Lee Bown: Don’t moan – set up on your own

Lee Bown had had enough of complaining about his job. So he took the plunge and started his own successful recruitment business.

By the age of 31, Lee Bown was tired of complaining about his job at a recruitment firm. "I was bored of having the same moaning conversations with my friends, I decided it was time to do something about it." So in 2003 he quit his job and set up his own recruitment agency, Recart. He decided to stick to what he'd been doing for his former employer and focus on recruiting technical executives and engineers for the car industry.

But, having enjoyed his 20s, he only had "a few grand" saved up to start the business. "I set up a workspace in my kitchen and gave myself three months to earn my first invoice." In the meantime, Bown "lived like a hermit" and "didn't go out until I'd got the business going".

Unable for legal reasons to approach any of his former contacts, Bown relied on the internet to find new candidates. "By registering on certain websites I had access to all the candidates I would ever need." He used a "candidate-led" approach, concentrating on building up a database of quality job-seekers.

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With enough promising candidates on his books, he began ringing firms. One early coup was landing work with leading British engine manufacturer Rolls-Royce. "I rang up and badgered them until they gave me two roles that they'd been unable to fill I went out and found the right candidates. Now I regularly find people for them."

For the most part Bown relied on his own database to fill positions, but when that wasn't sufficient in the booming economy in the 1990s he offered cash bonuses for successful referrals. "Generally speaking people are happy to recommend someone for free, because they want to see their friend find the right job. But sometimes a bonus is the only way."

With the number of candidates and clients on his books growing, Bown moved to a shared office and hired staff. "I waited until I had more work than I could cope with before taking people on. I didn't want to overextend myself."

By 2006 Nottingham-based Recart had diversified from finding staff for the motor industry to also serving general manufacturing and aerospace clients. "We followed our candidates. There are a lot of similar skill-sets across industries, so when talented engineers switched to other sectors, we did too." New clients included defence contractors such as BAE Systems and Thales.

By 2009 Recart had moved to its own offices in a converted lace mill "I wanted to stay outside the city centre because rents are much cheaper" and had annual sales of £3.5m. Ever keen to raise revenues, Bown rented out the boardroom and meeting rooms to other businesses.

Disaster nearly struck when Britain's motor industry was decimated by the recession in 2009 and "the car industry basically stopped hiring". Bown weathered the downturn, placing workers with the likes of Honda in Germany. In the last two years Recart has benefited from the bounce back in British manufacturing. "The auto industry in particular has been growing very strongly."

Last year revenues reached £4.6m. Bown, whose other business interests include a photography course centre and a caf, is optimistic. Now 40, he's planning on boosting Recart's international sales.

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.