Jane Lovell is co-founder and managing director of Cooper Lomaz, the multi-sector and award-winning recruitment business based in East Anglia, the excellence of which was recently recognised by its inclusion in the 2015 “Sunday Times Best 100 Small Companies to work for” list.
Joseph Campbell, who was one of the world’s leading authorities on mythology, wrote (in his The Hero with a Thousand Faces) of the near-universal myth of a hero who ventures from home to gain lessons and insights but whose journey comes to fruition back in his/her homeland. I am reminded of this whenever I have the pleasure of Lovell’s company who I have known for some years.
Her career has taken her across the UK, while her leisure time incorporates trips to St Lucia and Australia each year. However, her soul is forever embedded in Norfolk and East Anglia and Cooper Lomaz has its roots proudly in the area.
She says, “I was born in Norfolk and love this area and indeed East Anglia. I went to school here and represented Norfolk in athletics and that success in sports inculcated a desire to excel in competition as well as imbuing within me a sense of self-confidence.”
Lovell decided to plunge into the world of work rather than attending university after completing her A-levels and so began what turned out to be more than a decade of work within the field of science.
“My first role was as a pharmacy technician at Lowestoft hospital in Suffolk. I loved the role as well as the opportunity to receive my training in London.”
It was at that point that Lovell was first exposed to the world of recruitment, a sector which she would, of course, enter many years later. She explains, “I was headhunted into the role of medical representative and joined the world-renowned pharmaceutical company Bayer.
I sold into GP’ surgeries and to hospital doctors.” Having excelled in the position she was later headhunted again to join other leading pharma businesses such as Johnson and Johnson and eventually Roche. Lovell reflects, “My competitive spirit, forged during my time representing Norfolk in athletics, stood me in good stead. I also found the role of medical rep intellectually stimulating as I had to master clinical papers in the relevant medical fields.” In fact, at both Johnson and Johnson and Roche, Lovell was one of the top five performers across nationwide sales teams of more than 150 people.
Life was great for Lovell at this point in her career. She was a top performer with very good earnings and had a generous expense account alongside a company car; all the accoutrements a young ambitious person could want!
As often happens it was at this stage that destiny intervened to (eventually) take her to a completely different commercial path. She explains, “I had met and married by this time and decided to join my husband for his posting to Germany (he was in the RAF) and I embarked on the life as an officer’s wife. Cutting a long story short I could not adjust to that, missed the fulfilment of my career and my husband being sent to the Gulf War added even more pressure.”
Lovell returned to the UK and unfortunately, her marriage ended. Destiny had another hand to play when she learned a family friend was running a successful recruitment business on the south coast, and it was this friend who suggested Lovell might want to explore this sector. “I had a burning ambition to succeed and undertook in-depth research into recruitment as an industry,” she says. Having previously thought about setting up on her own in the medical sales field she adds, “I knew by then that I could not easily create my own medical rep business and realised that recruitment offered opportunities to be entrepreneurial.”
As if guided by a providential hand she noticed a consultant vacancy for Hays at its Norwich office and was successful in securing the role. She emphasises, “The chance to begin a new career in Norwich was wonderful; I was brimming with enthusiasm and just had the self-belief that this would work. This helped me stomach what was in effect a 60% reduction in basic pay compared to my medical rep pay! But very quickly I remember having an epiphany and thinking “this is for me” and realising that I had found my vocation.”
Within 18 months Lovell was promoted to manager and had also met her future business partner, Charlotte Cooper (also from Norfolk and who had recently joined Hays and went on to run its Colchester office) and they realised that through a set of common values, commitment to long-term business relationships and deep care for candidates that they could create their own recruitment company.
Cooper Lomaz was born in January 1990 in a tiny office in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk and the rest, as they say, is history.
Explaining how she and Cooper tackled running the company, Lovell tells me, “We initially focused on the accountancy and finance segments of the market which is where we had created our initial success as recruiters. Over the years we have branched out to become a true multi-sector partner across East Anglia and encompass eight sectors including engineering, IT, oil, gas and renewables and sales and marketing.”
Cooper Lomaz now employs 72 people and at the end of 2014, the highly profitable business had a turnover of £14m. It operates “centres of excellence” across its Norwich, Lowestoft and Bury St Edmunds offices and whilst it has traditionally focused on permanent recruitment it has a growing contractor business with some 30% of its business is now in that area.
Lovell says, “Our philosophy centres on being “right first time” when providing solutions to our clients and we are proud at both the breadth and longevity of client relationships we have developed. That we have done so in a way that helps the economy of East Anglia makes me especially proud. We also offer career opportunities to local people and our team is loyal, knowledgeable and committed.”
This commitment to excellence was recognised earlier this year when Cooper Lomaz was listed in The Sunday Times 100 Best Small Companies To Work For 2015. Cooper Lomaz placed 22nd overall in the UK. “I am so proud of this recognition,” Lovell proclaims. “That we scored so highly in the categories focusing on being open and honest as management as well as encouraging people to use all their skills is really wonderful. Many of our senior management, for example, began their careers with us as trainee consultants; that includes our managing director Richard Mould.”
Cooper Lomaz is now extending its operations beyond East Anglia and its team of 60 specialist consultants and more than 25 years of experience provides a perfect springboard for further expansion. With this in mind, I took the opportunity to ask Lovell to share some of the key lessons her journey has provided for her to which she obliges, telling me, “I have set audacious goals and completely focused on their attainment. Hard work and always being guided by strong values have been keys to our success and we have been prepared to invest in the best professional advice we can afford at key junctures along our journey.”
Outside Cooper Lomaz Lovell has remarried and through her Australian husband (and her sister who lives in Melbourne) regularly spends time with family in Australia and she also has a home in paradisal St Lucia which she visits three times a year.
Like the heroic figures of myth, her heart remains at home in East Anglia and she exudes the passion and verve that has helped Cooper Lomaz flourish so well. She remains a big believer in the recruitment industry, declaring, “We are proud to be a local business with world-class standards and ethics. I believe in the recruitment sector and it is a shame that many people often simply fall into the sector.
“For those with ambition and a desire to help people, candidates and clients, it is a fabulous career for young people.”