A solid business that’s built on a strong friendship

After almost two decades of working together, Ian Hardy and Michelle Theuma say their greatest achievement in their business, Onyx Recruitment, is their friendship.

The dynamic duo have been business partners for 17 years, weathering three office moves and the storm of two recessions.

And despite previously employing staff, they have found the business is most successful with just themselves as the driving force.

Onyx Recruitment, based in Linford Wood, began in St Albans, and moved to Luton for a spell before relocating to Milton Keynes where they have been for the past six years. The recruitment specialists focus on helping SMEs to find the right staff for accountancy and HR roles.

Ian and Michelle – who before setting up shop together were colleagues at a large international recruitment firm -now pride themselves on their hands-on approach at Onyx Recruitment, dealing directly with clients and using their copious experience to match companies with the correct employees who will contribute to the business and be the best cultural fit.

Michelle, 43, said: “When we started Onyx Recruitment it was three of us, but we grew to seven at one stage before the last recession but like a lot of industries, recruitment suffered and the business shrank.

“We discovered that in Milton Keynes owners of businesses like to deal with owners and directors of businesses. We decided we should make a return to the frontline, so decision makers are dealing with decision makers. People want to benefit from our experience.”

Michelle is the director of Onyx Recruitment’s Milton Keynes HQ. The commute is miniscule for Michelle, who has lived in Milton Keynes for 13 years. The company also has a small London office, which Ian runs.

Ian said: “We had both worked here before so we had some idea of the local area. We knew there was business here. Michelle is a real advocate of Milton Keynes and she wanted to invest in it.” The company is a corporate sponsor of MK Community Foundation, heavily involved in mentoring programmes, promotes employability schemes, Mission Motorsport and the Special Olympics, has won an award for small company volunteering and offers special rates for local charities and Milton Keynes Chamber members.

Michelle, who was runner up in the MK Women Leaders Awards 2016. said: “We are getting better at what we do by incorporating outside interests and charitable work. It makes us more effective and we want to keep our enthusiasm up and keep it exciting. “I love Milton Keynes and I want to invest in where I live. Everything is on your doorstep and there’s such a mixture of old and new. There are so many opportunities available to you here but we can still travel around the country easily. It is the fastest growing city in the UK and the most vibrant place.”

`We’ve stood by our standards and ethics and we are happy’

The location has been a good choice for Onyx Recruitment.

As the business has evolved and relationships have been built in the city, the company has branched out into other sectors too, in order to fulfil client need.

“We’ve evolved into other sectors because clients like our approach,” said Michelle. “They’ve built a relationship with us on an accountancy or an HR role and then have other roles to fill which they ask for our help with.

“For us it is caring how a team is built and being supportive. There are clients we placed with 20 years ago who we still work with. The candidates, clients and Onyx have all grown together.

I’ve built teams with people spanning the length of their career in each of the companies they have gone to work for.

“It is a gut instinct thing when a relationship is that strong. We are on that journey of business and career growth with them.

Ian added: “We have a good relationship with our clients. We are dealing with human beings and it very subjective and that’s where the skills come in; it’s about matching the right people together.”

The pair are also part of a wider international association called TEAM – The Employment Agents Movement. More than 400 recruitment agencies belong to the organisation across the globe, giving all members access to a whole network of experts. It’s a handy tool for Onyx – a people orientated, consultative firm, which prides itself on its service, reputation and client satisfaction.

Ian said: We want to engage effectively with our clients, be shown round their offices, understand the culture – it needs to be a proper professional relationship, but it is amazing the resistance you get.

“The industry doesn’t tend to have a particularly good reputation and people tar us all with the same brush. If clients have had a bad experience they don’t want us to be consultative.

“We want to go and be part of a business and understand them but a lot of clients won’t let us.” Resistance and barriers don’t stop this duo though. Ian and Michelle work together to break down barriers and gain client trust. Their partnership has been a recipe for success.

“We’ve survived in a very competitive marketplace together,” said Ian. “We are proud of the fact that we’ve survived as a small business. We’ve stood by our standards and ethics and we are happy “We’ve never fallen out although we are very different people. Our biggest achievement is the business and our friendship. We support each other. We invest in each other and we’ve become part of each other’s families.” So what next?

“We don’t want to take over the world, we just want to grow naturally. We just want to keep evolving and enjoy what we do.”

Factfile: Onyx Recruitment

BACKGROUND: Ian was brought up in Peterborough and his first job was in St Albans in 1984. He said: “I was made redundant from an insurance broker in 1992 so I walked into a recruitment agency for help. A few days later I started working for them.” Michelle was born in Harrow and studied Modern English at The University of Luton. Her first job was in Twickenham as a mortgage advisor. “I did it for six months and hated it,” she said. “I got into recruitment through a chance meeting over a bottle of wine.”

ON THE COMPANY: “It is our business and we care. We pride ourselves on our reputation and our service. We don’t make promises we can’t keep. We are open and transparent, and we make sure we deliver what we say we will deliver on.”

ON JOINING THE CHAMBER: “We came to Milton Keynes to set up an office and it was saturated with recruitment companies,” said Michelle. “So we wanted to go where we felt the need was greatest and that was with SMEs. We wanted to get to know SMEs and the local area and the Chamber was the first place we started to network at. It was our first foray into MK. We have a synergy with the Chamber. The people are really friendly and it is so well organised. There’s an element of fun at the Chamber events. you keep your finger on the pulse of local business and you find out about trends.”

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Michelle Theuma – Women Leaders Finalist

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