Economy

PageUp’s flexibile talent

Patrick Stafford /

PageUp People founders Karen and Simon Cariss have always shown a talent for adapating their business to suit changing markets. As they explain to Patrick Stafford, their strategy is paying off and the downturn is boosting demand for PageUp’s talent management solutions.

PageUp People founders Karen and Simon Cariss have always shown a talent for adapating their business to suit changing markets. Their strategy is paying off and the downturn is boosting demand for PageUp’s talent management solutions.

Sometimes the best business ideas happen by accident. When Karen Cariss started PageUp People with her husband Simon in 1997 as a software development company, they were shocked to receive hundreds or even thousands of applications for developer positions.

So they asked their developers to build a program to help organise job applications. Cariss quickly realised they had created an entirely new business model.

“We showed it to some of the clients we had at the time, and they got very excited about it and I figured out how it would affect them.”

Now the group operates as a recruitment and talent management firm, with clients such as Adecco, Foster’s, Flight Centre and Fairfax, and with offices in New York, Shanghai and London.

“We now provide talent management, web-based talent management solutions and consulting services to Fortune 500 organisations, and for us that includes recruitment solutions, performance management, training and retention and succession,” she says.

The group’s revenue had an average rate of 48.25% growth over the past two years, reaching $5.45 million in 2006-07 and $8.2 million 2007-08.

Downturn opportunities

Despite weak economic conditions and rising unemployment, Cariss says the business is tracking well.

“We certainly haven’t experienced any setbacks due to the economic climate. We’re running above target, and we are acquiring new clients – that’s going ahead strongly.

“But we’ve clearly seen a slowdown in the markets. China is still reasonably active, but the US and UK markets have slowed down quite a lot. We’ll follow up leads but we have adjusted down our expectations over the next 12 months, with the view to focus a lot heavier on building awareness and leveraging off our talent management brand.”

Past lessons

This downturn is not the first tough period PageUp has been through. Cariss says because she and Simon started the business straight out of university, the two had little business knowledge and progressed merely through trial and error.

“We had no money, didn’t get any external equity and were in our early 20s starting an IT company. Not exactly the flavour of the month for gaining credit,” Cariss says. “We had to very quickly learn how to get good cashflow and how to make money so we could pay staff and grow the business.

“We reinvested our profits back into the business, including our own wages. The first five years were very tough financially. We didn’t have any external wages to rely on.

“Now I definitely appreciate what you hear when you speak to any investment groups. They say it’s all about the management team. We didn’t put our first senior external manager onboard until about 2004. We’ve learnt a lot by being out on the street and making mistakes.

“There were certainly setbacks; whereas if I had the right management team you could put it together and get the business going between 12 and 18 months.”

Cariss says if she could start the business again, she’d implement a management team to help the business survive the aftermath of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks.

“Large corporates came to a halt then – it was very uncertain and there was a lot of disruption. We found a lot of companies put their recruitment plans on old. So it wasn’t really until late 2002 early 2003 before we got our next sale.”

Changing the business model

Cariss says moving from a software development group to a talent management firm was also a challenge.

“That’s a whole new education of people within our business, and hiring of new people that have skills in new areas and so on.”

“It’s been a lengthy process – it took longer than I had anticipated to educate customers and transition the brand of the business from being purely recruitment to being seen as a broader option for managing other areas.”

The group moved from simple recruitment services to providing retaining, performance and development consulting.

“We were fortunate to strike a relationship with Adecco for a website called graduate.com.au. Gradually, we acquired the ANZ and the Australian Taxation Office’s graduate programs. We could mention those three to clients and say ‘and that’s just the As!’.”

Cariss argues PageUp is in a good position to develop the talent management brand, as companies will be eager to keep the employees they already have.

“Obviously a lot of our clients are laying people off or slowing down recruitment, so they’re thinking about keeping the good people. We see this downturn as having opportunities.

“Certainly we are looking at a lot of prospective work around succession management and performance management. The work we’ve been doing over the two years in building the talent management brand has put us in a good position,” Cariss says.

“We are definitely taking advantage of the time we have now.”

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Patrick Stafford

Patrick Stafford is a freelance journalist and a former deputy editor of SmartCompany.

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