Directors Donna Stephenson and Steve Slocombe started their company working from a spare bedroom and through innovation and commitment the dynamic pair has developed GRS into the largest international recruitment consultancy in Cyprus.
Could you tell us your success story, how GRS became one of the largest recruitment companies in Cyprus? How did it all start?
Donna: I’m from Yorkshire in the UK and used to work for one of the largest UK recruitment companies. In 2003, I moved to Cyprus to start a new life and began working for a local recruitment company. I soon realised I could do it better on my own and when I met Steve, who has a very similar background to me, we decided we could offer the local market something more unique and try to raise the bar in service provision in Cyprus.
Steve: I’m from Devon, graduated from Manchester University in Law, moved to London and began my career with a major recruitment company working on property and financial recruitment. I wanted to move overseas and came to Cyprus, which is where I met Donna at a local recruitment company. When we first set up GRS, we didn’t have an office and initially used a spare bedroom in my house, working on fold up tables and some old computers.
Donna: We weren’t there for long though, within our first month we had generated a client base and were making placements. By month two we got our first office in Limassol. As luck would have it our lawyer was moving offices and it was perfect for us. It felt like it was meant to be. And that’s the path we’ve followed, a lot of luck has fell into our hands in developing GRS. By 2007, we opened our offices in Nicosia.
Steve: The expansion continues, with the opening of offices in Malta in June 2012. This was something we had been considering for a long time and today we have about 20 staff across our three offices in Cyprus and Malta.
Could you give us a brief overview of your key services and how you have developed your business?
Steve: We have a range of full-cycle professional recruitment and payroll solutions for both local and international companies and manage the largest range of career opportunities and jobs in Cyprus. Drawing on over 20 years of experience in delivering tailored recruitment solutions, our core values are professionalism and confidentiality. When we first started in Cyprus, we discovered the quality and confidentiality of recruitment could be improved and these factors have really been our guiding principles at GRS.
Donna: In the senior executive recruitment level I think many people felt we were easier to approach, as discretion is essential when looking for high level positions in a smaller market. Trust is a key factor. We continuously reinvest in building our brand and making sure we portray the image we are trying to create. Another key investment for us was to create a secure CRM database similar to what many recruitment company giants are using. We are always trying to innovate and stay ahead of the game.
How has the recruitment industry developed in Cyprus over the last five years and what challenges have you had?
Steve: People are more aware now of what a recruitment agency does. When we first started, there weren’t as many international companies in Cyprus as there are now and it was practically unknown to pay a fee for recruitment services. We had a lot of meetings with companies to explain the value of using a professional recruitment company – it saves time and money by outsourcing it to us. We have several audiences through our database and we can reach a wider scope of possible candidates for a client. Also we can attract Cypriots from around the world for work opportunities. There is definitely more appreciation for our services today.
Donna: Currently we have around 24,000 people on our database and when you think of the working population of Cyprus it is a big number. However, Cyprus is still a small market comparatively, which is why we do not headhunt. Forming relationships is important in Cyprus and we cannot operate in that way or we would lose clients. Headhunting only works in big markets and we can offer this service internationally, but locally it is very important to gain trust and offer the best service possible to clients here. There are misconceptions of recruitment companies about ‘poaching’ staff from other companies. At GRS we have corporate ethics and for us it’s all about finding the perfect match between an employer and an employee. Whether it is an individual looking for a position or an organisation looking for staff, the process remains confidential.
What have been your significant milestones and what current opportunities do you see in your industry in Cyprus?
Steve: We have two areas of recruitment. One is permanent business, which deals with the accounting, legal, corporate service, FOREX, engineering and IT sectors. The other is contracts and temporary business. This year has been our best year. A major coup was supplying two international energy companies contracted by the Cyprus Government to provide emergency power after the Mari incident. We provided around 160 people on a contract basis, everything from engineers to administrators and we also payroll the staff. We also supplied staff for the building of the Vassilikos desalination plant – at the height of the project we were funding a payroll in excess of 300,000 euro a month. In 2006, one of the first projects we had was supplying personnel to the Larnaca and Paphos airport extension projects. The airports were a 600-million-euro project and we provided around 250 temporary and 65 permanent staff for the international companies.
Donna: The current relevance of this is new opportunities with the gas and energy companies coming in to Cyprus and we have set up an oil and gas division this year. We have also hired personnel from the UK with experience in recruiting for the oil and gas industries. This is a future opportunity for us, to keep supplying personnel to large scale projects. We need to keep in the forefront of these developments in Cyprus and be able to deliver people with the expertise in this sector.
Is the recruitment industry going more into niche sectors or is this a recipe you have found to be successful for your company?
