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As Cobalt celebrates its 20th anniversary, we chat to Managing Director of the UK business, Marcus Davies Bateman, about the journey the company has been on in those two decades, challenges faced and how things have changed.
Q: Tell us about the journey the company has been on since it was founded 20 years ago?
It’s been a really exciting journey – 20 years is something to be incredibly proud of. Not many recruitment firms have lasted that long or retained their culture during that time. We started off in a windowless shoe box office with one phone and one fax, and our two founders; Tim and Adam. Now we have nine offices around the globe - it’s really been quite some journey. We’re a special business - we’ve evolved over time and never lost the heart of what we do. We’ve got more than a fax machine these days, that’s for sure!
Q: What big challenges has the business had to deal with in those 20 years?
2020 presented us all with huge challenges, both at work and at home. What impressed me the most during that time was the resilience shown by the Cobalt team. People kept going and they kept plugging - they turned around some impressive and innovative work with clients and candidates. It’s probably the toughest challenge we’ve had. But in response to that, we created a wellbeing committee with a sizeable budget to invest in the Cobaltians. Firstly, to keep us all together when we’re not working together. But secondly, to understand the challenges people are facing in terms of mental health and wellbeing. We’re proud to be doing more in this area as part of our ‘Cobalt Cares’ philosophy and being a health and wellbeing orientated business, not just a hard-core sales environment.
But the biggest challenge is that we’ve always been a growing company, and yet we’ve successfully retained our culture. It’s always hard when you’re expanding and growing into new offices and territories. Being different, being genuine, being authentic – it’s who we are. To see the growth we’ve experienced and yet not compromise our values or culture is most pleasing. Our German and US offices have not only replicated, but built upon, the culture we have – this makes it all the more impressive. In growing you can sometimes compromise on what is truest at heart for the greater good of a commercial business, but we’ve never lost our personality. People remain at the forefront of what we do, and that remains the case today, much as it did 20 years ago.
Q: What do you consider to be the biggest strength of the business and how it’s built its reputation today?
Without a doubt, people – our colleagues, candidates and clients. People are at the forefront of everything we do at Cobalt. We have a culture of caring. Our people demonstrate true passion and intellectual curiosity of wanting to understand their markets. We have a sense of family, fun and pride. Being reliable and true to our word in everything we do. Living and breathing these values is what makes our people our biggest strength. There are also so many candidates and clients with who we have long-term relationships with. We’ve placed some great professionals in great businesses, and this in turn has enhanced our reputation. These are the foundations of who we are and what we do.
Q: How have things changed since the company started 20 years ago?
LinkedIn! When it first came along it was said to be the end of recruitment! But understanding and embracing the platform and how it could work for us, particularly in the sourcing of candidates, has been a huge change. Sourcing candidates and understanding their motivations are much more nuanced than it’s ever been. In the past, money used to be a higher-ranking motivator for people when moving jobs. But now, the softer, less tangible things are far more important to people; working from home, work-life balance, wellbeing, career progression, training, what it’s like to work in a business.
Technology! When I first started out in recruitment, I had to collect temp timesheets via a fax machine – now it’s all done through online portals! The technology available these days is astounding, but you can’t replace good old fashioned face-to-face. We are a people-led business in a people-led industry and sometimes businesses can rely too strongly on technology. We don’t want to hide behind emails at the expense of what candidates and clients really need: human interaction and understanding, whether that’s a phone call or meeting for a coffee. Personal relationships is key to being successful. Of course, we need to adapt and innovate, but not at the expense of what our clients and candidates need.
Q: D&I is, rightly so, a big topic of conversation right now. What is Cobalt doing with regards to this, both internally and externally?
We believe it’s important to get your own house in order first, and then see how you can help and advise others. At Cobalt, diversity, equity and inclusion is a continual journey of challenging, changing and progressing. We believe in deeds and not just words. We have already doubled our maternity policy and introduced a return-to-work bonus to encourage mothers to come back to work. The experiences of motherhood can only be a massive value-add to any business. D&I is of course more than just mothers, but it’s just one example of how we’re getting started in this area.
In terms of our clients, we’re working daily to help them improve their own hiring strategies – from attracting diverse applicants, to creating a diverse shortlist, through to creating a diverse interview panel to attract the right people. It’s interesting challenging the norms in this area.
We’ve never been afraid to walk away from a client who doesn’t demonstrate or embrace D&I and its importance to creating a better and more sustainable workplace. We want to be the custodians of what’s right and wrong. If a client is trying to project one thing, but on the other hand is saying “just find me 35-year-old men”, that’s not progressive and not the sort of company we want to work with. It doesn’t align with our values. If clients won’t change, then we walk away - Cobaltians are empowered to do that. The good news is that most clients are being receptive to advice in this area. Some are even further ahead than us and we’re learning from them too, which is great.
Q: Are there any exciting plans in the near future for Cobalt?
We’re moving into our brand-new office in the West End in the new year. After 5 years in Covent Garden, it will be exciting to bring everyone back together in 2022 in our new home, in the heartbeat of where our clients and candidates are. We are also growing in every corner of the world: the UK, New York and Germany. In the UK, we’re also really embracing the work from home culture and have people permanently home-based, from Hove to the Orkney Islands, which means we can attract exciting new talent. As a result, our workforce is already becoming more diverse. There are no limitations now with not needing to have everyone in the office all of the time, and even better is that the strength of our culture has not diminished.
We’re always looking for talented experts to join our friendly team. Fancy becoming one of the family? We’d love to hear from you. You can read more about working at Cobalt and see our current vacancies here.