It is no secret that Heat comes from humble beginnings: born originally in Managing Director Steve Preston’s spare bedroom, the start-up then expanded to include 6 recruiters and migrated into a log cabin in Steve’s Garden. Now, Heat is a different company entirely: while our core values remain the same, we have evolved and expanded exponentially over time. It is safe to say that we know a little about building a business from the ground up.
Now, we are at a turning point, and it feels more than ever that we are on the precipice of something extremely exciting. To celebrate the achievements of his past 16 years running Heat, we sat down with our MD Steve Preston to ask him how we got here, and to find out what has changed to cause this breakthrough for the business.
What are some of the biggest lessons you have learned over the years?
I would say one of the biggest turning points for me personally was probably in 2012. We had a headcount of about 20-25 people, and I used to worry all the time that somebody was going to leave. I had to have a change of mindset and decided that instead of fixating on whether somebody was going to leave, I needed to start focusing on the 24 who were going to stay. When it is your own business, you need to remove yourself from the situation a little so that you do not become too emotionally invested. If someone decides to leave, it is not an attack on me or the business, it is just their own desire and choice. So, it was more productive for me to focus on how to make things best for those who wanted to stay in recruitment, and this led us to invest in the best tools, technology, training, and events for our consultants. Equally, something I have learned over the years is not to procrastinate decisions: if we are going to make the decision on something, let us just make it and make it with confidence so we can focus on the next thing. Trusting your gut is important, as it makes you proactive rather than reactive.
What challenges have you faced in recent years?
Like many other businesses, we had to adapt and evolve rapidly to keep up with the demands of the pandemic. This forced everyone to reassess their working practices, and what we have found is increased productivity, greater agility, and the chance to offer everyone at Heat the flexibility to have a great life-work balance, rather than work-life balance. For all the havoc that the pandemic wrought, it at least left us with some positives in respect of the future of work patterns and norms. I am incredibly proud of the way my employees responded to the pandemic. Their perseverance and strength in the face of such extreme adversity is a real testament to them.
What have been some of your proudest moments so far?
We have had a number of successes over the years that I am proud of: we have won several prestigious awards, beating out some great companies as one of the best places to work in the UK, we have been a Times Top 100 Company on numerous occasions, and I was also a runner-up IOD (Institute of Directors) director of the year. Walking past our trophy case in the office each morning, it is clear that we have been successful, and all of these accolades have, in a way, validated our mission here at Heat and reassured us that we are on the right track. People are at the centre of Heat and its success, so it is a huge reward to see individuals grow as the business grows. Watching and assisting people to become the best versions of themselves, both as professionals as well as outside of their work, provides a great reward.
We are also proud to have a strong sense of social responsibility within the business and have had many charitable partnerships over the years. Our current work with Bristol Sport Foundation to fundraise through sporting events and donate devices to breach the digital divide is something we are enormously proud of. Without being successful as a business, we would not be able to do this. As we evolve and scale, we are careful not to lose the foundations and roots of what makes Heat what it is. Simply put, the more successful we become, the more we can give back.
What has changed to get us to this point?
I think the recruitment industry, in general, has changed a lot over the years. Since starting the business, the recruitment profession has become far more accepted as a viable career path, not just a job for the short term. Now, the UK recruitment industry turnover is bigger than the UK legal industry turnover. We have people in our business who have built incredible reputations and careers through years of working in the industry, and when people join us at a junior level, they can see the clear pathways for growth that are available here, and they can see it is a viable long-term career.
We have become a lot more intent and purposeful about the vision, mission, and values of the business. We are a culture-led business, which means we are not micromanaging people or enforcing strict routines and targets, we are allowing people the autonomy to own their roles. The mindset is one of total professionalism and being at the top of your game: it is something you want to do for yourself, and this sense of ownership and desire to do it for yourself is something we encourage at Heat. This translates into mutual trust between employer and employee, which is why we have a work from anywhere policy and our flexible work policy: if someone has an appointment or wants to head to the gym for an hour and a half, or need to drop their kids off at school, they can do that, without any fuss. People have control of their lives, ownership of their role and a desire to perform at a higher level.
Moreover, the buy in from the whole business to build a culture where everyone feels welcome, has fun, and strives for excellence has been incredible: we are just coming off the back of a record-breaking quarter, where so many of the business’ expectations have been exceeded. But we have also been overwhelmed by the response to our recent Heat Heroes initiative that allows everyone in the business to nominate their colleagues for an award of excellence. The basis of these nominations focuses not on billing successes, but ways in which a colleague has gone above and beyond to make Heat an amazing place to work. This might be taking time out of their day to help a colleague, give advice, offer innovative ideas and a fresh perspective, to personify everything we want Heat to be.
We have spent a long time thinking about what we can do to take Heat to the next level, and we now feel that, with the additional investment in our business and expansion of our teams- particularly within our Operations Team – we are now in the best position possible to make Heat the best it can be. In the earlier days of a business, we tended to be much lighter on hiring specialists, but we now have experts working in-house in their respective specialisms and this has been essential in allowing us to push forward and succeed. That being said, we are still learning every day, and investment in continual learning and development is a top priority for us and will remain so indefinitely. Part of our vision for Heat’s future is bringing as many new perspectives as possible into the business and putting an emphasis on personal growth for every individual that joins us, both on a professional and personal level.
What is in store for the future?
Now is definitely not the time for us to be taking our foot off the pedal. Right now, we are as ambitious as we have ever been, and probably in the best place we have ever been to put our plans in motion. We have a brilliant team in place at Heat, and we now have more tools in the toolbox to allow us to continue excelling. We have a lot of exciting projects ongoing and in the pipeline: we were recently joined by Martin Delahoyde, whose extensive industry knowledge is proving invaluable in accelerating our growth plans for the year ahead. Martin will be heading up our brand-new and recently opened office in Manchester. We are excited to be growing our presence and building a new team of talented recruiters in the North. As we grow, we are building our level of knowledge in the sectors we operate in and pivoting from being solely staff suppliers to trusted consultants in our specialisms. We are drilling down on these specialisms, going deeper not wider, so that we can offer the best specialist recruitment that we can. We have an immediate 2-year plan to expand throughout the UK and are looking at expanding to a global offering. Thanks to the huge advances in technology this is now a tangible opportunity. Moreover, we have also pledged to become a Carbon Neutral business, and we have started setting plans in motion to achieve this, beginning with construction work to make our office space more energy efficient.
We have just returned from the ‘Heat Retreat,’ our quarter 1 incentive trip where the whole company were able to come together to celebrate not just an incredible, record-breaking few months, but also our strength, determination, and ability to adapt and thrive after some incredibly challenging years. It has always been an important part of our culture to ensure that we are working hard and having fun in equal measures, and incentive trips like this are a perfect way to make sure we are doing just that.
After 16 years in business, there is a lot that I have learned, and a lot to be thankful for. There is always a danger that over the years you run the risk of your strategy becoming blurred, but I am pleased to say that is not the case, as we have a clear idea of where we are going, and we have all the right people and processes in place to get where we need to go. I feel that the 16 years of learning to date have prepared me, got me match fit and to the start-line for the challenge ahead. It is so exciting! We are looking forward to what is coming next.
Are you looking to join our team of high-performing recruitment specialists? Click here to view our current vacancies or click to connect with Steve Preston on LinkedIn to find out more today.