Mason Alexander – a look back over the last 5 years
Last month, Mason Alexander celebrated 5 years in business and to mark the occasion, we held a party in Farrier & Draper for clients, candidates, friends and family. Addressing the crowd on the evening to regale them with stories of how we ended up where we are, it made me quite nostalgic about some of the great moments we have experienced since that day we first opened for business – 14th January 2013.
Prior to starting Mason Alexander, I took a 6 month sabbatical in which I tried some unique business ventures. This period consisted of numerous coffee dates with anyone who would take time out of their day to meet me (usually close friends or my Mother!). These ideas included a failed women’s fashion show which I thought would be the start of a new craze and ended up costing me money, and also buying a thousand rain ponchos from China to sell at events around Dublin. This idea was short-lived as it was the warmest / driest summer in our history and the one day it did rain, I ran down to the RDS for the Horse Show to start making my millions, to find out that the radio stations were handing them out for free. These were just a few of my schemes over that 6 month period that failed miserably but it gave me a great insight about two things; 1) I love being creative, keeping busy and challenging myself and 2) I should stick to what I know and enjoy – recruitment!
I remember Sunday 13th January 2013 and the feeling of excitement but also anxiety about the next morning. Was I really going to do this? What if it didn’t work? What if no one wanted to talk to me? I had never run a business before and if the last 6 months had taught me anything, maybe I wouldn’t be very good at it. All these thoughts were racing through my mind and although I am a very positive person, it really was quite overwhelming.
I woke up that Monday morning in January, and for the first time since June, put on a suit, got in to my car, and drove to my new office. My office at the time wasn’t so much of an office, more of a broom cupboard! It just about fitted a desk, a chair, my laptop and a printer. I had my mobile phone which doubled up as my landline and I had a boardroom I could use on the ground floor of the Georgian building in which my “office” was situated. The set up was perfect. Based on Baggot St, I was in the heart of the business belt, I had a boardroom I could use (and pretend was my own) and I was ready to go. All I needed now, were some customers.
During the 6 months I had off work, I had plenty of time to think up of a company name. I wanted something that sounded established but also that represented the business I wanted to create, one that is founded on people, relationships and emotional intelligence. I didn’t want a snappy one word or something that rhymed with .ie at the end. So after a few weeks of jotting down hundreds of names, and with the help of my close friends Rob and Pierce, I came up with the name Mason Alexander. I loved it. But it felt strange that morning of the 14th Jan, calling people up saying “this is Andrew Lynch from Mason Alexander”.
Anyway, I soon got over it and got in to the swing of things. Quickly I had a list of companies to call and got ringing. I must have got to about 2pm and not one person had taken my call. My biggest fears had started to sink in. What if no one actually wanted to talk to me?! I decided to call an old friend of mine, Janis, who worked for a large multi-national. I called the main line and asked to be put through. Even though I knew her really well, I felt incredibly nervous as the day hadn’t started well and if Janis, who I knew, didn’t want to talk to me, then the outlook wasn’t good. I was put through to her voicemail and duly left a message. Fast forward to 5pm, the day was nearly over and I had not spoken to one person, I was ready to call it a day and go home and lick my wounds. All of a sudden, my mobile rang, it was an office number so I answered. It was Janis and she seemed delighted to hear from me and we arranged to meet so we could discuss what my plans were and if Mason Alexander were in a position to work with them. It felt great and I probably stayed in the office until 9pm that evening planning the next day. I knew the excitement and elation I got from that one call was a feeling I wanted to replicate over and over.
From then on, I was able to speak to more and more people. Friends, especially those who were accountants, were a massive help. They would tell all their colleagues about this new firm and why they should speak to me. And they would also tip me off about companies that were hiring. And although it was difficult to get myself in front of potential clients, I was building a really strong network of finance professionals. What I quickly realised was, I didn’t have any jobs to talk to them about (although I didn’t let on that I this was the case), so instead of throwing multiple opportunities at them that might not be suitable for them, which is perhaps the norm with other recruitment firms, I would instead engage with them, listen to them, find out what their motivations and frustrations were; and then advise them on what I thought would be the right step forward. This is the same approach I still use to this day and one that I try to instil in anyone working in MA.
