Out of all my frank interviews with BBC Apprentice winners, I spoke for 9 minutes and 33 seconds with Joseph Valente, for 8 minutes and 33 seconds with Alana Spencer, for 4 minutes and 33 seconds with James White, for 16 minutes and 33 seconds with Tom Pellereau and for 11 minutes and 8 seconds with Sarah Lynn (I know you expected another 33 and no, I’m not taking the piss, but coincidence is fate’s favorite tool, if you think that I am 33) – so I could have never expected that – to my greatest happiness – BBC 2012 winner Ricky Martin would take as many as 23 minutes and 50 seconds off his busy schedule for our frank interview.
So, because this has been the longest frank interview so far with a BBC Apprentice winner, I’ll try to keep this intro as short as I can. Ricky Martin is the former wrestling champion with a BSc in Biochemistry who, after winning the BBC Apprentice in 2012, struck a partnership with Lord Sugar for his science recruitment agency Hyper Recruitment Solutions that is still doing extremely well. HRS recorded a £4,253,779 turnover last year, with £401,804 profit for the financial year.
But five years from winning, as Ricky talks about this milestone, you can be 100% sure he’s definitely not all about money. To be frank with you, I’ve never witnessed so much worthiness and integrity coming from a recruiter in all my life.
To be totally frank with you, neither have you. In your life, you may have heard words such as vocation, saving lives, making a difference and helping people coming from nurses or priests, not from salesmen – and definitely not from wrestlers; in your life, you may have thought that no employer ever feels responsible for the people they employ, for their families and rents. And so have I: I’m incredulous a person like Ricky actually works in the industry I have always detested, but I’m delighted – extremely delighted – that he does.
The number you have dialled is not available.
Hello? Ricky? Can you hear me?
Hello Silvia. Yes, but this is not the best number to call for the interview. Please call the landline.
The landline is not working.
I don’t think so. Try again.
The number you have dialled is not available
Hello, Ricky? The landline is not working. Can’t we just do the interview on this number?
Sure. But that surprises me ’cause I’ve got 50 people on the phone in front of me right now, so that number is working. Are you calling from an Internet app system?
Yes, I’m calling from Skype.
So that’s why it’s not working; it may be Skype’s connectivity with our system. But of course we can do the interview on this number, so thank you for calling.
Thank you very much for taking the time to do this, I’m very happy to be speaking with you. I’m actually a big fan of you and your stuff.
On, thank you!
So, now it’s been five years from winning The BBC Apprentice – that’s quite a milestone, so tell me: what have you learned? What have you achieved? What is the thing you’re most proud of?
Ok, I think the thing I’m most proud of is the fact that anybody within a business or an organisation always think that when they come up with a business idea and they want to start, they always think about where their business will be in three or five years. It’s just like when somebody gives you a job and asks you the question “when do you see yourself in three or five-year time?” – well, every founder of a company asks themselves the same question: where is my business going to be in one year, two years, and so on.. so, my business is still here in five years and I’m delighted that this happened, so this is something I’m very proud of. And the other thing I’m extremely proud of that all of my staff developed a fantastic professionalism within the organisation: a lot of them came on board as trainees with no experience, and I’m very proud that in five years I have been able to take people from trainee positions to some very successful salespeople: they earn good money, but more importantly, they make such a difference to the scientific community. I’m really proud I’ve got great staff that work incredibly hard and dedication: when I promised them I would be able to train them and support their careers, then I’ve been able to deliver what I promised. And as a result, you’ve got thousands of people in science jobs, so they’ve been able to help people, so, really the company is making a great difference to the community.
There are not many recruitment agencies doing what you do – I mean: there are loads of generalists but not that many people working in a specific industry like that…
Exactly, and that’s one thing I would never change. When I started the company, we were designed to be a specialist company in a specialist market, and we stayed true to that kind of passion, and that’s the reason the business has been able to grow year after year, ’cause people understand that this is the market we’re really interested in. Two-thirds of my company has a scientific background, and we work with scientists that we could have been, so we help and industry that we have been studied to do.
Is there a very particular achievement you’re particularly proud of?
One thing I’m definitely proud of is probably being the most successful BBC Apprentice winning company so far, and this is based on the fact that we’ve got stable growth year after year for five years, and we would be the first company to make a £1m profit.
Oh wow. And what was your plan B if you didn’t win The Apprentice or even if you didn’t get into recruitment at all?
Had I not won The Apprentice, I would still be doing exactly what I do today; one of the reasons why I got the investment on The Apprentice is that I spent a number of years recruiting science for a company and I have always believed that I could do it better, that I could do it differently, and help more people; so, for me, the idea of setting up Hyper Recruitment Solutions would always be going to be what I would be going to create. If Lord Sugar hadn’t given me the money, I would have started without him; it might have taken a bit longer to get where we are now, it might have been harder – I don’t know, but I’d always be doing what I’m doing now. And I think that’s the difference to me between companies that make it and company that don’t: I was going to do this, whether I had success or not with The Apprentice – I wasn’t going to allow anything holding me back. And the passion of wanting to do to something would always mean you’re going to be into it.
