leadership

An eye for talent: How Richard Earl created $315 million recruitment firm Talent International

Dan Wood /

Richard Earl is passionate about nurturing talent. The 54-year-old Sydneysider started his career as a software designer but soon discovered he preferred managing people to writing code. Earl founded his technology recruitment business in his Perth garage in 1995 and almost 20 years later Talent International employs 180 people in 16 offices worldwide and last year, turned over $315 million.

In 2013, Earl founded Talent Unleashed, an annual award program to support budding entrepreneurs, which also has the support of co-judges Virgin founder Richard Branson and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak. More recently, Earl has devoted his time and resources to launch Talent Rise, a community outreach program for the tech community to support young jobseekers.

Talent International is a technology recruitment business. We supply tech contractors to all sorts of organisations, from state and federal governments, to the minerals and mining sector and a lot of blue chip companies.

I started my career as a software designer in the UK but I wasn’t very good at it. I soon discovered I was better at organising people.

I saw an opportunity to do things a lot better in the technology services industry.

The first year was pretty tough. I borrowed money from my mum’s savings. I lived off next-to-nothing. But you’ve got to do that. Within two years I saw results.

At the time it was just my wife and I. We were starting our family so I did most of it on my own.

I started Talent International in Perth in 1995 and by 2000 we had opened a Sydney office. But things were up and down with the dot com crisis.

By 2005 the business really got going. We opened offices in Melbourne, then nationally in Brisbane, Canberra and South Australia. By 2006-07 it took off.

We grew by 26-27% year-on-year and last year turned over $315 million.

We’ve had great success in Australia and now we are thinking about what we do next. I have a lot of ideas.

I want to create a global brand by 2018. We have invested overseas and we have offices in Singapore and Hong Kong and offices in the UK. We will expand to the US market in 2016.

There are new products to launch too. We are launching a new recruitment platform for our IT consulting business and we will roll that out to Australia, New Zealand and South East Asia.

I am in South Africa at the moment with the winners of this year’s Talent Unleashed program to support technology entrepreneurs.

It is something I am passionate about. I have accumulated all this experience over the years and I want to pass it on.

Part of the drive behind Talent Unleashed is to encourage people to get involved and to start up businesses. I want to keep developing the program.

In Australia, we could do a lot more in terms of being innovative and creative. We have a lot of smart people who are just not confident enough in their ideas.

To be a successful chief executive you have to believe in what you are doing. You have to try to be persistent. You have to be wise enough to surround yourself with smart people and encourage the smart people around you.

You have to have the courage to tell the truth. In this day and age, technology affects you. You have got to be on your toes.

How you look after people is important. If you invest in people and look after them, they look after you.

I use a business plan but you have to think carefully about being too structured. Five years can be a long time. I follow a basic plan but you must be flexible as well. You must be open to change along the way.

What keeps me awake at night is not moving quickly enough.

The challenge for a recruitment agency is to continue to come up with a different value proposition. Clients are more savvy and margins have come down. There is huge change in the industry but I think a lot of people haven’t woken up to that. They are attached to the old.

I am interested in investing in smart businesses and I’m quite happy to entertain the idea of creating another business. When you launch your business, you establish a structure so it is much other to launch other businesses.

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