Susie Osborough is Client Director of 14fiftyseven, a bespoke staff recruitment company. She has worked in luxury fashion and owned a hotel reservation company, and now juggles family life with work by being a digital nomad. Here she reveals her top business tips, ways to relax and which business guru to follow…
What inspired you to set up your business?
I met James Roberts and Tony Macdonald, the owners of 14fiftyseven, via LinkedIn, a platform I had avoided as I didn’t like the exposure. I had an initial call with them and when I knew it was a recruitment model I wasn’t keen. My experience of recruiters had always been very negative. James and Tony invited me to meet them in London, but I was hugely hesitant and if I am honest very nervous but I went. Immediately I saw that they wanted to shake up the household recruitment model. They wanted to deliver a business model that demonstrated integrity and compassion, empowering the employer to be their best and the candidate to utilise all their skills not just a specific task, eg only cook. I knew of so many people who had bad experiences of employing staff in their homes, and of candidates who had been treated unfairly. I love people and hate injustice so I saw an opportunity to make a difference. Perhaps that sounds like a cliché but it is the truth. If I can empower people to be their best self and seek job happiness, I am delighted. There is no greater motivator than to hear that we have made a difference to someone’s life by finding key staff or an interesting job. It is the equivalent of being a matchmaker and we are always looking for that perfect fit. One size absolutely does not fit all!
What makes your you/your product special and where are you based?
We are based in London but refer to ourselves as digital nomads; we rarely sit at a desk. We often work from public spaces as the more you are out and about the more opportunities arise. I firmly believe we are special because we are not order takers. I have owned my own business and sold it to a large competitor, something I feel proud of achieving. Because I have that experience I don’t just go and sit with a client and say yes, we can deliver that, if in reality there is no mission of us delivering what they have asked for.
I have worked in luxury fashion, travel and project management for many different products. Having this diverse experience means I can quickly relate to the challenges many employers face. Recently I was asked to find a house manager for a beautiful home in the south of England. It would have been easy to sit down and take a brief, walk away, get paid and never look back. Instead I visited the house and asked for a typical week and who came to the property. They highlighted a dog walker, a nanny, a cleaner, a pool man, a window cleaner, a chef and a driver. I asked how much this was all costing and they had no idea. I sat with them and worked it out and we quickly got to £60,000 per annum. By employing our new type of house manager they would cover all that and more. By getting this kind of overview you are getting under the hood of what it is they really need. Does it make more work for us? Absolutely, but in the long run it pays off because you find a solution that best fits their needs.
Retention had been a problem for this client, with so many changes to who did what job. The children found this unsettling and it was an increased security risk because multiple people had access to the property. The person we found for our client was tired of the corporate world and wanted a change. She wasn’t averse to a job that offered a challenge and diversity and got that with this household which is frenetic with no one day being the same.
Lifestyle support is a relatively new concept in the UK and Europe, so we are having to re-educate the market. We don’t want a nanny who says, sorry I can’t stop off at the pet shop to buy the dog more food as that is not part of my role. Within reason, we expect our candidates to be flexible and willing; in return we ask our employers to treat them with respect. If you are asking them to travel with you and hit the road running, is it really fair to leave them in the back of the plane while you fly first class? Surely an upgrade to premium economy is not an unreasonable suggestion if they are to be looking after your family efficiently.
We are disrupting the typical household recruitment model. By asking the employer and candidate the right sort of questions based on our expertise we demonstrate a real understanding of the issues so many face in this marketplace. We don’t leave anything to chance and partner with companies who can best support us. For example, we use a professional company to do our security checks. You would not believe how many people take a written reference at face value. They don’t even check social media profiles. Would you really want someone in your home who only posts about drinking binges and highlights where they are at every given moment? That’s what sets us apart, not my words but those of our customers – we go the extra mile.
How do you use social media to help promote your business?
To be honest the use of social media for us is always a difficult one as we endeavour at all times to be discreet about what we are doing. It is an excellent way to create brand awareness but in relation to finding a candidate or a potential customer we prefer to utilise our connections and partnership network. It is however a great way to share our blogs and the values of the brand.
