Livingston James Board Director and Managing Director of Rutherford Cross, Mark Lewis, reflects on the 10th anniversary of the business this year. Here, Mark reflects on the Rutherford Cross journey to date, including key lessons learned and thoughts on the future in a constantly changing world.
This quarter, Rutherford Cross celebrates the very special anniversary of ten years of trading. The last decade is a period of history that has encompassed many important events including the Scottish independence referendum, Brexit, the COVID 19 pandemic, and now conflicts that continue to rage in Europe and the Middle East. Our milestone pales into insignificance against that backdrop, but we couldn’t let it pass without sharing some reflections on our journey to date.
Who is Rutherford Cross?
For those who may be less familiar with how Rutherford Cross was created, it is worth sharing a little bit of background. After the launch of Livingston James at the beginning of 2010, it soon became apparent that many of our assignments were being transacted in the executive levels of finance. This was no great surprise as many of our team in the early days originated from a finance recruitment background, but there was also a very tangible and rapidly growing requirement in the post-recession market for a quality offering in the mid-market space, especially focused on next generation CFO and Partner talent.
A major reason for this, in our view, was that the 2008/2009 recession had a major impact on the recruitment industry: hiring and developing people had taken a major backseat during that period and for several years afterwards. As such, by 2012/2013, the lack of investment in teams across functions was starting to manifest in serious issues for organisations trying to attract individuals with key skills and ensure appropriate succession planning into C-Suite positions.
It was in this ‘marzipan layer’, just below the executive level but above the mid-market, that the idea for Rutherford Cross was born. Our aim was to provide a high-quality, search-led approach in a space that was often underserved by CV-led, contingent recruitment which relied on jumping straight to the answer rather than trusting the process to achieve the right results. We wanted it to become a case of Rutherford Cross finding the best possible person available, not simply the best person on a database. We continue to stay true to that premise.
Creating a Brand in a Crowded Market
Before setting out on this new venture, we wanted to ensure that we were not creating a new business in a vacuum and spent most of 2013 canvassing opinion from our networks on whether this would be well received. A lot of shoe leather was worn, and many, many coffees consumed, but by the autumn we were buoyed in the knowledge that this would indeed be well received.
Without the funds to buy in much external support in those early days, the weight of choosing the brand name and identity fell on a team not particularly well equipped with much marketing prowess! We wanted to choose a name synonymous with the accounting world in Scotland, while being a new entrant into what was already a very busy finance recruitment market with a large number of well-established players.
After listing all the major Scottish firms from the past 40 years and the forerunners to them, we landed on the name “Rutherford”, shamelessly pinched from Rutherford Manson Dowds: an accounting firm set up in the mid-1980’s in direct competition with the then “Big Six” accountancy giants. They came to be known as the ‘young Turks’ and active disruptors to the status quo which was a mantle we were keen to replicate in the senior finance recruitment market. Ultimately, Rutherford Manson Dowds was acquired by the then Deloitte & Touche in 1999.
Coming up with “Cross” was less convoluted and a recognition of where our business had its first office (well room!) in Charing Cross in Glasgow. We also felt it was a word that embodied the career intersection where we spend much of our time with candidates. From combining these two themes, Rutherford Cross officially came into being in late 2013.
Choosing the imagery was less straightforward, but we were adamant in our desire to avoid the sea of stock visuals that dominated the websites of many other recruitment firms. We landed on the idea of animal images as a way of celebrating uniqueness and as a metaphor for the specialist talent we are proud to represent. It was also a way of encapsulating the evolutionary concept; drawing a comparison between how successful individuals often grow and develop to become experts in their field, and how animals often adapt and evolve to maximise their chances of survival in their own habitats.
Admittedly, from an aesthetics perspective, we also really liked cool pictures of animals in general – though publishing a full-page picture of a scorpion in CA Magazine in the early days might have been pushing the concept a little further than initially planned!
Doing Things Differently
In the early stages of the business, creating maximum impact (with only a few Consultants and a minimal financial budget) was crucial in order to position ourselves in our chosen market space. At a time when the majority of our competitors were bigger and quicker with much broader reach, our view was to focus on building high-quality networks, developing professional associations, and creating a suite of exclusive events that could underpin much longer-term success.
Rather than focus solely on the established CFO and Partner community who were (quite rightly) often loyal to other firms who had served them over a number of years, we concentrated significant effort on those “next generation” leaders where the relationships were more fluid and where our brand offering had greater synergy with their own career stage.
In addition to the core finance roles, we looked to create deep functional expertise in areas such as tax, treasury, internal audit and corporate development where we believed we could become referential in the market more quickly and build greater credibility. This led to, more often than not, those “hard to fill” mandates where we could successfully fulfil roles that other firms struggled with or simply decided they were too difficult to work in the first place. Sometimes the challenge was location which led to us winning work in many remote parts of Scotland including two roles that took us as far north as the Shetland Islands!
