TTM Group consists of an international healthcare recruitment company, TTM Healthcare, and a health and social care service delivery provider, Resilience Healthcare.
A “recently exiled Clare man living in Dublin”, Brian Crowley is the CEO of TTM Group. In his younger years, sport dominated Brian’s time through his inter county hurling and football career at under-age level for Clare and through his representation of Ireland in boxing at youth, junior and senior level where he served as captain. Having narrowly missed out on qualification for the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, Brian completed his studies with a degree in WIT and went on to begin his career in human resources and recruitment. He joined a small entrepreneurial recruitment company in Ennis where he got first hand exposure to the trials and tribulations of the SME world. In 1999, he was sent to Maastricht to set up a European resourcing centre for professionals with various European language skills. Brian then spent the next 18 months travelling across Europe managing large scale recruitment projects for customers with European shared service centres in Ireland. Customers included IBM Europe, CitiBank and Siemens. After the “dot bomb” in the early part of the noughties, Brian advised his then Managing Director to look at the healthcare market and Brian subsequently set up the healthcare recruitment division. At 25, Brian left to set up TTM Group.
CEO Brian Crowley set up TTM Group in 2002 at the tender age of 25. TTM Group consists of an international healthcare recruitment company, TTM Healthcare, and a health and social care service delivery provider, Resilience Healthcare. The Group has now grown from one employee to employing close to 1,000 permanent and temporary staff across the Group and will generate close to €40 million revenues in 2014.
TTM Healthcare is an international healthcare recruitment company with offices in Ireland, The United Kingdom and Germany, supplying permanent and locum staff across Europe and the Middle East. The TTM headquarters in Ennis, Co Clare, manage the compliance process, marketing, IT and finance for the entire Group. In June of 2014 an Enterprise Ireland supported jobs announcement will be made that will further boost the employee numbers in Ennis.
Through TTM’s offices and partners in Southern and Eastern Europe, they recruit large volumes of qualified healthcare professionals. TTM provides a combination of online and ‘in country’ language training for all of their candidates through the company’s training partner. In association with TTM’s customers, they recruit, relocate and induct these staff. One in five nurses entering the National Health Service in the UK from overseas is recruited via TTM Healthcare.
In 2013, TTM expanded their services in to the German healthcare market, driven in the main by the changing demographics. The German population is aging quicker than any other country in Europe and the German language is currently in decline. TTM is applying the same business model to German state and private providers as it operates in other regions. In early 2015, TTM will open its first office in the Middle East. Customers in this region are currently serviced from Ireland and the United Kingdom.
TTM’s service delivery division, Resilience Healthcare, was set up in 2011 and now employs over 100 people. The company provides Respite Care Services for young people with intellectual disabilities, Advanced Home Care and Assessment Services throughout Ireland. Resilience Healthcare’s plans are to launch the service into the UK in 2015. The Advanced Home Care Service is a niche service working closely with various stakeholders to help to move people with complex care needs or life limiting illnesses to a community or home environment. Resilience’s respite homes work with young people and adults with complex intellectual disabilities and their families.
Through its assessment services division, Resilience provides waiting list solutions to the HSE. Resilience has a multi-disciplinary team of clinical professionals delivering this service nationally. A sample project is a contract Resilience managed in the south of the country where a waiting list of 340 children awaiting occupational therapy assessment was cleared. This was achieved in nine weeks and Resilience is currently providing the intervention services for this group of children.
One of the cornerstones of the organisation is the collective contribution to corporate social responsibility. TTM set up its own charity, Care Leaver’s Ireland, in 2009 and have gone on to support over 100 young care leavers to access further education in order to enhance their prospects in life. TTM has a very strong CSR committee within the business with representatives from each country who plan and co-ordinate all of the company’s CSR activities.
– ENTREPRENEURIAL INSIGHTS –
What vision/lightbulb moment prompted you to start-up in business?
I spent the early part of my career working with a small, but dynamic, recruitment company in Ennis joining them when I was 23. When I joined the company I was employee number 2 and they had sales in that year of €17,000. Over a two year period, I helped to grow the company to fee income of €550,000 and had set up a European office in Maastricht, The Netherlands. I felt that my ambitions were bigger than that of the owner and made the scary decision to set out on my own at the tender age of 25.
How did you secure your first investment?
My original start-up capital of €25,000 was a combination of a very (very) flexible credit card and a very (very) loving father. I gave my Dad the option to take shares or the full repayment and a holiday as the return on investment in year 1. That trip I sent him on to Morocco ultimately has saved me a fortune considering that we are on target to generate €40,000,000 in revenues this year.
What was your “back-to-the-wall” moment and how did you overcome it?
Between 2008 and 2010, through a change in our business model and some amazing efforts by some of our key people, we grew our revenues from €600,000 to €15,000,000. However, towards the end of 2010, a combination of aggressive pricing strategies by our competitors and a public tendering process for a significant volume of our business, revenues plummeted by 60%.
