Australia had a huge influence on Angelo Mastropietro as a child. "My great aunt had emigrated there as a ten-pound Pom and my granddad always used to read me her letters." Aged 22, he decided to discover Australia for himself. But rather than doing "the usual gap-year thing", Mastropietro "swapped the backpack for the briefcase".
He arrived in late 1999. With the dotcom boom in full swing, he quickly found a job working for Hays in IT recruitment. For the next year, "I beat the firm's sales records and felt I was doing really well." Yet "they told me they were freezing pay because the market was slowing down".
By 2001, he had left to start his own firm. Realising that he couldn't compete with the large general recruiters, he targeted the niche defence sector. "At the time there were no other recruiters devoted solely to the Australian defence sector." His late grandfather had left him £10,000 (about A$22,000). That was enough for him to rent "a tiny office" and pay his living costs while he looked for clients for his new firm, Kinetic Recruitment.
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He quickly heard about some tricky vacancies at defence contractor BAE Systems. "They wanted candidates with very specific skills, like avionics, but they also had to be Australian nationals for security reasons." Mastropietro could now see his opportunity: "I knew that they were the type of difficult cases that a recruiter at large firms would leave".
But having scored some early successes on tricky placements, he hit a problem. "I was a young guy with no military experience. It was hard for me to build credibility with my clients." So he hired ex-military servicemen who "were taking their first steps back on civvy street' and were happy to get a job".
Kinetic now began to win bigger contracts from defence contractors. The firm then received a massive boost when it became the first recruiter to be recognised on Australia's defence supplier scheme. By 2005, yearly sales had hit $2.7m and Kinetic had earned a place in Australia's 100 fastest-growing companies.
But with the economy taking off on the back of growing Chinese demand for commodities, the firm hit a new problem. "A lot of the engineers or technicians with the skills we needed were getting sucked into the mining or energy industries."
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan meant the defence department "was spending more money on operational needs than on developing new projects". Mastropietro decided to target industries "with similar skills but also exposure to the fast-growing parts of the economy". One was rail, where new tracks were being laid to help Australia ship its natural resources. By 2007, Kinetic's annual sales reached $10m. Then disaster struck.
Aged 29, Mastropietro was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and told by doctors to slow down. So in 2010, he sold Kinetic and moved back to Britain. But 18 months on he feels ready to start Rockhouse Resources. The firm will send technicians and engineers from the Midlands to work on Australia's vast commodity extraction projects.
Now 34, he isn't worried by predictions that Australia's commodity boom is ending. "I started a business in a slowdown last time and now I'm more experienced."
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.
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