20 years at C&M: How one risk changed our Director's life
In 1999 I had no idea where I’d be 20 years later - I was a single girl in her 20s living in Central London. I knew I was very ambitious, but I didn’t have a real goal…I wish I had! All I knew was that I wanted to be successful, run a business, work in the travel industry, have a fantastic team around me, and develop and nurture great people. But other than that, I had no idea what I really wanted from my career.
So I applied for a new role, took a chance – and it happened to change my life…
I didn’t set out to work in the travel recruitment industry. No-one goes to their Careers Officer at school or does a degree at university thinking they will go into recruitment – you fall into it because of your knowledge or your ability to sell.
For me, it began 20 years ago when I was working for Holiday Autos as an Account Manager. I applied to C&M as a candidate looking for a job, and I met Angus Chisholm (now C&M’s Chairman) who had started the business about a year before. I had met him originally a few years before as he secured my role at HA, whilst at another recruitment agency. He thought I would be right for C&M, so after about three or four interviews (including a final one at World Travel Market), he convinced me to go into recruitment.
I started working there on 6th December 1999 and I didn’t know if I was going to like it. Taking a leap like this was always going to be a risk, but from my very first day, I knew I’d joined a fantastic team – it was really small, close knit and knowledgeable, and I grew and learned so much so quickly. Going into recruitment was the best decision I ever made and within weeks I was billing, making placements and loving it.
Stepping back and working my way up
I’ve always been ambitious and that’s one of the reasons I decided to move on from Holiday Autos – I wanted that next career path. In fact, moving to become a Recruitment Consultant was probably a step back because I was starting at the ground level making sales again – but I was happy to do it.
I knew I enjoyed working at C&M, but after probably a year or two I realised that this was where I wanted to be for the long-term. We certainly weren’t the company we are now in terms of our profile, headcount or size, but I was aware that when you’re working for a small business, you’re a small fish in a big pond and you can make a real difference very quickly.
It’s always been in my DNA to work hard, apply myself and be driven, and very early on I sat down with Angus and John (C&M’s other founder) and told them my ambitions. Thankfully they were very supportive and said that if I work hard, hit my targets and deliver, then the world could be my oyster. And I suppose that’s what happened!
Learn from everyone you work with
Working my way up from Recruitment Consultant to Director wasn’t easy, but I was helped by a great boss in Angus, who encouraged me and gave me fantastic direction.
The kind of drive, motivation and discipline that it takes to become the Director of a company isn’t for everybody. I progressed from being a Recruiter to a Team Leader and then a Sales Manager, but for me the biggest transition was when I became a hands-off Business Development Director. In all my previous roles, I’d been doing sales and I’d made placements. I enjoyed it and I was good at it, but this role felt completely different.
Making that transition away from being accountable for your own placements to then being hands-off and instead trying to get the most out of your team was a big change. It takes time and getting results from other people certainly requires a different approach.
But I really believe that you’re nothing without a great team around you because you can’t do it all on your own. I don’t consider myself to be the boss and that everyone works for me; I believe that everyone works with each other. I always employ people that are better than me at specific things, and it is about dovetailing and working collectively as one. Also, I never ask anyone to do something I’m not prepared to do myself - I’ve just cleaned the toilet brush holder, so I’ll do whatever!
At C&M we’ve always encouraged everyone to unclip their wings and flourish, try new things, don’t be scared of making mistakes, treat it like your own business and take risks because that’s how you learn. And that’s how I’ve learned.
Learn from everyone you don’t work with too
It doesn’t matter if you’re working in a recruitment, travel or technology business - every company leader has the same challenges, whether it’s staffing, retention or finance. I like to learn from everyone and everywhere, so I’ve sought help and assistance over the years from different experts in recruitment and travel as well as general business gurus. Also, we’ve had people like Trevor Harding, who was the Managing Director of Travel Weekly, really help us in an ambassadorial role. C&M is associated with ITT, AITO, ABTA, UKinbound, FAA, ABTOT, The Recruitment Network and many other great associations and this helps us not only raise our profile but also means we spend time with other business leaders and Directors – and, importantly, it means we keep on learning.
From Rolodexes to Whatsapp
When I started in recruitment 20 years ago, we were using Rolodexes, a very basic CRM which was almost an address book, and rows of CVs inside filing cabinets – that’s how we used to recruit! We had to fax CVs and sometimes we even sent them in the post. Things have changed a bit since then!
