Alistair Houghton meets IAN MUNRO, CEO of Castlerock Recruitment Group, in St Helens
IN THE week when Merseyside celebrates entrepreneurship, Ian Munro is a proud ambassador for the joys of running a business.
Mr Munro bought healthcare recruitment business Castlerock Care Services in 2000, when it turned over some £250,000. Today the company now known as Castlerock Recruitment Group, is set to break the £15m turnover barrier.
Mr Munro – so proud of the company that he wears branded cufflinks – has led the company to success supplying medical staff and care workers to health trusts and local authorities across the North West and beyond.
In 2010, Castlerock secured a game-changing contract with the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to provide armed forces in the UK and overseas with healthcare locums. That deal makes up some 40% of its turnover.
“When we heard we’d won the deal,” smiled the modest Mr Munro, “we were on the motorway driving down to Southampton. We had to pull over to the hard shoulder to get out of the car to celebrate.”
Castlerock has even started to branch beyond healthcare, winning a contract with Transport for London (TFL) to provide customer information assistants on the London Underground.
And now the business has secured a “significant” undisclosed sum from the North West Fund for Development Capital, the investment fund run by YFM Equity Partners.
The company is now set to recruit more staff to support its growth.
Castlerock has been hit by the downturn, as Government cuts have in turn affected its clients. But Mr Munro says he has never regretted his decision to leave acco+untancy behind to run his own business.
“I’ve loved every minute since the day I started,” he said.
“Every single day is a completely different challenge. You wake up with a plan, and your day never goes according to plan.
“It’s an extremely challenging industry, and it’s a challenging business. But it’s so rewarding.”
Mr Munro, who was born in St Helens and brought up in Ormskirk, studied accountancy at Liverpool John Moores University.
“I fell into accountancy,” he said. “I was always good at numbers, so I took that route.
“But I was always ambitious to own my own business I could develop and grow. I suppose accountancy was a stepping stone to that.”
Mr Munro spent four years on a training contract with an accountancy firm in Warrington. But, in 1999, he was poached by one of his company’s clients – a domiciliary care business based in Warrington – as financial controller.
And, late that year, he was approached by a friend of the then-owner of Castlerock and asked whether he wanted to take over the lossmaking business.
Mr Munro took a loan from Lloyds TSB and got to work.
“I just wanted to do it,” he said. “I took the risk.
“I knew it could grow with the right people managing it, and with the right ethos and culture behind it.
“It was a growing market then, and it’s a growing market even now.
“From day one we concentrated on good customer service and local NHS trusts for the supply of nurses and care workers. We focused on good customer service when it came to the staff as well – we didn’t want to just treat them like numbers.”
The recipe for growth, as Mr Munro describes it, is simple.
“It’s just looking after our clients,” he said, “and developing new clients.
“We’ve had contract opportunities along the way that we’ve had success with. We have identified healthcare contracts with the NHS, local authorities, the private sector and the third sector. We provide them with healthcare workers, support workers, and nursing locums.”
The turning point for Castlerock came in 2002, when it was awarded a contract with the North Cheshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.
“It was the size of it that was so important,” said Mr Munro.
“We already supplied them. But we became the only supplier. It was a £500,000 per year contract. It catapulted us upwards.”
In July 2003, the company bought Warrington’s aNa Nursing & Care Agency. Since then it has made several other acquisitions.
The economic slump did take its toll on Castlerock. But Mr Munro, along with fellow directors Ian McDougall and Paul Booth, has steered the business through.
“It’s been very difficult for everybody,” he said. “But Ian, Paul and I haven’t buried our heads in the sand. We’ve stood up and taken it head on.
“In healthcare as a sector, local authority and NHS budget cuts have been all over the papers.
“For us, it’s about working with them and trying to achieve these cuts by ensuring that we can still provide the quality of care, and that they are getting the best value without infringing that care.
“The needs of the person receiving the care are absolutely paramount.
“We’ve found it hard. We’ve had to make changes. We’ve had to make agreements on charge cuts. But it’s necessary to ensure the continuity of the care we provide.”