I really enjoyed the first few months of working on my own. Something about the graft, fighting for everything, trying to get in front of people so you can get them to trust you and buy into you; trying to deliver a better and faster service than your competitors and just generally being competitive (which I’m told I am at the best of times!) was really enjoyable and exciting. But I knew that sitting in a small office, on my own forever, wasn’t in my DNA. I would spend all day long uncovering what people’s main motivators were, so it was important that I did that for myself. Recruitment, especially in today’s world, can be a funny place. With the help of the internet and social media, it would have been easy for me to still be in that office, with incredibly low overheads, recruiting away, and making decent profits. That doesn’t get me excited though. What does excite me is thinking I can achieve the impossible. It is building something that stands for something. It is challenging the status quo. It is being creative and pushing ahead with new ideas. It is trying to innovate. It is finding solutions and working in tandem with clients whilst being on the same wavelength as them. It is working in an incredible fast paced environment. It is being ambitious and putting your neck on the line. It is going for the jugular. And most importantly, it is working with great people. I was going to get none of the above done by just sitting in an office on my own, so I had to take the next step, which was to hire someone.
That poor unfortunate person was my brother, James. It was October 2013 and I had been in business 10 months, had a small enough balance sheet but enough to buy him a laptop, a small salary (it could have been bordering below minimum wage) but not enough to get a bigger office. So this cupboard that was pretty tight for one person, now housed two people. Two months of sharing a desk, staring at each other all day long, was enough for any two people, especially brothers. So we had to move. When I look back, it’s funny how we were able to get through it without killing each other. But it is a sign of how close we are, but more importantly for me, how loyal he is and how he was prepared to put up with me in such close proximity, to get Mason Alexander off the ground!
We moved to a serviced office close by on Fitzwilliam Square which has 4 desks and thankfully a bit more space. Soon enough we hired a couple more people, one of those being Eoin Connolly, who is thankfully still with us today. 10 months in there and we had to move and then a year after that we were on the move again. Thankfully settling to where we are now, 55 Percy Place.
Since that morning on the 14th January, there are now 24 people involved in Mason Alexander and we operate across a number of sectors. There are so many great stories and memories to share and too many for this blog, but what I am really most proud of are the people that work here. It’s a cliché that is bandied around far too much without proper meaning, but Mason Alexander is a collection of all the people who are part of it. We have some incredibly talented, caring and hardworking people who all, every day, contribute to what and who we are. It’s important to me that every person has a voice; that they can make an impact; and that they really enjoy what they do and they challenge and improve every day they are here. This is an ongoing challenge but one that is at the forefront of my mind, every single day.
Looking ahead to the next 5 years, I have to try sometimes not to get too excited, as I lie awake at night thinking about it, which normally leads to lack of sleep! I am genuinely so enthusiastic about the future of Mason Alexander, and especially the next year. We have just completed a 3 year strategy plan, which is aggressive but achievable. We plan to grow in to two new areas this year (I would love to do 10 but I am told this is not feasible!), which will be through organic and acquisitive growth. We will also have new offerings, new sectors we will cover, new team members joining and we will be doing a lot more work with international companies. We are also investing heavily in ways to improve our service, so that we can deliver better and faster for our clients and make our processes the most efficient they can be. Beyond 2019, we will have further growth in to new areas, service lines and geographical presence (watch this space); and by the end of 2020, the business will be a lot larger then it is today. The reason for all of this is because what I said earlier, what motivates me – challenging myself, new ideas / innovation, and trying to deliver the best service. We also have to do this, because Mason Alexander is made up of incredibly talented people who want to have successful careers, and I want to make sure that is with us.
We will continue to update our clients on further developments. We are working hard to add more value to their business. Talent acquisition is part of our DNA. We also understand what our clients challenges are, their plans for the future, positioning themselves as employers of choice; and working closely with them to deliver on that. Our core business has had an incredible strong start to 2018 and the mood in the Irish market is great. The team here are busy travelling to cities across Europe to attract talent to the Irish market and more importantly for our clients. Our recently launched sports division is also doing some great things for athletes transitioning on from their careers.
There are so many people who I would like to thank for the past 5 years. Rob, my dear friend, who gave me the encouragement and backing to go out on my own and is a constant source of inspiration to me. My other close friends who have been so supportive. My brother James, who I couldn’t do any of this without. Eoin for taking the leap of faith in joining us and for his constant drive and loyalty. My very supportive Chairman, Pierce. To all of our clients and candidates for working with us over the last 5 years. And especially to everyone who is part of the Mason Alexander family, you are what makes this company, in my eyes, so great.
As I reflect, the last 5 years feels like only the start. I can’t wait to see what’s around the corner. Working even closer and better with our clients. To build on strong foundations of trust and honesty of which are our core principles. To continue to improve the service we deliver. To be the best in class. To cater for all their needs. And as I alluded to earlier, we won’t be standing still, we’ll be going for the jugular!