The Friday interview: Maria Mahon,

30 Apr 2004

Few people realize that is actually one the longest surviving Irish dot-com companies, having started in business in 1995. In fact, within the online recruitment business, is regarded as one of the grandfathers of the sector. managing director Maria Mahon (pictured) tells about her company’s plans to expand into the Scottish jobs market as well as move the company into the recruitment software business.

The online recruitment sector appears to be full of ironies. It happens to be one of those industries that seems to have seamlessly embraced the internet to such a degree that the very function of applying for a job in 21st century Ireland cannot take place without the intervention at some stage of the internet or email. Even the Franciscan Order has resorted to to boost its recruitment efforts.

As far as Mahon is concerned, the internet is now in the mainstream of the recruitment channel. “Email is definitely a mainstream part of the recruitment process in terms of receiving CVs. In January of this year we conducted research with Landsdowne Market Research, to see how many people in Ireland are actively looking for a job. It appears that 8pc of the adult population is actively looking for a job, that’s 240,000 people. Given that if you look at our traffic we had a quarter of a million people looking at our site, and 75pc of the site’s traffic is in Ireland – that equals 190,000 Irish people. That means that the majority of them are online. Job seekers can’t afford not to go online because there so many opportunities not to be missed.”

Despite this, the online recruitment sector in Ireland was one of those sectors to be hardest hit during the dot-com downturn. From around a dozen high profile dot-com recruitment organisations in 2000 there are now less than five online recruitment agencies left in the country. The past four years have been an elongated period of consolidation within the online recruitment business and succeeded in staying afloat, at the same time acquiring new business interests as it went along.

First it acquired, followed shortly by, and lately the company acquired a 75pc stake in for an undisclosed sum. Mahon plans to invest €1m in to make it the number one recruitment site in the Scottish market.

When tackled on the subject of the company’s overseas strategy, Mahon seems eager to confine the company’s overseas ventures to Scotland for the moment. “There are a number of things to consider. We wanted to be number one player and achieved that in Ireland and Northern Ireland, and really if you look at Scotland the market is not dissimilar. We’ve picked up the number two player in the Scottish market and our absolute priority is to get to that number one position by using the same business model that worked in the Irish market. You can never get complacent. Our priority is to build and grow. We’ve a dedicated Scottish team to bring to number one. The internet is now the proven way to carry out recruitment.”

It is clear from talking to Mahon that despite the hype of the dot-com days, running an online business is no different to running a regular everyday business. She doesn’t buy into any mysticisms surrounding e-commerce.

“You need revenue sources and to deliver on it. In the early days it was pump millions into marketing in the expectation that the money would come. Like any traditional business: identify that there is a market for your product; ensure you are delivering something that meets a gap; ask yourself ‘is there a need in the marketplace for this’; fill gap and deliver it cost effectively. The internet is just a medium, a way of delivering business.”

An unexpected bonus that arose from being over a decade in the recruitment business for was its ability to spot trends and develop appropriate products. A key result of this was the creation of an offshoot software venture called Candidate Manager, into which existing investors in Denis O’Brien and Leslie Buckley have decided to pursue a similar stakeholding. Candidate Manager makes software that enables HR departments to manage the recruitment process in terms of receiving CVs and coordinating interviews and selecting candidates for available positions.

The company is understood to have already signed up a number of bluechip organisations in Ireland, including AIB Capital Markets, the Defence Forces, Hibernian Insurance, Statoil, Anglo Irish Bank, Trinity Biotech, McDonalds, Dublin Institute of Technology and pharmaceutical giant Takeda. The company is also targeting the UK software market and has established a number of distribution alliances.

Candidate Manager’s technology is hosted on an ASP (application service provider) basis whereby companies that use the technology pay for a subscription to use the technology in a similar manner to that of CRM giant According to a spokesperson for the company, it has beaten off competition locally from established ERP (enterprise resource planning) players like Oracle and PeopleSoft for deals with bluechip customers.

According to Mahon, the company has an entirely separate focus and is run as a separate business from “The key thing had to do since it started was to keep up with the pace of technological change. We had an IT team here constantly checking the product against competitors because we needed to be with it, if not a step ahead of it and we watched the US market quite closely. Candidate Manager came out of that process. The fantastic thing about technology is you can change business overnight as technology evolves. Competitors can do that too, and that’s a danger but also an impetus to keep moving. We have a strong IT team that is one step ahead of the game and we will wait and see what arises out of that. We saw what was happening overseas, and embarked on a new company and new business opportunity.”

But what really has Mahon fired up is what Candidate Manager will do for the recruitment process. “The big requirement we saw amongst Irish companies in particular was the amount of time spent on the administration of filling job. Also the reporting issues, which are important if you are spending money. Our candidate management system takes the time headache out by streamlining the process, managing it and ensuring that candidates are acknowledged and kept up to date with how their application is doing.

“A company’s reputation and name is boosted by having an increasingly professional approach, but also it cuts down on the cost of time and resources associated with the recruitment process,” Mahon concluded.

By John Kennedy

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