Interviewed by Nicola Duffy

In January 2006, on a quiet street in Bishops Stortford, four ex employees of a local recruitment company set to work. Their goal; to become the most respected boutique recruitment agency in the built environment.

11 years down the line and through one of the worst recessions this country has ever seen, Solution still have this as their mission statement and I am sure that if you ask any of their candidates or clients you will be told that this goal has been achieved.

Today I have come to meet with Jason Bailey (Founding Director) and Lewis Powell (Head of Design) in their quirky London office, to discuss the Design side of the  business.

We all have a notion of what we expect from ‘recruitment companies’ and, if I am truthful, I very much anticipated more of the same. What I was greeted with couldn’t have been further from my expectations. I was welcomed by Nicola (their lovely Studio Manager) and shown to a vintage leather couch on which to wait. Looking around the office, rather than being full of loud noises and louder suits, it was populated with people roaming between the banks of desks, deep in conversation.

I was then led to one of their meeting rooms to await Jason and Lewis. Shortly after, two tall and instantly approachable men entered the frame, again they do not conform to what I would expect of stereotypical recruiters (mainly due to their dress sense). You can clearly see that there is a strong bond, their joviality indicative of the apparent culture they foster at Solution. Jason Bailey is one of the Founding Directors of the business and is based out of their London office, which was established to complement their Bishops Stortford offering. Jason begins by outlining the main reasons why he set up the company with the three other Founding Directors.

‘’The year was 2005 and we were all tired of the bad reputation that recruitment agencies were attracting, and we knew we could build something that offered the best of both worlds which is a business that provides a quality service to candidates and clients as well as ensuring our consultants are valued and enjoy coming to work. That’s what we set out to achieve. We all share the same passion which is our dislike of large commercial agencies and what they stand for”.

“At times it has been challenging but it is a journey we have enjoyed completely, even during the recession. It was a tough time for the design industry and understandably
businesses struggled. Before the down turn our market was saturated with agencies not providing the service we sought to achieve. All of a sudden someone turned off the lights and we were in a full blown recession. We had clients that we had built relationships with going into liquidation and employment offers being retracted – it was not for the faint hearted! But you know what? It was survival of the fittest, and I was confident that we had the client relationships to pull us through, and that’s exactly what happened”. There is a lot of pride in his voice as he tells this, not arrogance or bravado, he seems genuinely pleased that the business survived one of the hardest economic periods in recent memory and came out the other end with renewed strength.

Established for 11 years, Solution has grown to have 10 in house divisions and offers both permanent and contract recruitment services to clients and candidates. Far from the struggles of the recession, last year they achieved a £14.5 million turnover.

So what is next for Solution? 

“We are into a five year plan and we are very transparent with this. What we have created at Solution is an environment in which there is a clear dialogue between the Directors and the Consultants about our overall goals – we want to be a £25 million turnover business in the next five years and we have projected that we will need 50 staff to achieve this, with the current total standing at 30. We have deliberately set this number as, we believe, anything over and you risk losing your identity as a business and more importantly, you start turning into a ‘commercial agency’. The connection you have with your staff ultimately suffers.”

He turns to Lewis, who nods in agreement before adding “I believe that an agency with more than 50 staff loses its quality and relies on generic key performance indicators, which we are completely against here at Solution.”

Jason uses Lewis as an example: “Our business, our brand, is built around the individuals that work in their market every day, like Lewis, and that is not something we will risk losing”.

Interior Design is one of the sectors in which Solution are market leaders. Well known to both the companies and professionals that work within it, and you can clearly see that Lewis has a lot of passion for his division. “We are proud of what we have achieved.” he says, having joined nearly four years ago, “I spent the best part of six months working closely with Jason on candidate generation before being given the opportunity to work with my own clients.” ‘’I have taught him all he knows!” claims Jason as he interrupts with a cheeky smile, which is dismissed immediately by Lewis who laughs and says “it was about time the old boy moved aside!”

But what is it that makes both Jason and Lewis respected figures in the design sector? “Jason has always put an emphasis on making friends in this line of work and that is exactly what I’ve done. We make a big effort to get to know both our candidates and clients on a social level and I believe that this sets us apart from the rest of the competition”.

Solution are also known for their international trips to attend industry events, the Salone del Mobile in Milan for example. “We are always seen at functions and awards dinners,” Jason says with a knowing grin, “and that’s important to us as we want to demonstrate how seriously we take our profession,” to which Lewis replies “hopefully a bit more seriously than the jacket you have on today!”.

On a serious note, Solution have established themselves as the leading agency within London Interior Design, more specifically within the High End Residential and Hospitality markets.

“I had more of an interest in those markets so naturally I leant towards them, and then it just became my specialty. We hired Lewis to take over from me as my duties as a Director were pulling me away from the actual recruitment side of things, and relationships were not being maintained. Lewis not only picked up where I left off but managed to open up doors that were previously shut.”

By the sound of things it couldn’t have gone any better, as four years down the line Lewis is heading up the whole design side of Solution Recruitment and working selectively with some of London’s most respected Architectural Practices and Design Studios, recruiting from Junior to Director level.

As the meeting was ending and we were heading out the door, Jason tells me that the business is “only as good as the people that are representing it” and “with Lewis, we definitely have one of the best out there!”

As Solution embark on the next stage of their growth, it’s clear to see they are in a strong position and have an exciting future ahead. It was an absolute pleasure interviewing and meeting with these two interior design recruitment specialists.

You can reach Jason at jb@sol-rec.com, Lewis at lp@sol-rec.com or give them a call on 020 7855 9644