David Spencer-Percival's simple secret for success

Making good money working in a lucrative field wasn't enough for David Spencer-Percival. To get to the top, he had to go that little bit further.


David Spencer-Percival, Huntress Group

David Spencer-Percival, 42, had a few career false-starts. Having left school at the age of 16, he worked for Lloyds bank and then for a designer boutique in Covent Garden. At the age of 27, he switched again to recruitment. "I had some friends who were making good money in the industry so I thought if they could do it, why not me?"

So in 1997 he started out in a junior role at a technology recruiter and soon "worked myself right to the top". The technology industry was booming and Spencer-Percival soon found he was a natural. "I enjoyed speaking to people and finding the right candidates for the right businesses." By 1999 he was already a manager and his boss had given him an Aston Martin DB9 to reward him for his work.

Ironically, this incentive led to his departure. "One day a guy parked next to me complimented me on the car and asked me what I did for a living to earn it. He assumed I must be an investment banker and was shocked when I told him I was a recruiter. He asked me how a recruiter managed to get a car like that and I told him straight I am the best'."

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The man's name was Gary Laurence and he was about to launch a private-equity-backed technology recruitment firm. He invited Spencer-Percival to come on board and gave him a stake in the new firm, Huntress Group.

That's when Spencer-Percival's luck could have run out. Soon after they formed the firm, the dotcom bubble burst and technology hiring "froze". Yet Huntress managed to stay afloat. "Start-ups take market share off their bigger rivals. It doesn't matter what happens to the wider market as long as you can get a piece of it."

The firm's strong private-equity backing meant it was able to keep investing in staff and offices during the downturn, leaving it well placed when the sector eventually recovered. By 2007 Huntress had 500 staff and yearly sales of almost £78m when Japanese bank Nomura bought it for £50m. Spencer-Percival, then 36, did well from the sale and set about trying to turn his windfall into a new company.

But this time he decided against technology recruitment "it was being commoditised and margins were suffering" and decided to focus on energy instead. "With so many important changes taking place shale gas, ageing infrastructure, growing demand it reminds me of the technology sector ten years ago." He entered talks with Sir Peter Ogden, the entrepreneur behind Computacenter. "I knew him through his son who worked with us at Huntress."

The pair thrashed out a deal that involved both putting significant skin in the game and launched the new firm, Spencer Ogden, in 2009. Despite making heavy losses in the first year, the business, which finds candidates for drilling contractors and energy service firms, now funds itself. It has 250 staff and ten offices around the world. "We've taken the lessons from tech sector recruitment and brought them to energy. We don't sit around waiting for clients to ask for candidates. We go out and find people who can improve firms."

Sales hit £54m last year, but Spencer-Percival thinks this is just the beginning. "We have the potential to become a billion-dollar business and I'm doing my best to make that happen."

James graduated from Keele University with a BA (Hons) in English literature and history, and has a NCTJ certificate in journalism.


After working as a freelance journalist in various Latin American countries, and a spell at ITV, James wrote for Television Business International and covered the European equity markets for the Forbes.com London bureau. 


James has travelled extensively in emerging markets, reporting for international energy magazines such as Oil and Gas Investor, and institutional publications such as the Commonwealth Business Environment Report. 


He is currently the managing editor of LatAm INVESTOR, the UK's only Latin American finance magazine.