Inspirational Bradford business woman and advocate for the city of Bradford, former College Corporation Member and supporter of the College, Jane Vincent, is a powerful example that ethics are not an unaffordable luxury in a downturn but that virtue can lead to sustained commercial reward.
After seven years in recruitment, Jane took a 50% pay cut and fought off the aggressive tactics of a powerful national competitor to found Horizon Recruitment in 1997. As Managing Director she built the company from nothing to a multi-award winning agency with numerous branches at home and in Europe, with a turnover of £28m. Corporate social responsibility was a key aspect that differentiated Horizon from others in the field as Jane was convinced that “you reap what you sow.”
Yet at the height of this success Jane felt that she had lost something along the way and so at the end December 2008, she sold her shares in Horizon to her two financial backers. She explained “I had taken the business as far as I could and I wanted something that was 100% mine. After the phenomenal growth of Horizon, I was keen to go back to basics and open a boutique agency in Bradford. Experience has taught me that turnover is vanity, profit sanity. Starting again made me appreciate that during the final phase of my time at Horizon my job had been all about strategy which was not personally satisfying. I lost my va va voom which came back as soon as my focus was all about people once more.”
Jane s new vision is a clearer reflection of what she stands for. She laughed, “I called it Candelisa, as it means ‘I’ve seen the light and I’m strong!’ The business is based on open, honest, strong relationships and four key values: education, community, people and environment which infuse everything we do. In 2010 we worked with fifteen schools in Bradford. I did mentoring, acted as a Dragon in a Schools’ Dragon Den, brought students in here to learn about business and entrepreneurial skills. I helped them develop a product to take to market and it was good the company purchases them and profits are ploughed back into the school. I also go into school to give talks on business and enterprise, give training on preparing your CV or interview techniques.
We all go out into the community. Every two weeks we takeCandelisa into a different council estate as part of our Work Where You Live campaign. We meet in a community centre and talk to applicants about local jobs and opportunities. We do workshops, such as our Smile initiative, encouraging people to develop a ‘can-do’ attitude that will help get them into work and I mentor businesses. My staff are encouraged to work in the community and are allowed half a day per week. I personally mentored a young offender who had just come out of prison, raising her self esteem, getting her off drugs and finding her a job.
People are at the heart of our business. Everyone who comes in is an individual. You can’t put people in a box so we work with each person on an individual basis to meet their specific needs. Our new office is very open plan and welcoming so there are no barriers and you can see any member of the team.” The informality which quashes candidates’ nerves and inhibitions even includes Jane’s impeccably behaved dog Candy acting as informal receptionist. Environmental credentials that Jane established in her first business, of recycling and planting a tree for each permanent placement have continued with Candelisa.
Jane continued, “I opened Candelisa People right in the heart of the recession and made a profit in the first year. There are jobs out there as advertising and dealing with all the responses is cost ineffective but we have to work harder to fill them, as there are many more applicants to interview and screen. People said I was mad opening in Bradford but I love it. The people are very loyal and if you are honest and up front you will keep their business. We have a massive cultural mix of people through the door here and everyone deserves to be given the same treatment but personal attention.”
Perhaps Jane’s biggest challenge yet has been to mount an innovative counter-offensive against unjust criticism of Bradford. Outraged at negative publicity and its crushing impact on Bradford and its citizens, Jane and Bombay Stores Group MD, Saleem Kader, have enlisted the support of businesses and organisations to set up the Positive Bradford campaign which starts setting the record straight and ‘speaking out for the city we love’ during 2011.
Jane had been delighted to join the Corporation in 2006, explaining “I saw it as a way of giving back to the community and to the College itself.” However urgent business matters following her departure from Horizon meant she reluctantly had to resign in January 2009 and her plans to return have been delayed by the demands of setting up Candelisa and the Positive Bradford campaign. But typically of Jane, she was still unofficially giving her time and expertise, through helping set up the College’s own agency, Beacon Recruitment and being a member of the WOW Academy’s steering group.
Further confirmation of the success of Jane’s approach came in March 2011 when Jane scooped the Woman in Business award at the local Bradford means Business Awards, where Candelisa People was a runner up in the small of the year category.