What’s the best piece of advice you have been given?
Treat everyone with respect and leave your ego behind. Sometimes when you are working in the luxury market it can be easy to get caught up in the surroundings. I learnt very quickly when I first worked in luxury fashion with some exceptionally high-profile clients, it was about being truthful and earning their trust, not just saying yes to their every request. My parents taught me from a young age to be kind and always make someone leave feeling valued and listened to. Giving someone your undivided attention and showing respect, with no ego or ulterior motive, is something I strive to deliver every day.
What has been your greatest challenge?
In the midst of running my own business, together with my husband, he was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Overnight I lost my business partner and was left to manage our business and the team around us. I decided not to tell our clients, for fear of them saying we don’t want to trouble Susie because Andrew is in hospital. By not troubling me they would have presented me with a myriad of troubles as I needed every penny to keep paying our bills. At no time did I ask why me, nor did I feel angry. The challenge for me was to survive this and most of all get Andrew back to full health. Whilst his type of cancer is incurable, so he will never be clear, I decided to forge ahead. Those that wanted to support us were welcome but those that knocked on our door to tell us that every person they ever knew that had not survived such a diagnosis were gently ushered away.
I had two young children at the time and wanted to protect them and never let them feel vulnerable. I had to stay strong for them. When the do-gooders came to tell us their cancer horror stories the children were naturally distraught. One night we came up with a solution, we would set up a code word, this would mean whoever had uttered the code word, wanted out. Avocadoes became our word. It worked wonders, the minute one of them said the word it was my cue to swiftly gather us all up and exit left. You can only imagine the peculiar looks we got when sitting having a coffee with someone and one of the kids would pipe up and say, ‘Mum I forgot to mention we have run out of avocadoes!’
Our next challenge for us is to approach the corporate sector. Wellbeing in the workplace is a hot topic right now. Some companies have gone as far as recruiting an in-house lifestyle concierge, which I think is a genius idea. How many times have you walked through an office to hear people making restaurant reservations, doctor’s appointments or searching online for a holiday? One trip down to the concierge desk and you have a solution. Not only is the employee more productive with their time, the employer is getting better attention with minimal distraction. So, the challenge is to find the corporates that value their employees enough to invest and embrace the lifestyle concierge model.
How do you switch off?
I am useless at switching off, I really struggle with it. Being with my family and friends is my off button. I love catching up with them in person. In this modern age it is so important to reconnect, not just send a text to say ‘How are you?’ If you really want to know then let’s get together!
Where do you go on holiday?
I was born in Singapore and lived in Asia growing up. For me going back there is going home. The minute the plane door opens and the heat and smells hit, I am in heaven and instantly relax. My husband’s family introduced me to Donegal, now also a firm favourite with me. Our children love it too, so much so that my daughter has set up a textile company, solely focusing on the landscapes of Ireland to inspire her designs.
What lesson do you wish you had learnt at school?
To listen more and talk less. I wasn’t interested in school and scraped by. I was always wanting to be sociable rather than spend time learning algebra (something I have not used to this day). I love geography because that was real for me with all the travelling we did. I learn by doing not sitting taking notes.
What app/website/twitter account (other than your own!) would you recommend?
I am a great fan of Robin Sharma. His book, The Monk who Sold his Ferrari is ultimately what prompted us to sell our hotel reservation business. Another cliché but you do only get one shot at this life and it is vital to do what you love. I love people and helping them, so 14fiftyseven ticks all those boxes for me. Robin Sharma’s updates always nudge me to think outside the box and deliver excellence.
Where do you see yourself/your company in five years’ time?
I would like to be looking back and feeling we had really changed the way people recruit for the household and corporate sector. It would be a company that is a market leader and values its staff to give them job satisfaction and appreciates them, empowering them to take bold decisions and be their best self. I will be nearly 60, and hopefully I will have made a difference, contributed wisely, supported unconditionally and been an encourager – and found my off-switch in a better way.