Evolution of Oakstone
Paul Rayner talks about the founding of Oakstone, and how the values, culture and talented individuals behind the company helped mould it into the successful and fast-growing entity it is today:
1) When was Oakstone founded?
I set the business up in June 1995, initially as part of Humana International, the franchise I had helped build over the previous two years. I worked from home for the first two months, and then moved into the first Beaconsfield office, where I hired the first team member in August that same year.
The business grew well and became Oakstone in March of 2000.
The technology and .com crash of 2001 hit the business hard, but the loyal client base we had built and the few key members of the team held things together until business began to pick up again in 2003/4.
2) How was the name ‘Oakstone’ created?
We wanted a name that reflected our core values – ethics, honesty, professionalism, strength of focus and conviction – and at the same time we wanted to include the clear focus on growth with strength and solidity. Oak and granite represented these and the connotations of “little acorns” immediately struck as clearly representing growth and progression. Green shoots, strong roots…
3) Why recruitment?
The future of any economy is healthy growth, and much of this comes from emerging young businesses. The single most important factor in every business is its people – finding and retaining the best is and will always be a company’s greatest challenge. An excellent firm who can professionally solve the people challenge will always be in great demand.
Furthermore, while a company can never guarantee it can work with all the partners it wants to, a great recruiter can always select the clients it doesn’t want to work with. This is a key to building a business that is a great to work in, and therefore can attract the best people to work in it.
4) Why technology recruitment?
It’s one of the most exciting sectors and is always moving and innovating, which ensures constant challenge.
It’s fun and dynamic, and so are the people who work in it.
5) What makes Oakstone different?
Our people and our core values: ethics, honesty, integrity, and work ethic – oh, and we give a damn!
6) Your view on recruitment – today, past, future – how it’s changed/will change?
Many people would give you chapter and verse about the changing landscape and how technology and social media has and will continue to change everything – I take a different view:
The service we provide is the same today as it was 25 years ago and will not change much for the foreseeable future.
Clearly, we now have email and the internet, and more importantly we have the likes of Linkedin and other professional networks which impact how we find people. Some companies have built their own internal recruiting functions, and others will do so in future. These are valid and effective ways to recruit, but no technology can take the place of a human being taking a message to an individual, and nor can it replace a human’s capability to assess another’s strengths, skills, weaknesses and aspirations.
There will always be the need for highly skilled recruiters who can assist people when it comes to assessing the nuances of another’s personality, and ensuring two parties arrive at a mutually beneficial understanding.
7) Why do you do what you do?
I love it – helping people achieve their personal and business goals is incredibly personally rewarding. If you could help your best friend or closest family member further their career, you would – it’s magnificently rewarding – and that’s what we do every day to earn a living!!!
8) What drove you to set up Oakstone?
See above – I wanted to find a way to earn a good living, choose who I did and didn’t work with, and to make a difference – that’s what we do.
9) What’s your background?
The son of two great “people people”: one (my Dad) a hardworking, globetrotting, multi-lingual sales-driven communicator, who became a successful international businessman playing a significant role in the setting up of Xerox in Spain and Germany. The other (My Mum) a kind, generous and nosy people-watcher who, I have no doubt, gave me many of the insights into human nature that have helped me be the person and able recruiter I became.
The youngest of three competitive and vocal offspring, my siblings made my early years a constant challenge, one to which I worked hard to meet – I am still working to convince them all that I do have a real job.
10) How did you hire your first person into Oakstone, and what stood out about him/her to let you know they were the first person you should bring on board?
This was about the only significant benefit I got out of being part of the franchise I started (apart from the experience I had gained in the 2 years working with them prior to launching Oakstone) The first person I hired was a referral from an ex colleague at Humana.
What stood out about him? He was 6ft 4 inches tall, he was Australian, had zero recruitment experience and had only spent a few months in sales – selling timeshares in some Spanish island resort!! He was however one of the best students I have ever met, and knew his technology being an Oracle DBA. Oh yes, he also had an excellent brain!! The greatest asset a great recruiter has.
Within a very short timeframe he was learning the trade, picking up clients, enthusing candidates and impressing everyone with his sincerity and knowledge. He was an instant success!! Well done Anthony LaFrenais!!
