Margaret and I had when we started out is a real pleasure and makes me really proud. Family businesses need to focus on the future but it is also important to remember your roots and what went before. These are influences that determine the culture and purpose of any organisation and it is great to see the next generation taking the mantel and driving more change, which is fantastic to see.”
“I am immensely proud of Prime, our brand and the position that we have in the community and the legacy that we have already created. I am positive for the future and know that with Jack and Katie the business is in safe hands too.”
Prime is well placed to continue their incredible journey. For over 30 years they have been supporting local businesses and there is ample evidence to say that they will be doing it for the next 30 years and beyond. You could say this family business is really reaching its prime and we look forward to seeing what the future holds.