Monday interview: Cathcart Associates joint MD Gordon Kaye

The number of new businesses in the UK has increased every year since 2008, according to Companies House data, with the financial crisis proving an opportunity for many ventures to take a chance.

Gordon Kaye, left, decided to start Cathcart Associates in 2009 while working at a large recruiter with Sam Wason. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

That was the case for Edinburgh’s Cathcart Associates, which was set up in 2009 at what joint managing director Gordon Kaye says was the high point of the fallout from the financial crisis. He was working as a manager at a global recruitment firm, where he and colleague Sam Wason “pretty much” ran the Scottish division of the company themselves.

Kaye then put forward the idea of branching out to Wason, now joint managing director, and the former tells how, while some people thought starting up then was a brave move, he saw it more as a “logical” one.

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He says: “The thought process was, ‘if we can make it work at that point and if we can make it profitable when the chips are down, then hopefully that’ll put us in a strong position to build the business when the market improves’.” Growth was organic and steady, funded by their own savings rather than a business loan or angel investment.

The IT-focused company’s take-off came in parallel with the Scottish technology scene flourishing. Kaye adds that in their favour was the fact that the tech economy was making good progress relative to its mainstream counterpart, and was somewhat sheltered from broader economic


Additionally, the firm wasn’t covering, say, finance recruitment, which would have faced far greater hurdles, he believes, also pointing out that IT is an area where businesses always need to maintain investment regardless of broader conditions.

Cathcart now has about 25 staff globally, encompassing its operations in Edinburgh city centre, an office in Manchester that opened in 2015 to harness what it saw as the major growth of the digital industry in the north of England and an outpost in Bangkok opened the same year. The last comes as the firm seeks to leverage Thailand’s combination of a nascent recruitment market and “huge” tech scene, and says it has secured some household names as clients.

As well as IT, Cathcart covers the renewable energy sector and is looking to maximise its presence in both fields in Europe, with a virtual office in Germany already (“We’re hoping that will ignite some European expansion”, says Kaye) and across south-east Asia, using Thailand as a hub.

Other milestones include the recent news that it secured an exclusive 12-month contract with digital agency Mando. When the partnership was announced, Kaye described it as “great news for us, as we have worked hard to establish ourselves as a reliable, trustworthy IT recruiter in the north of England, as well as in Scotland”.

The firm also hires people without recruitment experience, preferring to train them up, and looks to differentiate itself in the market by digging below the surface to find out what companies and candidates are really looking for, which may well differ from what they believe they need.

Kaye adds that, in terms of recruitment trends, he has noticed that candidates are now much more willing than, say, 15 years ago, to work for smaller start-ups. In the tech scene in particular, “people want to be able to influence what they’re working on”, and if they’re on board early enough they could be a pivotal part of the next success story like travel giant Skyscanner, for example.

He also expects the tech sector’s continued struggle with a shortage of suitably-skilled staff to get worse in the short term, while in December, the firm predicted that talented web and mobile software developers will be highly sought after this year. Wason said: “Javascript and full stack developers are in ferociously high demand and we expect that trend to continue over the next 12 months.”

As for Cathcart’s own outlook, its ambition is to be the biggest independent IT and renewable energy recruiter in the regions where it operates, and Kaye sums up the task of matching companies and candidates as rewarding.

People “hardly ever say they wish they’d stayed where they were”, he says, while his decision to branch out from his previous employer looks to have been a positive one. If there hadn’t been so many economic shockwaves, “we might still be there,” says Kaye.


Born: 1976, Edinburgh

Education: Honours degree in information management

First job: Video rental

Ambition while at school: A pilot, but I remember from a very young age saying I always wanted a job where I could wear an amazing suit (still waiting for that)

What car do you drive? I change cars weekly; they are a big hobby. Current project car is a 07 Clio R27 F1

Favourite mode of transport: First class on the train is the only way to party

Music: Modern, commercial dance music, Or 80s electronic pop

Kindle or book? Kindle, as I can play games on it but I read car magazines religiously, so probably book

Can’t live without: Football – Coaching, playing and watching in large quantities

What inspires you? Taking people who aren’t good at something but want to be and watching them get better

Favourite place: Joint winners have always been Las Vegas and Inverie