11) How did you feel when you made your first placement?
Relieved, but I am much happier when my team make placements than when I do – it’s how I’m wired.
12) Describe a typical day?
13) What style of management is used?
Democratic – we have the most open approach to everyone having a voice that I have ever been involved with. Our approach is that if we invite someone to join our team, they have earned the right to have their opinions heard.
We openly encourage the flow of ideas in all directions and act on ideas based on their validity – our industry values experience and wisdom but also new and innovative ideas – many of our brightest minds are our youngest!
14) How do you manage conflict?
What conflict? – we simply don’t have any, because we encourage open communication on all issues that may, in other environments, become conflicts. Of course, there are occasions when some mediation is needed and if that arises, we meet and discuss it. We have yet to encounter a situation for which we were not able reach an acceptable solution/compromise for all.
15) What is your priority for the company?
To remain profitable and to allow all team members to achieve their respective goals while serving our partners
16) What communication style is utilized?
Open – in the extreme. We all talk to each other whenever we wish.
17) What is your most important commodity?
Too easy – our people.
18) What do you attribute success to?
The quality and commitment of our team, and their intellect, passion and care for the people we deal with. This results in us being able to build and maintain outstanding relationships with our contacts – partners and individuals alike.
19) If you could change any aspect of the business, what would it be?
Our capacity to deliver without sacrificing quality – this would allow us to service more partners faster, and in turn increase the success and revenues of both our partners and Oakstone.
20) How do you reward excellent work performance?
Various incentives, bonuses and recognition.
21) How do you manage poor performance?
Encouragement and training – it sounds trite, but it’s true.
22) What is your personal work ethic, and how does this affect the company culture?
I have spent most of my working life working stupid office hours – 7am to 7-8 pm, and our work never stops. I am striving to manage my working day within the hours of 8am to 6pm and doing fairly well at this – My wife may disagree, she claims my laptop or iPad are attached to me 🙂
I am punctual to a fault and have little sympathy for tardiness – particularly in myself.
I am passionate about meeting my commitments to anyone I make them to.
I could be described as a neat freak, and I am working very hard to be tolerant of people with messy habits.
I’m constantly working on being better organised – and it’s working.
I love fun and do my utmost to ensure that we all enjoy our work environment – we invest a great deal of time at work, so we should enjoy it as much as we possibly can! We serve our clients better that way.
I believe these traits affect the company culture in a positive way.
23) Given the global financial climate, how is your company diversifying or evolving to stay ahead of competitors?
We continue to major in the software sector, which has managed to remain in growth mode for the last 10 years, and we don’t see this changing.
Diversification is always on our agenda and we have moved into new areas of specialisation within software, as well as ever continuing expansions into new geographic areas.
We encourage our team to consider and move into new areas.
Although we are focused on international territories, we have yet to establish and office outside the UK, but this will change in the coming 24 months as we open our first office in the US to further support our clients based there.
24) What’s the biggest challenge you feel your company faces, and how do you inspire your employees to meet it head on?
Our biggest challenge without doubt is our ability to find more people to join our outstanding team without reducing quality or compromising our standards.
25) What separates Oakstone from the competition – your approach and achievements?
It’s the same answer you would expect from any leading company: it’s people.
We have a proven structure and processes developed over many years and continually honed and updated.
We have the highest standards of ethics and professionalism, a great respect for the people we deal with (at whatever level or stage in their career), and a collective commitment to be the best and to always deliver for our clients. Above all it comes down to the quality and commitment of our team.
Individually, we have an outstanding calibre of professionals who have and continue to develop trust and respect from an ever-growing network of great professionals – individuals who value our knowledge, our empathy and our ability to listen to their goals and help them achieve these goals. However, the exceptional aspect we add to this is our unrivalled approach to working as a team.
Great individuals are just that – great. To build outstanding corporations however, great individuals are not enough – you must have vision, leadership and a culture where people work together – that is the key to our success, both in our own company, Oakstone, and in our ability to help our clients identify and attract great teams.
That is why Oakstone make a great recruiting partner.