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Business First meets Max Mackin, CEO Black Fox Solutions and Reactive Recruitment

Max Mackin is the CEO of Black Fox Solutions and Reactive Recruitment. As an infant Max contracted Polio, leaving him with a walking disability. Hospitalization and medical care greatly affected his education and he was forced to leave school at 14.

Fortunately these circumstances didn’t hinder Max’s determination, he moved to London in search of work and managed to pursue a very successful career in recruitment, eventually working his way up to Operational Director for a worldwide based consultancy in London’s busy West End. He now owns two thriving recruitment agencies in the city centre of Belfast.

In this interview he discusses his journey to the top and gives advice to any aspiring business leaders.

Hi Max, thanks for joining us today. Firstly, can you tell me a bit about yourself?

I’m a Belfast boy, I’ve worked in the recruitment industry for the past 25 years. BlackFox Solutions operate in central Belfast and cover all areas of professional industries such as engineering, senior sales, HR, accountancy and finance and the medical industry.

Tell us about your background and where you started.

I grew up in West Belfast in the heart of the troubles and I contracted Polio as a child. This resulted in missing a lot of schoolwork and I ended up leaving school at the age of fourteen. I was sent into hospital for multiple operations, so I was always either recuperating or preparing for operations. This continued until I was about seventeen years old.

Then after this, you decided to move to London, what made you decide to move there at such a young age?

For more opportunities, as I spent so much time in hospital and had such a lack of education, I knew my lack of qualifications would stop me getting a job in Belfast, so I needed to find a way to get employment. I had the idea to save up money and move to London, I planned to go over for three months to see how I got on. This was on the basis that if it didn’t work out then it wasn’t meant to be for me. Thankfully, I gave it a shot because it really did shape my future and I ended up staying there for twenty-one years.

What did you love about your life in London and what did you find hard about it?

It’s hard at the beginning, every setback you have makes you think you’re homesick but it’s just the adjustment period of trying to settle into London life. It’s a big city with a population of around nine million people, I went from living at home to having to pay for rent, food, electricity, even getting used to the laundrette took a while! An awful lot for a naive young man with a disability to try and overcome.

However, it made me more determined to stay and make it work, I didn’t want to return home and feel that I had failed. This gave me more motivation to push forward. I ended up getting a job in a call centre, which was brilliant because it helped me develop skills such as problem-solving and customer satisfaction, I continued working there for the next couple of years.

After that I wanted a change and started veering towards the recruitment industry, one morning I was walking through the West End area and saw an advertisement for a recruitment consultant.

I phoned the company but because my C.V. was lacking experience the company wasn’t interested. However, I kept pushing and phoning up, the managing director eventually agreed to meet me for a chat and told me that he liked my perseverance, an important quality for recruitment consultants!

He gave me the job at SThree and I suddenly found myself amongst well-dressed, posh Londoners all carrying the Telegraph around. Everyone came from upper-middle-class families and spoke very well, and I found myself having to compete with these guys.

I soon realised that I needed to work harder to make myself stand out, which I did. I was able to surpass them all and work my way up the business. A business which was a one office business when I joined and is now global, as the business developed, I grew with it.

All my hard work paid off as I became a Manager, then Senior Manager, Sales Director and was earning more money for the business than my colleagues. I was promoted to Operations Director and after three years we moved back to Belfast

What made you decide to go for it and set up your own business?

My family were the main reason I moved back to Northern Ireland and when I moved back, I wanted a job. I thought moving back with my skills and experience would mean I’d walk into a new job easily, but it wasn’t as easy as that. I was looking after around 250-300 consultants in London, whereas the companies here have 10-25 consultants max.

I would speak to the owners of these Belfast based companies to be continuously told that they won’t take me on because there was no capacity to take on another Director.

This went on for a while until I made the decision to start my own business, it made sense with the skills, qualities, and experience I had accumulated throughout the years. One of the biggest challenges I had to overcome was the lack of contacts I had in Northern Ireland, because of this it felt like I was back to square one.

I grabbed the yellow pages, had my phone and laptop and continuously phoned businesses. I created a plan, set a target and built up BlackFox and now here we are today, sitting in our city centre offices.

Is being disabled in the working world still a hindrance?

Yes, it can be a hindrance, it’s one of those things that if you had four applicants for a post and one was more qualified than the others but was disabled, unfortunately, 85% of employers would opt for the others.

Most assume the disabled candidate will constantly take time off and not be as productive but that’s not the case, many disabled people that I know have a real sense of drive and a real purpose to prove themselves.

There have been days where I was sick and could have easily stayed in bed, but the desire to keep going and not let this beat me helped keep me going and this is something that my bosses really appreciated.

What is your favourite quote and why?

The one that always strikes me is the harder I work, the luckier I get, and this is so true. The more effort you put in, the more determined you are to succeed, you will get there.

Another one I like is I have worked 38 years to get where I am and I’m an overnight success. There is no such thing as an overnight success, if you want to do well and make money, you must work hard.

How do you stay focused on your goals?

The recruitment industry is interesting because you can never sit still, you are always having to push to make sure you have enough live vacancies, candidates, database structure and so on. My team are always thinking ahead, asking questions such as will next month be good? Do we have enough interviews for next week?

If it’s going to be a bad month, what can we do this to resolve this? So, staying focused is one of the main requirements needed to be a successful recruiter.

Can you describe the working culture of BlackFox?

There is a sign in our office ‘Hard Work Beats Talent, When Talent Doesn’t Work Hard,’ and this is what I reinforce to my employees every day. They must come in with motivation and put effort into their work every single day, this helps us compete with our main competitors.

BlackFox also work with a flat management structure, this encourages all the team to come forward with any ideas or thoughts they have that may help the business and it works well. All my employees appreciate the fact that they are not just a number, they contribute and have a value.

For the year ahead, both of my companies (BlackFox Solutions and Reactive) are planning a 35% business growth, want to move offices, increase staff and revenues so it will be a busy year for us. Even with Brexit happening, we are still planning growth and development.

What do you love about your job?

The aspects of my job that makes me excited for Mondays are not what you may assume, I’m not driven by money, it’s more the competitiveness I enjoy about my job. Working with my staff to keep the business going in the right direction.

What do you think is your greatest strength?

I work well under pressure, I don’t fly off the handle easily and stay controlled under stress. The reason for this is because I love what I do, a lot of people see their job as an inconvenience and because of my background and upbringing, I see my job as a privilege. I enjoy being able to get up, put on a nice suit and get myself into work.

I take a lot of pride in having answers for people that deliver the right solution. I have been on a journey to get to where I am today and I’m very proud of what I have achieved. All the searching, competing and hard work has been worth it.

What’s your advice to any aspiring entrepreneurs out there?

Work out what you want to do, I’ve seen people start a business without a plan set in place and therefore it hasn’t worked. Have a plan, expect setbacks and plan a solution to those problems.

Put a date in and review where you are, every six months and if it’s not working out for you then be brave enough to accept that. Remember, there is a lot of competition out there and if you have a business idea then it’s likely that there are many out there with the same one, ensure you have a unique selling point and always be realistic.

When you start hiring staff always see yourself as an employee, be at your desk at 9 in the morning and go home at 5.30 p.m. This discipline is essential for growing your company, no matter how high you find yourself in the company hierarchy there shouldn’t be any job that you won’t do.

Whether it’s making coffee for everyone or making a million-pound decision, you should be willing to do everything. Showing your staff this will be appreciated and if they see you doing this, then you have every right to demand that they do the same and that’s how it works in business.