Job boards have had a huge impact – both positive and negative. Companies can now advertise their roles directly, but it’s also great for us because we can get adverts out there very quickly. LinkedIn and social media have also had an impact. Technology in recruitment has advanced significantly because things like our modern CRM, posting tools and access to analytics and KPIs mean that we can match candidates to vacancies far more quickly than before. This does stop the human element somewhat and I’ve noticed that people are on the phones slightly less than we were when I started. But this doesn’t mean that the job’s any easier or harder now – it’s just different. However, I do still believe in the old-school way of recruitment - get on the phones, speak to clients, speak to candidates and make placements. It still works.
In the travel industry, obviously the number of travel agents on our high street is down, but 15 or 20 years ago everyone was talking about their demise and how travel agents wouldn’t exist for much longer, but they are still here and they will continue to be here.
The types of roles that we’re asked to recruit for have also changed over the years. You still have Travel Agent, Reservation and Business Travel Consultant roles and so on, but the skillsets needed for these positions have developed and evolved. Also, there are far, far more marketing, digital, SEO and techy roles out there than a few years ago.
The recession, redundancies, and 20 years of challenges
There’s been a lot of challenges over the past 20 years, but the most difficult event for us was definitely the recession. And the saddest moment of my entire time at C&M was making redundancies as a result. It was a truly horrible experience, but that’s what had to be done at the time. But then when things recovered and were a bit more stable, I was so pleased to be able to take on some of these same people again and it is a real testament to C&M that they wanted to return to work for us.
Around the same time, another event that really affected us was the XL Leisure group going into administration. Our Surrey office was based in Crawley at the time and we were in the same business centre as them, so not only were they our clients, they were our friends who we saw every day - and now they had lost their jobs. After spending 20 years at C&M and 25-plus years in travel, I’ve become close to a lot of people in this industry, so when these awful events happen, they really do hurt.
Another dreadful event that had a real impact was the 9/11 tragedy which happened a couple of years after I started at C&M. I remember sitting in the Barbican when we saw the horrific sight of the Twin Towers coming down, and the phones literally just stopped ringing. It all went silent. All the offers for placements that we had made in the previous days and weeks were retracted. The short-term impact was huge – especially in the business travel sector. It really taught us about crisis management. We had to learn very quickly about how to be agile, robust, strong and decisive.
My proudest moments
I’m hugely proud of what I’ve achieved over the last two decades and what we’ve achieved as a business. I’m especially proud of the great employees that I’ve helped develop since joining C&M, the awards that we’ve won and, personally, things like being added to the AWTE’s honorary list of the most influential women in travel and tourism. My most memorable moment of the whole 20 years is probably when we won our first award. Going up on stage and picking up that first prize was really special and that’s one thing I was truly proud of.
But fundamentally it’s about the team and building a wonderful group around you, because recruitment is hard! It can be competitive and lonely and difficult, so I’ve tried to create a happy, motivated, reward-driven meritocratic business where people can have fantastic careers.
C&M has changed me
It’s not overstating it to say that C&M has made me the person I am today. Back when I first started as a Recruiter, I remember registering a candidate and then sending her CV to the company she was already working at! I had to quickly call the client and make something up, but I got away with it. Needless to say, I’ve learnt a lot since then.
I’ve progressed from feeling like a little girl working in the business to now being a grown woman running the company, and that comes from experience, knowledge and spending time with colleagues, peers and people working for you, with you and above you. I never stop learning, but I love it - sign me up for any course!
I’ve done so many fantastic things at C&M, all those amazing places we’ve been to with work – I’ve been so lucky. And I don’t have any regrets. I don’t regret anything I’ve done – I just regret what I haven’t done! But if there’s anything that I would change over the past 20 years then it would be to make decisions quicker.
One thing I’m really proud of is that I’ve always kept my integrity and my professionalism, and I’ve become much more confident in general, but specifically in my ability to run a successful business.
So much has happened during my 20 years at C&M both personally and professionally, but it also feels like I only started here yesterday. I’ve still got lots more to do with the business, but if I had to retire today, I’d be truly proud of what I’ve achieved in my career…and I’d then start my other dream of being a personal trainer and nutritionist as well as anything dog related - all of which are my other passions in life. Here’s to another 20 fun-filled and successful years!
Barbara Kolosinska is the Director at C&M Travel Recruitment and C&M Executive Recruitment