Posted on June 22, 2018 by staff

James Caan: I thought LinkedIn would ruin my business


Serial entrepreneur James Caan CBE is one of the most influential voices on LinkedIn – but he initially thought it would ruin his recruitment business.

Caan has 3.1 million followers on the professional networking platform and his posts regularly attract thousands of interactions.

He sold his first recruitment business Alexander Mann for £260 million in 2013. Yet things could have been very different had he not embraced the changes which arrived with LinkedIn in the early-to-mid noughties.

“One of the key differentiators in any recruitment business was the contact database it had – the real value lay in who you knew,” he told BusinessCloud.

“When LinkedIn started to become more popular it initially scared me into thinking it would ruin my business. Suddenly everyone had access to the candidates in our database – candidates that we’d spent years nurturing.

“I decided that as I couldn’t do anything to stop it, I’d adapt and embrace it.”

Caan – who says LinkedIn means he no longer carries business cards “other than when necessary in certain cultures” – now has more followers than former US President Barack Obama and former Prime Minister David Cameron and was named LinkedIn’s second most influential voice of 2017.

His recent posts on the platform include articles ‘How to use nerves to your advantage’ and ‘How to smash a group interview’.

“LinkedIn has changed the landscape of professional networking and it also allows me to easily communicate with relevant audiences,” he continued.

“I used to write for a newspaper column; however, I wouldn’t get feedback on how it was received other than the odd verbal comment if someone I knew had read it.

“When I post my regular blog on LinkedIn, I instantly get a response on whether people like it or not. That’s powerful and far more engaging. It opens up the dialogue for career development and professional progression for the benefit for all, and allows people to build relationships quicker.

“My activity on LinkedIn helps me generate ten new opportunities a week.”

This is a natural extension of Caan’s current focus Recruitment Entrepreneur, which he founded in 2014.

Recruitment Entrepreneur is the seed capital arm of his London-based private equity firm Hamilton Bradshaw. So far it has fast-tracked the careers of 23 founding CEOs.

In his role of chairman, he says he is very hands-on with the entrepreneurs he backs, enabling them to learn from his considerable experience in founding and scaling recruitment businesses.

He says technology has changed the landscape considerably since he grew executive headhunting firm Humana International to have a presence in 30 countries in the 1990s before selling it.

“My first office when setting up Alexander Mann was in a small cupboard with a phone and a book of contacts. Since then the major shifts in recruitment that I’ve experienced have been in the evolution of the internet, smartphone technology transforming how and when we communicate, social media [such as] LinkedIn and mobile apps,” he said.

“Technology is definitely an enabler to rapidly scaling a company. Businesses grow far more rapidly once reaching a tipping point of awareness, which is usually bought about by great marketing and advertising campaigns, now primarily communicated online.

“The recruitment industry needs innovation to survive and the new technologies created as part of this will allow us to operate at a higher value level. Generalist recruiters will find it difficult in this new world [while] real market experts and industry specialists will thrive.”

Caan, who was one of the famed BBC Dragons from 2007-2011, says artificial intelligence is the next frontier when it comes to the recruitment industry.

He recently invested in graduate recruitment app Debut, which helps companies connect directly with graduates and has already attracted 120,000 prospective candidates since launching two and a half years ago.

“I believe we will see dramatic change in recruitment businesses as AI takes starts to take over more labour-intensive admin related tasks,” he said.

“Sourcing, qualifying, interviewing and engaging with, and initially nurturing candidates will increasingly become more automated.

“Apps like Debut are becoming the new norm.”

Recruitment Entrepreneur recently invited more than a hundred recruitment professionals to Manchester’s King Street Townhouse for an exclusive event as it eyes investment in the region.

It has appointed Greg Hollis as regional managing director for the North West.

“Following exceptional success in establishing Recruitment Entrepreneur in London, Manchester and the North West region are the natural next locations to expand the group portfolio,” said Caan.

“Many of our London businesses want to set up new offices in Manchester city centre, to capitalise on the wealth of talent.

“The Fintech and IT markets are especially a focus and sectors we’re experiencing increasing demand to recruit for, therefore we’re actively looking to prioritise investment in talented individuals ready to set up recruitment businesses in these sectors.

“With Manchester leading the way in de-centralising the UK market, as the fastest growing economy outside London and its operating costs up to 40 per cent lower than London, Manchester provides the perfect environment for profitable growth, allowing margin for error when setting up a business.”