The Big Interview: Danny McIntyre, founder of Primestaff

Primestaff chief executive Danny McIntyre outside his headquarters in Glasgow's Blythswood Square. Picture: Gary Hutchison/SNS
Primestaff chief executive Danny McIntyre outside his headquarters in Glasgow's Blythswood Square. Picture: Gary Hutchison/SNS
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Recruitment firm Primestaff transferred its Glasgow headquarters to Blythswood Square six months ago, but chief executive Danny McIntyre’s office still bears evidence that the firm hasn’t completely settled in. The light from the window facing West George Street falls on a room free from the clutter of many years’ tenancy, but some items remain out of place.

An autographed picture of the European Ryder Cup team that pulled off the “Miracle of Medinah” in 2012 sits propped on the floor waiting to be hung in its appointed space on the wall above. Next to it is a photo of McIntyre with Evander Holyfield – signed by the boxer – similarly awaiting a permanent position. Both were acquisitions from the various charity and fundraising events which McIntyre attends.

“We’ve just been so busy that we haven’t quite gotten around to all the housekeeping, even now,” he says.

He’s interrupted by the clang of the “sales bell”, a new addition since the move from Primestaff’s former home in Bothwell Street. It’s meant as a bit of fun motivation in a workplace where McIntyre stresses the significance of personal rapport, both among staff and with clients.

“When I sit and look at it I can’t actually put my finger on how we have achieved what we have done,” he says of the firm which hit a record £11 million in turnover and more than £2m in profit during the year to April.

“I would say the growth is because these guys out there have developed their client relationships. We are fantastic at looking after our existing clients. The biggest challenge now is developing new business.”

Set up in 1993 by McIntyre with two employees, “a couple of phones and a computer”, Primestaff now manages more than 1,000 temporary staff per week for more than 200 clients, and places about 500 permanent staff annually. It operates in the commercial, construction, technical and hospitality sectors, and its Black & Black subsidiary – overseen by McIntyre’s wife Christine, a registered mental health nurse – handles housing and social care staffing.

The firm employs 30 people and is targeting revenues of £20m by 2020 following five new hires, including the appointment of its first group director of business development. A newly opened office in Edinburgh is expected to expand from three to eight staff within the next six months as that operation extends from construction into the other sectors of the market.

With just 5 per cent of turnover currently generated by permanent placements, McIntyre sees this as an area for future growth. Geographic expansion is another possibility, as discussions are taking place with potential new clients in Dundee.

“We are also looking at acquisition and merger opportunities as well, but it can be very difficult to get the right fit for these kinds of things,” he adds. This could be driven by the move into new territories, or perhaps specialist sectors such as accountancy, legal or IT staffing.

Like most within the industry, McIntyre never considered recruitment as a career. Growing up in Paisley, he used to spend his time watching planes take off and land at Glasgow Airport, and dream of being a pilot.

That came to an end when a routine medical exam at the age of 15 revealed that he is “almost totally” colour blind.

After leaving Camphill High School, he spent a few months running an ice-cream van rented from Porrelli of Paisley. Though that didn’t last long, it is telling that Porrelli to this day is a long-standing client of Primestaff, and that McIntyre and Porrelli managing director Enzo Durante are friends and golfing buddies.

“I enjoy getting to know people,” McIntyre says. “That is the simple part of recruiting. If you do that, everything else will fall into place.”

After the ice cream van, he got a job with the Post Office in Renfrew before joining the offshore oil rush where he worked as a cost clerk at Sullom Voe in Shetland. He recalls it as an exciting experience for a 19-year-old among more seasoned veterans, even though his work amounted to little more than counting up equipment and machinery.

That came to an end with the oil price collapse of 1986, and McIntyre found himself back home in need of work. He signed on with the Glasgow office of Hestair Management Services, at that time one of the largest recruitment companies in the UK, and was soon asked to join the company as a member of staff.

“People don’t go into recruitment as a career,” McIntyre says. “Inevitably they start out in something else that takes them into it. But I just loved it once I got into it. It is very much a people business.”

After a few years of working for large corporations, he struck out on his own on a journey that has seen plenty of ups and downs. McIntyre clearly takes pride in the fact that Primestaff has traded continuously for the past 23 years through difficult periods including the last recession, during which the company was forced to close two of its satellite offices and shed about one-third of its staff, taking it down to 18 people.

“We are aware there have over the years been a lot of agencies who have done a lot of shouting and have come and gone,” he says. “When things were tough there were suggestions that we could flatten this business and start over again, because a lot of other people did it. But this was all mine at that time, and I didn’t want to be seen as a failure.”

The company has seen “significant growth” across all of its divisions during the past four years, which allowed it to revive plans for a partial management buy-out (MBO) that it was forced to shelve during the financial collapse. That deal, completed in July, transferred 55 per cent of the equity over to the executive team of Antonio Vezza, Carol Conlin, Michael Docherty and Sean McPolin.

The MBO paves the way for succession planning at Primestaff, but also allows for re-investment in the business to take it towards its target of £20m in revenues by 2020. The goal for the current financial year is to hit £15m in turnover. “It has been tough this year with Brexit,” McIntyre says. “We are a little bit behind but we believe we can make that up with the new guys that have come on.”

They include Derek Thomson and Matthew Bowater, both formerly at the Glasgow office of Manpower, which has shut down as the national agency moved its Scottish operations to Edinburgh and Grangemouth. Consultant Leigh Carroll has joined Black & Black and Stephen Johnston is with Primestaff’s commercial department, while Robert Muir of Bibby Factors has come on board with responsibility for business development.

“It’s a really talented group,” McIntyre says. “Hiring the right people is the way to drive growth, and we believe that is what we have done.”

He and his wife retain 40 per cent of the business, with the remaining 5 per cent of the equity in the hands of the man who inadvertently set the stage for Primestaff’s new sponsorship deal with PRO12 rugby side Glasgow Warriors.

That minority shareholder is a childhood friend of McIntyre’s who has worked as an accountant and stockbroker in Hong Kong for more than two decades. McIntyre sold him a stake in the early days of Primestaff with the aim of getting financial guidance as the company grew, though his pal has largely remained a silent partner.

But McIntyre still visits him regularly, which is how he first attended the Hong Kong Sevens in the late 1990s. From there, his interest in rugby expanded.

During his last visit for the Sevens in spring, McIntyre filled in time away from the pitch with a round of golf playing alongside former Bath captain Andy Nicol and Al Kellock, Glasgow’s former captain and current manager of commercial operations at the Warriors. That kicked off a conversation which led to the announcement in June that Primestaff has become one of the club’s newest partners.

“It has been great,” says McIntyre, who hopes to contribute towards preparing players for life after rugby. “A lot of our guys in here are really football guys, so this has taken them out of their comfort zone, but they have really taken to it.”