You studied Biochemistry and you are a former wrestling champion – and you also worked as a salesman and a designer… so, how did you actually end up in recruitment? Why have you chosen to do that when you had so many other options?
When I graduated in Biochemistry I didn’t know what I wanted to do – and I would say this is similar to a lot of people when they start their career whether they are graduates or not. Not everybody really knows what they want to do when they grow up, and I think the answer is not that many. When I finished being a scientist I actually fell into recruitment, that was never necessarily the business I wanted to do – I never grew up wanting to be a recruiter. I actually found a company that was training recruiters… so when I left University and I could find a job close to mum and dad without having expensive rent of bills – and I thought I was going to do this for a year or two – but what was very clear when I took the job was that the company was recruiting for everything. So I was like, can I say “I only want to do scientists”? So, hire me or don’t hire me, but if you do, I’m doing science recruitment, and at first for me it was something I wanted to try and maybe learn but I mean, I say, within 12 months I realised this was an industry I really admired – an industry where I felt I could make a big difference, too. So, I fell into recruitment, and I would say, probably a lot of recruiters fall into it, and what I would like to do is part of my pledge being a recruitment company holder and leader is: I really want to be able to inspire other people to see recruitment as a vocation and choice, as a career path, not just the job they fall in, into the future. One of my pledges is to promote the reputation of the industry, and let people know that this is an incredible career, that you can make such a difference – all you need to do is to dedicate yourself and find the right company to work in.
You know, you are the first recruiter I hear talking like that about this industry: to be honest, this is not an industry with a huge reputation. You don’t see that many companies working with so much passion and drive, you don’t see people who really care about helping other people or helping companies…
And the question I would ask you is: why not? Because what we do is helping people with their careers: I mean, it’s not like if we’re doing anything – we’re helping people taking a job they have studied to do and they have always wanted to do, and we help people find a job where they can make money, so they can provide for their families. If you can’t be proud of you being in recruitment, you shouldn’t be in it, and if you don’t want to help people to the best of your ability and really help them, then I think you’re letting them down – so, for me, I really want to change the perception of recruitment. I think it’s an incredible career path where you can make such a difference, and that’s what I do, my business vision is about improving the quality of lives for all and how do I do that? I put the right scientist into the right company that makes good drugs, good medicine or good technology, and they will save lives. So, for me, I can really see how to make the difference from the person who gets the career chance; so, actually, a patient, somewhere in the world might get some medicine to save their life; for me, I can see the whole part of what jobs can do.
Actually, you’re the first recruiter I can hear talking like that – and I really like it… I’m over-impressed.
Oh thank you – that’s a really kind thing to say… thank you!
Look, I really mean it: there are so many bad practices in this industry – you know, like candidate cold calling, fake job posting and all this crap… that for me, to hear somebody talking like that, well, for me is amazing.
Thank you, thank you very much. But don’t get me wrong, I could be in the US right now, in my pants doing wrestling, but even if I did that, I like to see smiles on people’s faces, but this is how I can help them in a different way… but it could have been different, you know.
Are you still into wrestling?
I don’t wrestle anymore because of the company: I dedicated myself in the business; however, I’m in close contacts with all of my friends who do still wrestle, and they would like me to come back … so I never say never, you might see me in the ring one day again…
And how does it feel to be allowed to punch somebody in the face for work? Who do you think about while you’re doing that?
Hahaha, you know, in wrestling that’s all a total show, people see it as an emotional journey, and it is an emotional journey so they get something out of it, so it would be different if I was not supposed to punch or to jump in the head!
Hahaha… well, regarding your past career and everything before The Apprentice, how did you realise that you didn’t want to be just a regular employee, that you wanted to work for yourself? Was there a particular moment when you decided you couldn’t be an employee anymore?
Yeah… well, I think the thing is that I always wanted to run my own business to be in charge of my own destiny, but I had no issues being an employee and I would have no issues in being an employee again. I think the time was for me when I realised that the ambitions I had would make a difference to the community to help more scientists: when that outgrew the ambitions of the company I worked for, it made me realise whether was I in the right job, because I wanted to help more people than I’d been able to help, not letting myself down and not letting my market down – so, for me, when I realised my ambitions were bigger than what they had for what I did, it was time to move on. I also realised when that company focussed on recruiting lots of different skill-sets, not just science, when I realised they were focussed on other things, and that – in order to develop, I would have probably had to move to another area of recruitment to get bigger jobs. Then, I knew straight away that I love what I do because I recruit skill-sets I do care a lot about – because I studied to be a biochemist – that’s what I’m interested in, if you asked me to recruit about something I was not passionate about, that wouldn’t be right. So, I think when I realised my ambitions were bigger, and the direction the company was going to, I realised it was time for me to move on.
