Many entrepreneurs don’t have a glittering academic background. How about you?
Well this is a good point because I think I don’t and I think that it is a lot to do with ability to concentrate. There is an inability for those with entrepreneurial minds who concentrate for a very long period of time which needs academic studies. This doesn’t really cause intelligence but it does mean that you are not predisposed to wading through reams and reams of information analysing and dissecting this information. So we are not always the best the academic studies for that reason I think.
This is a very good explanation, thank you. Please tell us about your early days. What made you decide to become an entrepreneur?
There is a good question going on out there: are entrepreneurs are made or born. I don’t necessarily think that entrepreneur is a nature and this is the case. I think you have traits of the entrepreneur in your early days but they can be swashed out of you. I do remember how at the age of 8 my mum buys me a small rubber dingy to go to the river Davon in somewhere in Kent and I remember I was delighted with this rubber dingy. And a first thing I did being at the river once was to put a small sign on my gates “river boat rides – 6p/person”. And only taker I have got for that was a guy living down the road from me called Kevin. I took him 5 or six time for this ride. I think a desire to want to get something and sell it for more than I got it for was always there. But more importantly there was a desire to sell something or give something that others need and want. Of course they pay for that but there is always a satisfaction of finding something in the market that people actually want to buy from you. I just enjoy that.
What was the biggest challenges that you faced?
I remember taking the staff was the most worrying thing I ever had to deal with. Particularly remotely. So what I did was I gathered together bunch of people who were Polish, Hungarian, Czech, Bulgarian or could speak Russian. About 7 or 8 people and I taught them how to recruit and I said I’m incubating you here to go open offices in those countries. So I spent 3 to 9 months with these guys and then opened offices with them. Getting a feeling that I’m actually going to do some work, once I was there was worrying to me. Also taking investment decisions to open an office, pay for it, hire staff. I started with £10,000 and in my first year in recruitment I Built £357,000. I drew in salaries about £15,000. Then the rest went on opening the new offices. Recruitment as business services and consulting a highly profitable business if our get it right. At that time there was a need and I found the demand.
Was there any stories about the place where we just didn’t use to operate in mid 90s?
Sure there was a story which I will never forget when one of my guys in Moscow office. He calls me on Friday afternoon and says “Tony, do you mind if we leave the office earlier today?” and I was like “Can’t you wait couple hours till 5 at least?” and he said “Well the problem is that 3 guys with balaclavas and Kalashnikovs just burned into the office demanding money”. And I said “Well this seems like a good enough reason to leave the office that early”. He said that everyone was destroyed and a bit tense. So I said “But you are still talking to me so what happened then?” And he replied “It is okay we’ve solved the problem. They were looking for another company down to another side of the office. So I just directed them over there”.
And then of course we had a Russian crisis in 1998 when we agreed to sign up to triple our office space as we were doing really well. I remember doing this meeting in the office with view on the Kremlin and the landlord who i was negotiating the price with put the gun on the table. That was the start of negotiating techniques which meant we should pay the money upfront to the next year which I refused to do.
Tell us how you develop your management team. You’ve grown your business, you sold part of this business, then you carried on growing what you have left. Where is your management team located? Is it just UK based or all over the world?
Many people ask me how I manage to have such a strong leadership team and truth is trial and error. We had as many failures as we had successes. In order to keep people within company is to let them share your vision of future. When I sold the Russian business that was always in our plan and I always used to say to them that we were going to grow and develop businesses and them transact them. So when I sell business it doesn’t demotivate staff but in opposite motivate them. They come to me and ask “How can we do this with our office?”. The equity is split around 20% for a management team. And it works.
Can you please also describe your unique business model?
We have a wholly owned model based on the Michael Page business model and we have a franchise model which is based on MRI model in United States. In fact we have two types of business model in the same country, for example Germany or Spain. We have done things very differently from anybody else. And within our franchise, wholly owned and joint venture models we offer to the business community of entrepreneurs an option to join Antal in any way they want. And I think this is pretty unique within the industry.
Our London office is only about 20 people who are in central managements and don’t do any recruitment. Interestingly some of our big offices are larger than our head office in London. For instance our office in Warsaw is nearly 100 people and office in Beijing is 200 people and all them are supported by London HQ.