Faced with the most significant challenge in our history as a company, I made the decision that we could never put ourselves in the position again of having such a significant exposure to one large customer. Reacting swiftly we expanded our recruitment business into the UK, Germany and the Middle East. We also made the decision to move our services ‘up the value chain’ in Ireland through launching our health and social care services company, Resilience Healthcare, in mid-2011.
Through the amazing efforts of our people we doubled our Group revenues between 2011 and 2013 to just under €30,000,000. An interesting fact is that we will have grown revenues in our UK recruitment business and Resilience Healthcare from zero in 2011 to a projected €13,000,000 this year or 30% of our revenues.
What moment/deal would you cite as the “game changer” or turning point for the company?
In 2007, one of the largest permanent recruitment projects for allied health professionals was tendered by the HSE. I knew that we simply did not have the size, background or staff to win but I felt that it could be transformational if we could begin to put ourselves in a position to bid for these types of projects. I met with several UK companies in an effort to partner with a provider large enough to give us a chance to compete, but one who also would see us close to an equal in terms of return. Equally I was less interested in this particular tender and more interested in the position it could put us in for the future.
We won, and ultimately went on to grow our services significantly on the back of it. The key contact I had in this partner company ultimately left them in 2011 and invested with me to set up our UK business. In 2013 he became the Managing Director of our entire recruitment business.
Were there any interesting or unusual circumstances surrounding the inception of the company or its evolution?
I can’t think of anything unusual here. But the luckiest break of my life came from the fact that I met my wife having recruited her as a Social Worker for the HSE just before I set out on my own. She sent in her CV a short time after I set up TTM asking me if I remembered her when I placed her with the HSE. It’s probably the most unprofessional act of a professional recruiter but I asked her in for interviewing, knowing I had absolutely no suitable roles available. Shortly after our interview I asked her out, and, well, the rest is history.
What are the biggest challenges you face now?
In a rapidly growing business, a key challenge is the development of middle and senior managers to support the development and sustainability of the organisation. I feel it can be a little more challenging for SME’s in that you deal with many issues ‘live’ whereas in the larger corporates they have the beauty of teams of professionals to support, manage and predict the potholes ahead. In our world, it is necessary to drive growth while simultaneously watching for the challenges ahead.
One key piece of advice that I would give is that building sustainable growth is so important. Consolidating markets, building loyal customers and continuously providing best in class services will help with ensuring you build solid platforms for continuous growth. A key investment for me has been the people I am lucky to be surrounded by, having recruited and promoted key people over the last 2 to 3 years to aid with the growth of the company. Profits will suffer in the short term, however, I feel that I am very close to the fact that the business will function and perform successfully, regardless of my intervention. This position allows the business owner to seek out new markets, build customer value and work on the business rather than it.
What is your biggest business achievement to date?
With the exception of the honour of been selected as a finalist in the EOY programme, one of our most significant achievements since our inception has been winning a place on the NHS National framework for the supply of permanent and agency nursing professionals in April of this year. This puts us in a position to work with over 400 hospitals across the NHS network and transforms our UK nursing business.
What were the best & the worst pieces of advice you received when starting out?
The best advice I have ever been given and that fundamentally changed my approach to managing my business was ‘what gets measured – gets done’. Empowering people to do their job is essential but agreeing the yardstick through which it will be measured is essential. Very few people enjoy being actively measured and even fewer like to monitor performance – but it is the single most important success factor in any business in my opinion. Everyone understands what needs to be done, by whom and by when.
Getting advice from as many people as possible is crucial in my opinion. The key to acting on the advice is your interpretation of what will work best for your business. Equally always make sure you separate opinion from fact.
What top tips would you give entrepreneurs starting out today?
I have had several interactions with people wishing to get advice on setting up new businesses over the last few years and I have to admit I really enjoy the experience of challenging their business model and idea, I’m not sure they do however. One key piece of advice I would give to people is to run the ‘numbers’ and understand them intimately. Then take a lead from the banks and ‘stress’ test the assumptions underlying your projections e.g what happens if sales are 25% less than you anticipated? What does this mean to the business, the cash-flow and, ultimately, the viability of your concept /business?
I would equally advise that you understand and live your USPs (Unique Selling Points) – if you are not passionate and confident in them how will your people or your customers be? I continue to challenge our people to ask themselves if they were the customer what would they want and expect from us as providers. Sometimes building your business from the outside in is worth considering. Ascertain the customer needs and build your business to meet that need.
Were there any early signs that you would eventually follow an entrepreneurial path?
I was blessed at a very early stage of my career to work for a small entrepreneurial business. Based on my work ethic and energy, I was given the latitude and platform to grow and learn probably quicker than if I was employed by a larger firm. At 23, I was sitting in board rooms with IBM Europe and designing recruitment campaigns for their European talent centres. Equally, I had an insight into how businesses are run and indeed how they should not be run.
Through working for an entrepreneur, I was able to immediately feel the excitement and danger that surrounds trying to build a company and, I have to admit, I caught the bug immediately.
Has anyone acted as a mentor to you?
