04th May 2012

Nigel Heap and Hays Group

Englishman Nigel Heap, who’s worked for Hays plc for 25 years, has been unofficially crowned ‘Australia’s recruitment profit king.’ But now he’s come full circle and returned to his roots to take on a new challenge, one  that’s proved to be beyond the abilities of a succession of Hays executives in recent years: the Group’s faltering operations in the UK and Ireland. 

After obtaining a law degree and training as an accountant, Heap joined Hays in the UK in 1988 as a trainee consultant in Accountancy & Finance. Since being made MD of Hays Australia in 1997 he has overseen a ten-fold growth of Australian profits and expanded the Group’s operations into New Zealand, Hong Kong, China, Japan and Singapore. The Asia-Pacific division, which Heap has run since 2006, is now the Group’s largest profit contributor, in addition to being, with 1500 employees in 48 offices, the largest specialist recruitment company in the region.

In fact, for the financial year 2011, Hays Asia-Pacific has accounted for over two-thirds (AUD$118 million) of the Group’s total global operating profit (AUD$172 million), a staggering achievement. So Heap’s reputation in the industry as a profit-making-powerhouse is certainly deserved.

Hays Global CEO Alistair Cox is betting Heap’s leadership abilities will turn around the fortunes of Hays UK & Ireland, which have slumped so badly since the 2008 credit crunch that 4 MDs in succession have been axed at the division in as many years, the most recent being Royston Hoggarth, who lasted only 18 months in the job.

This is partly due to massive public sector job cuts implemented by Cameron’s government, and a comparable contraction in the Irish public sector job market, which devastated Hays’ previously highly profitable public sector recruitment division. But the contraction of the public sector can’t take all the blame. The announcement that Heap would be replacing Hoggarth came just one week after Hays reported a 6% decline in private sector net fees in the UK and Ireland during the quarter ended 31 March 2012.

Needless to say the fact that the economy is shaky won’t satisfy investors as an explanation for consistent losses. Heap is the company’s star executive, and his appointment shows that Hays is seriously committed to restarting growth in the UK and Ireland. Investors will be pleased, but nobody doubts that Heap is facing one of the toughest challenges of his brilliant career, and everyone will be watching with interest to see what kind of impact his presence will have, in the next 100 days and beyond.

Hilda Goold



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