“While it is my responsibility to ensure the business is run to be both profitable and sustainable, I prioritise our employees’ welfare and our customers’ satisfaction” — CEO Q&A with Barry Whelan of Excel Recruitment

CEO Q&A, Interviews | Wed 8 Jun | Author – Business & Finance
Pictured: Barry Whelan, CEO, Excel Recruitment

Barry Whelan is the founder and CEO of Excel Recruitment. The agency was founded in 2002 and has 4 recruitment offices across the country. 


What are your main priorities and goals in your role?

While it is my responsibility to ensure the business is run to be both profitable and sustainable, I prioritise our employee’s welfare and our customer’s satisfaction.

What are your biggest challenges as CEO?

We are currently experiencing a period of hyper growth which comes with its own challenges. Firstly, our business processes need to be replicated across much larger teams, some of whom are based remotely and regionally, which is a complex management challenge. Secondly, the labour shortage certain sectors in Ireland have been experiencing post-Covid means we are having to work harder than ever to find the talent required for our customers.

How do you keep your team/staff motivated?

Our people are motivated by a great team environment and by opportunity for advancement. We try to make our workplace as fun and collaborative as possible. The result is that all our team really enjoy working together, which makes for a high energy, productive work environment. The comradery amongst our colleagues is one of the major reasons our employees stay with us.

What are the challenges facing the industry going forward?

The labour shortage in many industries, in my opinion, is more than a challenge, it is a crisis. Some businesses will not last the year because of it. We are working harder than ever to help our clients find, attract and retain the people they need.

What new trends are emerging in your industry?

The recruitment industry is adapting to a changing landscape, so a number of hiring trends are emerging. The first of these is proactive early engagement of prospective candidates, which was originally a common practice in c-suite roles. Now however, companies reach out to applicants at all levels, early and often during the hiring process, building a relationship to facilitate the hiring. Another trend is the use of advanced screening tools. Streamlining the recruitment process has become essential for companies racing to offer employment to qualified candidates, before they find a position elsewhere. Non location specific hiring has become a post-Covid practice, with companies hiring candidates on working-from-home contracts, which allow these candidates to be based anywhere.

Are there any major changes you would like to see in your sector?

Yes. We need more visas and permits for non-EU talent. I would like to see an overhaul of the work permit process and a revaluation of the critical skills list to include disciplines such as chefs, butchers and bakers in hospitality and retail for instance, and not just the issuing of critical skills visas for healthcare and information technology. There are acute labour shortages across many disciplines.

As an employer are you finding any skill gaps in the market?

We do our best to develop our own talent and train all our staff, so that isn’t an issue for us.

How did your strategy develop in the context of the banking crisis and economic crisis?

We have been in business for 20 years. When the crisis hit, Excel Recruitment was a retail recruitment company and with a sharp decline in retail sales and a steep rise in unemployment, we bore the brunt of the recession, as so many other businesses did. Diversification was crucial and we managed to do it successfully. We now recruit across healthcare, commercial, industrial, events, hospitality, IT (through our Stelfox brand) and retail.

How do you define success and what drives you to succeed?

Enjoying what you do. Coming to work every day full of energy and enthusiasm. Seeing the people around you excel in life and business. It’s been a pleasure to run the business for 20 years. We have fantastic clients. They are always a great source of inspiration.

What’s the best advice you’ve been given, or would give, in business?

I was lucky to come from the retail industry, where leaders lead and work exceptionally hard. I have learnt from the mistakes I made along the way, and from having great people around me, who have no problem telling me when I am wrong! The advice I would give? Diversify your business, but always remember your core customers.

What have been your highlights in business over the past year?

There have been many highlights, including our continued successful expansion, openingour Galway office and winning three industry awards.

What’s next for your company?

We are building new offices in Dublin which I think will be a fantastic ultra-modern place to work. These will enable us to add another 60 to our headcount. We are also differentiating our Healthcare business as a separate brand, completely focused on the sector. We are creating a very vibrant events and entertainment brand which will be launched in the autumn, and we are opening our Belfast branch, giving our customers our service Island-wide!