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Ten Minutes with….James Reed – Chairman of Reed…

I had met with and spoken to James Reed a few times in the recent past. Having previously worked for Reed for nine years and then becoming redundant, it was not the easiest decision to contact his office to request an interview with the man himself.

However, James Reed and the Reed brand are synonymous with the recruitment industry in the UK and I was keen to gain qualified perspective and insight into how the industry was feeling about the next 12 months in terms of the employment market and the economy. Redundancy (and a few other issues) aside, I had enjoyed working for Reed. I value the experience and knowledge I gained, and it will help me now, going forward in my new career.

James Reed himself is an empowering figure. He has the look and voice of a stereotypical cabinet minister, and with his iconic ‘always wearing red socks’ demeanour, he is a likable and memorable character. Nepotism aside (Sir Alec Reed, his father, founded the business and James Reed gained a senior position within Reed rather quickly), James Reed is a good leader, a distinctive figurehead, and has overseen some of the biggest and momentous changes within Reed and the commercial recruitment industry itself.

Metaphorically, he has earned his stripes. So without further delay, I introduce James Reed to the proceedings… James we have ten minutes to chat, so I am going to get straight to the point….

I start by referring back to an interview James and his father gave back in June 2010 to The Guardian, and the suggestion in the interview was that James believed the worst of the recession was over. I was keen in hindsight, to see if the length and the severity of the recession had taken Reed and the industry by surprise?

James was quite honest in answering this and admitted that the length of the recession had not been expected and that the economy ever since 2009 has been flat. He identified that the economy, whilst not officially in recession; “Feels like a double dip recession – whatever anyone tells us – it feels like recession” and goes on to concede that “within the business, the last half of 2011 was just as tough as the last half of 2010″which most of us, in and out of recruitment, would tend to agree with.

So with this in mind I asked James, what one measure would you love to see introduced by the Coalition Government to help stimulate employment growth?

Bearing in mind he represents Reed, a commercial recruitment company, he understandably addressed the issues of VAT. “Stop charging VAT on wages” is his forthright answer. “Get things moving and encourage business to take more staff on” he goes on to say. Highlighting that VAT adds a fifth in costs to the employer, it would be a bold but positive move for any UK government to make…. More a wish list answer than a possibility, one feels, but a good answer nevertheless.

An issue for me is that businesses and Governments have spent the last few years spinning the reality of the economy and the recession to protect their own self-interest. I was keen to address this with James and highlighted the Reed Job Index as an example. The Reed Job Index tracks the number of new job opportunities and the salaries on offer on reed.co.uk, compared to the previous month and against a baseline of 100 set in December 2010.

The latest Reed Job Index press release highlighted that job opportunities were 17% up this year compared to last December, but in my mind this is nothing to celebrate as last Christmas we had one of the worst Winters for 30 years and you know that this had a massive effect on employment activity! Is that a fair criticism?

James is understandably defensive of the Reed Job Index and makes a valid point that they can only analyses the data that reed.co.uk captures. If reed.co.uk shows that there are more jobs being added to the site, then that is what they report.

Addressing the snow and the role of positive spin in one fell swoop, he questions how much of an impact the weather really had on business in December 2010 and attacked the use of ‘negative spin’ in painting a picture that is actually worse than it is. He argues that the CIPD concentrates on “too much negativity” and that too much negativity can end up being self-prophesying. “6% of the economy has contracted – so let’s concentrate on the 94% of it that is left!”  To be fair, a point well made.

So how do you see the next twelve months for the recruitment industry and on a wider scale, confidence in the job market and any particular sectors where we will see growth?

James is keen not to get too far ahead of himself and highlights the Eurozone issue as a major concern. It is understandably difficult to predict how the economy will be in twelve months, when there is little stability in the market itself. However he predicts, “Slow growth and returning confidence” and targets the Olympics as an important benefit to the UK economy over the next year. On a wider scale, he recognises that some “…towns and cities are thriving, but others are still struggling….”

Reed has always been at the forefront of using technology to improve the recruitment process and reed.co.uk is the first mainstream and largest job-site in the UK. I asked James how different he felt the Recruitment industry would be in 5 years time in terms of use of social media, technology and innovation?

James answered this by saying that “even in the last 5 years, social media and technology has changed the way we do things hugely within the business, and that in terms of the development of the Internet and social media, we are probably only at the early stages of using it to its potential.” Highlighting online retail sales over Christmas, his only question is if online growth will be at the detriment of the UK high street.

So with a minute to go this was James Reed’s job interview question! What has been your biggest achievement? 

“Measuring my achievements from the “Then”, when I joined Reed, to the “Now”…there has been the introduction and development of reed.co.uk, the work we have done via Reed in Partnership in getting over 100,000 long term unemployed back into work and the start of the globalisation of Reed as an organisation” 

Not a bad answer, hey?

With that our call was done. I thanked James for his time and went on my merry way….

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4 Responses to “Ten Minutes with….James Reed – Chairman of Reed…”

  1. I assumed that it is understandably difficult to predict how the economy will be in twelve months, when there is little stability in the market itself. Thanks mate.

    Posted by craigkarey | January 24, 2012, 2:27 pm
  2. That must have been an interesting interview for you considering your past! Always a pleasure to hear what Mr Reed has to say.

    Posted by Charlie Cantello-Tayler | January 24, 2012, 5:04 pm
  3. And now we hear that Reed have lost a £158 million tribunal. Reading the long summary (92 pages) we learn how Reed systematically ripped off their entire temp workforce – reducing their tax and Reed’s own NI bills, and then pocketing the proceeds themselves.
    With such a windfall, I think I could probably have contributed enough to charity to earn my knighthood, too.
    Arise Sir Alec!

    Posted by Adrian Gregory | January 30, 2012, 3:17 pm


  1. […] the start of the year,I interviewed my old boss, James Reed, as prior to redundancy I worked for Reed. I asked him, in a roundabout way (I wasn’t so […]

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