I continue to thank my lucky stars on the kind of opportunity I have been given in life. My father, a retired County Librarian, has, from the moment I set out to build my business, been a constant source of advice and support. Although a man who, throughout his career, only had social profit ever on his mind, he has provided amazing insights into how I could overcome challenges I have faced. Although I currently have an excellent advisor provided to me by Enterprise Ireland, I also have a great confidant, Ed, who I was lucky enough to meet early in my business career. His type of advice is the one you want – ‘I don’t care if this is uncomfortable for you, these are the facts!’
Has your “Irish-ness” contributed to your success?
I have found, particularly in the UK market, what a significant advantage it has been to be Irish. Ultimately people buy people and there are no group of people on the planet with our attitude, ability and personality. Our German business is led by an ex-pat and I have seen, first-hand, how her ‘way’ has made a difference in winning business and engendering confidence in our team in Berlin. One area that I would caution on, however, is appreciating that every country has unique cultures that should be respected, and the approach of the business should always be sensitive to that.
How do you generate new ideas to stay ahead of the curve?
I pride myself in having demonstrated my ability to mobilise and lead as opposed to demonstrating the skill of pure innovation. If you look at our international growth in Europe and the Middle East, this has been done largely through leveraging from our systems, people and the science on how ‘we do things around here’. We have proven our ability to work very closely to our strengths which is also clear in our Resilience Healthcare business. Here we have leveraged on our strengths such as access to staff through our recruitment business and our ability to attract and retain excellent people. I can’t design complex algorithms but I can mobilise and lead great people.
When making a new hire, what key characteristics do you look for?
I learned from the mentor I mentioned earlier that you always look for people who, at interviews, display the three A’s – Attitude, Aptitude and Application. Have they the kind of attitude that fits in your business? Have they the ability to do the job and can they prove to you that they have successfully delivered in this role in a previous organisation? Wrong hires can be extremely expensive and sometimes ‘if you pay it cheap, you pay it twice’.
Have you started to feel the effects of the economic upturn within your sector/industry?
Like many of the organisations that form the shortlist for EY Entrepreneur Of The Year, we have thrived in the worst recession in living memory. We are very much at the mercy of the availability of public funds across our regions and businesses so we must continue to offer value and service.
There is a need for continued innovation and flexibility in how public health services are delivered. An example of our efforts to be at the forefront of this innovation is in our Resilience Healthcare business where we are involved in the funding of research with our partners in UCD on ways to improve the movement of children and young adults with ‘life limiting’ illnesses from acute hospitals to the community.
What do you believe it takes to be a successful entrepreneur?
When the EOY finalists were unveiled last week in the Four Seasons I was really taken aback by the entrepreneurs who I met with and who I spoke to on the night. The passion, confidence and energy of each of the entrepreneurs was very evident and demonstrated to me the importance of these attributes in aspiring entrepreneurs. What was also quite clear to me is their determination to prevail. I personally know how tough set-backs can be in business, but they build character and resilience in the entrepreneur.
If you were to invest in a sector, what would you consider the next “big thing”?
The pace at which technology is changing the way we do business is frightening, from cloud based services to Big Data and from social media to integrated communications. However, I am continuously impressed with Irish produce and how successful it can be in overseas markets. Although light on natural resources here in Ireland, we certainly make up for it in authenticity, culture and quality. The growth of this sector over the last few years has been very clear and, in my opinion, is one of the key drivers in our efforts to rebuild our economy.
What do you believe is your company’s competitive advantage?
I appreciate it’s such a cliché, but business is all about people and they are vital in the success of every company, regardless of the industry. The key advantage I believe we have as a business is our ability to offer an environment where we promote ownership and entrepreneurship. Our leaders run their divisions as ‘intrapreneurs’ and it allows them the amazing feeling business owners have every day, without the sleepless nights and stress.
Our values are also very important to us, we are proud of how we as a business ensure we ‘give back’. In 2009 we set up our own charity, Care Leavers Ireland, which is focused on supporting young people who leave care to access educational opportunities to improve their opportunities in life. A lot of these children have experienced significant adversity in life and our support helps in a small way to improve their future. 100% of the administration/overhead costs are absorbed by The TTM Group so every cent raised goes directly to support these young people.
What sacrifices have you had to make to get your business where it is today?
My sacrifices over the years are dwarfed by those made by the people around me. It’s a very challenging role for the partner of an entrepreneur. The long days and the stress that goes with growing and running a business can be as tough on the family as it is on the individual. Since the inception of the business my focus has always been on the development of the company and the requirement to continuously invest in its future growth. Delayed gratification in terms of a personal return can be difficult, not just for me but for those close to me who are wondering when the pain will be replaced by Prada.
How do you recharge your batteries?
One of my biggest challenges has been finding a balance between work, family and fitness. As a former Irish Boxing International, I have struggled to regain a level of fitness since the end of my sporting days. However, I love spending the weekends with my three boys – normally consisting of a combination of hurling, football and rugby in Marlay Park here in Dublin. I am also lucky to coach the under 8’s in Kilmacud Crokes GAA club, which can be as challenging at times as our senior management meetings.