Yeah, and let me say that your ambitions also come from your star sign, because you’re Aries; I admire plenty of Aries people … and Lord Sugar is Aries, too…
No, I never looked this that way – you know, I’m a scientist, you would expect that I probably don’t look more for things that are outside facts and figures, but actually I do believe in faith, I do believe in destiny and… you know, if all that makes my star sign, that I’m happy to accept it!
I know, I know, but I’m a girl, and we all believe in this kind of crap 😉 But do you think there are people who were just born employees just like others were born in business? And do you think that some people should just stick to their employment?
That’s an interesting one. If I’m being honest, I would never say they’re “just” employees, I would always say they’re in the wrong jobs: because to me, if you like what you do, then it is not a job. For me, if somebody thinks “oh, I’m just going to be a worker for any company”, then I would say that they’re looking at the wrong career path or the wrong job. I think that everybody has a destiny, I think some people make incredible employees and they wouldn’t want to run their own businesses – because, as much as the good side of the business means that you can be the boss, you can manage things the way you like and you can have a little more of authority in things, at the same time, you take a lot of pressure, your priority is to make sure you deliver for your staff, we’re like a family, if there is a bad month that comes, you still need to make sure that all the staff get paid, because I promise they’d get paid, that their rents would get paid: there are a lot of pressures that people don’t necessarily see. For me, it depends if somebody likes to take all the pressure like that, and if they do, they probably make great business leaders, and if you don’t, it’s probably better to be an employee… but I think people can be either, it depends on what choices they make.
So you think that people could potentially go back to employment after having been in business…
I think I absolutely can, it can go both ways; you’ve got to have a lot of humility to appreciate if you can go back working for someone after working for yourself, that there is a chain of command and there will be occasions where you’re told to do something and you have to follow that, that not being the business owner you can’t make decisions for yourself. And to be honest, I run my business as an employee, I’m an employee of my business, I respect my business and I respect all of my staff; if you run your business not making things you wouldn’t do as an employee, you certainly can go back to employment, as long as you’ve got some humility, and as long as you’re going to do something that you really want to enjoy. In fact, I met some people who made incredible employees that had their own businesses and that actually took all their own experience in being a business leader and actually have been able to take their own career to the next level being an employee again.
What tips can you give to someone struggling to decide between being a regular employee or getting into business?
I would say that the best thing to do is to talk to people and to find yourself a mentor, somebody that can help show them and help to direct them to the part they need to be. That’s one thing, or they just need to speak to people who have already done it, like business leaders, people who already set up their businesses, failed and went back to a job. You should use social media to talk to people and read stories online, but this is not for everyone: you need to be thinking about what you want to do personally, what’s your personal circumstances, if you have a family, there are a lot of sacrifices to do, you may not see your friends and family that much… and the day you hire your first member of the staff is the day your personal commitment increases: having your first member is like having your first child: it’s a responsibility.
How many people do you have in the company now?
42, and we’re about to hire ten more people in the next four weeks.
And how many people were you when you start in the first year?
Just me, no one else.
Wow, you’ve grown a lot over only five years! So, I’m done with the serious question, and I’m going to ask you the silly question, the one you have been asked a million times: how does it feel to have the same name of a famous singer? I mean, not now that you’re famous… but before, like when you were studying and he was already famous, did people get wrong between the two of you?
Oh, people get it wrong every day: I wake up every morning and I have about 150 tweets from South Americans speaking in Spanish or in other different languages every day, telling me how much they loved my show last night. It’s very flattering, but at the end of the day, I work in a sales environment and people remember me for that reason, whether that’s a stupid reason or not, they would still remember me for my work.
Is there anything else at all you would like to say?
I think the only thing I would add and it would definitely sound like a bit of sales, is that if anybody has an interest in recruitment and that’s the part they want to take, they need to look for some kind of employer that will invest in their careers and for me, they’ll want to find the company that is the best in their industry. So, at the moment over the next three years I’m going to be growing HRS: we now have a location in Edinburgh, in Manchester, we will have another national location opening up, I’ll be putting something in Europe in the next three years, probably in South Asia in the next five years, as well as America. So, for me, my organisation is going to consistently grow for the professionalism of the people that I employ, and if somebody wants an amazing job in recruitment they should look at us: we make the difference for such a great community
Can I just say something? How will candidates find out whether a recruitment company has a good work ethic or will just ask them to post fake jobs and lie to candidates?
When you think about the ethics, this will come down to two things: whether the business has a clear vision with set values and if that aligns with what you want to do. As for me, I would say we do best in class recruitment: two third of my company are scientists and we recruit scientists, they are all qualified in their subjects but I also give out qualifications in recruitment; so, if the company is investing in your training with both internal and external qualifications, then the business has a vision that is about making a difference, not all about making money: because if it’s just about making money, to me, that is the wrong company.
Thank you, thank you so much, Ricky: this has been the longest interview ever with a BBC Apprentice winner. You’re doing a great job. And I’m happy recruitment has people like you working in it 🙂