Helping build a new sector
Interview: Huw Martin, Head Resourcing
Fine tuning the fintech revolution
The Welsh accent is unmistakable and it is no surprise to find that Huw Martin can sing and has a passion for rugby.
He performed in a rock band which ‘almost became famous’ and is a frequent visitor to the Millennium Stadium for international matches.
“Singing is cool for Welsh youngsters, they do it naturally and join choirs. They have no fear,” he says.
Martin also has a bit of confession to make. He was born in Nottingham, the son of an English father and a Welsh mother.
“My grandfather made sure I was indoctrinated in Welsh rugby and everything going on in the Valleys,” he says, recalling his days growing up in Aberdare and helping out in the family hardware store.
It was his attempt at forging a career as a musician that led him to Scotland, though he’s singing a different tune these days as head of a recruitment business and as an active voice in the digital economy.
His youthful years in the band took him on tour at home and overseas and he landed in Edinburgh after they all followed one of the band members who got a job at Jewel & Esk college. He took a job in the mailroom at Standard Life. When one of his colleagues left to join a recruitment business she persuaded him to follow her.
The firm evolved into Head Resourcing and four years ago, after he had led a significant growth in client wins, Martin became managing director.
The company’s biggest growth came in 2008/09. “Everyone else was struggling but we were one of two firms hired to build Tesco Bank and for four years we placed a lot of people.
Head Resourcing is now focused on the IT, digital and business change sectors and Martin has close support from two colleagues – Lee Murray as his deputy and Callum Lyle as finance director – who have worked with him through the company’s transformation.
There are now 48 staff in its offices in Edinburgh an Leeds and turnover is expected to hit £42 million this year.
The boardroom is decorated with framed and autographed rugby and football shirts, some from events the firm has sponsored. This week it will lend its support to a key conference on fintech, a subject close to Martin’s heart.
He likes to take what he calls a ‘holistic’ approach to the recruitment and skills sector that goes beyond the day job. Fintech is a nascent sector which some believe could become a substantial employer. Martin is involved in a fintech panel that includes SFE, Scottish Enterprise and ScotlandIS, and he recently blogged on the subject, asking questions about its potential growth and how to define it.
“There are different views, but I believe there only about a dozen genuine fintech companies in Scotland. It could be half that number.
“They can’t be just selling a piece of software on human resources, they have to be producing game-changing technology that will fundamentally alter the way that something is done.”
Tuesday’s conference at Dynamic Earth, Edinburgh, will have plenty to consider including more calls for a nationwide strategy, whether there should there be a digital minister (an issue raised at last week’s ScotSoft conference), and even a physical centre for fintech firms.
“There is talk of building a hub somewhere, allowing firms to collaborate and work closely together,” he says.
Fintech is also sparking a lively debate on whether it is more likely to be a jobs destroyer rather than a creator. There are concerns, not least in banking circles, that technology will ultimate automate more processes currently employing thousands of people.
While some traditional financial services jobs may be lost, there is a shortage of digital skills. This is a chronic problem caused by many factors, but Martin says the offshoring of IT jobs didn’t help.
“For 10 years everything was sent offshore. That killed supply and demand. No one was producing digital staff. Now it’s coming back. There is a realisation by companies that they need these people close to hand and working together, and also in the same time zone.”
He fears that the recent proclamations on immigration control will only make the skills shortage worse.
“The end result could be higher salaries, forcing companies to once again send the work offshore.”
Birthplace: Nottingham (raised in Aberdare, South Wales)
Educated: Derby Polytechnic (photography)
Career Highlights: Family hardware store, rock band, Standard Life mailroom, Direct Resources, Head Resourcing
You studied photography at college?
My parents were photographers. My father taught photography at Trent Polytechnic, Nottingham. When I took A level Art I wanted to do photography but the school had no equipment. My dad brought it in and built a darkroom so that I could study it.
Was the rock band successful?
We took a call from an A&R woman at Island Records who liked our image but wanted new songs. We threw ourselves into the studio, but when we sent the new tape of recordings she had left the company. We almost became famous.
What gets you angry?
Best advice you’ve received?
Be yourself. Don’t pretend to be someone you’re not.