Steve: We are diversifying because most of our business is based on permanent contracts, so we need to specialise and find new ways to develop the temporary business aspect. At the moment, no other recruitment company in Cyprus can offer the range of employees we can. The airport projects were a great test run for us to figure out a way to successfully meet the demands of these major infrastructure projects. Some of the people we employed on the most recent infrastructure contracts have been working with us for the last six years – starting with the airport extensions, desalination plants and wind farms. We have developed major infrastructure projects by partnering up with international companies that have been brought to Cyprus and we are the only company currently able to staff and payroll these large scale operations.
Donna: The key to our success has been the ability and willingness to try and think outside the box when we are faced with a challenge or a tight deadline. We are committed and determined to find solutions for our clients, whether we are meeting a CFO of a company to hire someone for 150,000 euro per annum or someone looking for a welder or a labourer. For example, recently we had a new binary option company setting up operations in Cyprus using our facilities to interview potential employees and at the same time we had contractors finishing a project and handing in their hard hats and boots – it just shows the diversity and range of business we do within the recruitment sector.
It seems you have found a winning formula for your business, are you seeing a growing demand in other sectors in Cyprus and how are you tackling the challenge?
Steve: Cyprus, being the size it is, we need to keep looking at all sectors and find suitable solutions for everyone. However, we have noticed that in the last five years there has been a surge in recruitment demand in corporate services, binary options and foreign exchange (FOREX) sectors. The demand from FOREX players is high now, but the supply is not always there.
Donna: As a solution to this gap, GRS has again been innovative and set up a joint venture with an Israeli partner called FX Careers. We have a dedicated training school in Limassol where we take 20 students every five weeks with key industry professionals worldwide delivering the training and compliance on the course. The FX Careers courses equip the individuals with the sales skills, the FOREX and trading platform knowledge necessary for them to enter one of the FOREX or binary options brokers and hit the ground running. Once they have completed the course, most students will immediately be placed by GRS in one of these brokers and promoted to other companies. All this came about because we tried to find a solution for a buoyant industry needing well-trained staff. It has been a great success and there is demand from both job seekers and the brokers, who often ask if they can have our next 20 students. Ideally we would like to take this global and perhaps replicate it in other sectors, such as marketing.
How would you describe the workforce in Cyprus and how do you think both individuals and companies could improve the employment process?
Steve: The workforce in Cyprus is well educated and they have good skills. The one area we see as needing improvement is on the entry level, applicants often lack the skills to present themselves to employers. They might have good academic and language skills, but they often do not know how to ‘sell’ themselves to employers. However, there is a lot of competition out there now and companies need to remember that they also need to ‘sell’ themselves to potential employees.
Donna: We also get feedback from our candidates about the lack of presentation skills from the companies in an interview situation. Companies need to have the right people conducting the interviews and think about how they are presenting their organisation. It is a two-way sales process and ideally you are trying to find the perfect match between a candidate and a corporation. We do take this feedback to the companies as well, because if we are working hard to find them staff they need to know how they are being perceived. Honesty is one of our core values in building our business.
How do you see GRS developing in the next five years?
Steve: In five years’ time we expect to have a substantial oil and gas division on the back of the gas find in Cyprus and the LNG plant and other infrastructure that is set to be built. As a company we are in pole position to meet the demands of these projects in both supplying and pay rolling staff. We will be a substantial player in this market as we are already the largest recruitment companies in Cyprus – and we are already servicing other oil and gas players in Israel as well.
Donna: On the permanent business side, we will be a leading player in FOREX recruitment as we are already making headway in this sector. Hopefully we will have a global presence in this area, as the courses we are already organising will go global in the next year.
Do you think it is vital for a recruitment company such as yours to also look beyond the boundaries of Cyprus or is there enough business in your sector in Cyprus?
Steve: Naturally it depends on where you want to go as a business. We have very strong foundations in Cyprus and it is a thriving financial business centre, so naturally we focus a lot on our core business and on maintaining our position as the largest recruitment company in Cyprus.
Donna: We also do recruitment on an executive level, which means salaries over 150,000 per annum. We have recruited senior level staff from for example Switzerland, Caymans, British Virgin Islands, Bermuda and Luxembourg. One of the highest salaries we placed was 1.2 million euro with bonuses. This is one area in which we are expanding our business on an international level.
What message would you like to give the readers of Cyprus Profile?
Donna and Steve: It is a competitive market, but there is work for skilled people and it is important for both candidates and companies to promote themselves in the best way possible and keep ahead of the game. Cyprus has a lot of opportunities if you are ready for a challenge.