To help fulfil these mandates, we made a conscious effort to put the profile of our clients first and use their brands, rather than our own, to generate the highest levels of coverage for their opportunities. As such, we often created detailed Position Profiles to promote the organisations in their entirety. Rather than just a standard job/person specification, prospective candidates had a full 360 degree view of the opportunity on offer. These were often published as “Client Spotlights” on our website and/or LinkedIn to ensure their reach was as broad as possible; something that has become even more important over the last ten years when considering the increasing need for shortlists to contain maximise levels of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Underpinning the above was the creation of our own series of events which encompassed business breakfasts, roundtable lunches and evening presentations featuring some of the leading finance professionals in Scotland and beyond. The inaugural series was “Next Generation CFO” – still going strong after 29 events over 10 years – which was soon followed by “Planning Your Career Journey” aimed at more recently qualified finance professionals, and has benefited from the generosity of dozens of speakers since. These two series have since spawned numerous other events and networks, each aimed at supporting those individuals and organisations who have valued them enough to invest their precious time.
Finally, despite working with people across all the professional accounting bodies, in the early days we were able to forge a fantastic relationship with ICAS which culminated in us becoming a Member Partner in 2017 and every year since. In addition, we became proud sponsors of the ICAS Admissions Ceremony in 2019 and look forward to celebrating the achievements of the new members again in March 2024. This partnership has enabled us to support the ICAS current and future members through initiatives at universities and ICAS committees, and by providing input and analysis into the most recent careers and salary survey.
Hiring the Right People for Other Organisations Starts with Hiring the Right People for your Own
Like every other recruitment business, Rutherford Cross and the reputation it holds in the market is largely derived from its leadership and the Consultants delivering services to clients and candidates. And, like every organisation in general, some hiring decisions are more successful than others!
Over the last ten years we have hired a number of people who have enjoyed great success with us, or gone on to replicate that elsewhere, and the most significant shift in our approach occurred in late 2019 just before the pandemic. Livingston James Group (of which Rutherford Cross is a part) underwent a detailed exercise to develop our purpose, and this has guided our values, strategy and people decisions ever since.
The timing was ideal, as just a few months later, our purpose helped us to overcome a key issue faced by most organisations: how do you bind your teams together in the virtual world? Four years later, it remains fundamental to everything we do.
The exercise resulted in our Group purpose being defined as follows; “We are here to advise and support people and organisations to realise their potential so that together we can impact lives and communities for the better.” With purpose set, our values guide our behaviours, and consequently the experiences of our clients, candidates, colleagues, and communities. Those values are:
- Together we achieve more
- Make a difference
- Always do the right thing
- Be passionate and determined
- Be famous for excellence
One of the key manifestations of this purpose was the move of Livingston James Group to employee ownership in January 2023. This means that every employee in our business, from our office support staff to our senior leaders, is personally invested in and measured on the outcomes we achieve for our clients, candidates, colleagues, and community partners. Our employee ownership model is yet another way to ensure that collaborative and mutually beneficial, long-term outcomes remain at the heart of everything we do now and in the future.
The output of all of this in our own recruitment processes is to make hiring decisions with our purpose and values at their core. As such, for anyone wanting to join our business in future, they must demonstrate absolute alignment with our own purpose and values above all else, including previous reputation and/or success.
Looking to the Future
Although reflecting on the past on occasions such as this is worthwhile and almost cathartic, ultimately it is the future that is important, and our view is that the most exciting times for Rutherford Cross lay ahead.
Undoubtedly, there are stern tests to face such as ongoing economic uncertainty and a softening of the recruitment market in general over the last 12 months across the UK; but a decade of experience, along with a few memorable lessons along the way, means that we are well equipped going forward. In addition, there will be many changes to the world of recruitment and employment in general, some of which are not yet on the radar, so continually improving our expertise and supporting our networks through those new challenges will be a vital part of our role for years to come.
Our focus will continue to be on those areas where our industry plays the most important role with our clients, candidates and communities. First and foremost, our role is to help; whether that be sharing knowledge, facilitating relationships, or creating networks in which people decide to become active participants. We trust that the effort that we put into these activities, combined with satisfying the basic need for human interaction in an increasingly technology led world, will allow us to help an individual move job or an organisation hire a key role at some point in the future.
To do that, at Rutherford Cross we must continue to offer our own team stimulating work, meaningful personal development, and a positive culture where they feel part of shaping our business and the markets they operate in. We hope that by remaining true to our purpose, we can make Rutherford Cross a great place to work for our current team and a perfect destination for talented people to join in future.
Few industries afford you the opportunity to impact so many careers, organisations, and communities for the better and at Rutherford Cross and the broader Livingston James Group that remains our singular purpose. If that message resonates with you, we would love to have a conversation about how you might become part of the next decade of the Rutherford Cross journey.