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Picture credit: CEO Magazine 

Collar Group and its founder, Ephram Stephenson, continue to be the highest-profile success story of the post-pandemic era in Australian recruitment.

Since commencing operations in July 2021, Collar Group has grown to 140 recruiters with nine offices (3 in Perth, two in Queensland, and one each in Adelaide, Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney) and new overseas offices planned for later this year.

When I caught up with Stephenson earlier this week, he was in typically good form – brimming with energy and optimism.

He’s just back from a recent trip to Canada and he’s excited about Collar’s expansion into overseas markets, the hiring of two long-time senior leaders from Hays and a big IT project he’s confident will be a winner for his business.

Collarcare, Collar’s healthcare recruitment brand, is aggressively targeting the recruitment of Canadian and British nurses for Australian jobs and to maximise the likelihood of success Stephenson is opening a Collar office in Vancouver followed by one in the UK.

Unlike almost all previous expansion efforts by Australian recruitment agencies Stephenson is not starting with local staff, he’s in the process of relocating three of his Perth team, and their respective partners, to Vancouver, on Canada’s west coast, for a minimum of 12 months.

Stephenson’s reasoning for the significant investment in relocation costs is straightforward. “We want Australian recruiters on the ground in overseas markets to provide information to prospective skilled immigrants about housing, schooling, and all the other aspects of living and working in Australia.”

Collar is also investing in an inhouse immigration lawyer to help the recruitment and immigration process go as smoothly as possible. Stephenson adds that the Collar trademark has been registered and approved in both Canada and the UK.

Stephenson’s hired a senior leader for Collarcare who will be responsible for driving the growth of the business. The person won’t be starting until May and although coming from an equivalent senior role at an agency in the local market, Stephenson tells me there won’t be any non-compete issues as Collarcare’s existing PSAs and customers don’t overlap with the incoming leader’s existing client base.

The astonishing expansion of the Collar business has been driven by the experienced staffing executives Stephenson has been able to attract to the Collar Group.

Arguably the highest profile recruit of Collar’s short life is Tim James, who started last November as Collar’s east coast managing director. James spent just over 27 years at Hays, the most recent 11 years as a director on the Hays ANZ management board with operational responsibility for Victoria, Tasmania and the ACT, before joining Collar in late 2023.

A month later, Laura Horton a Hays leader of 21 years tenure, joined James as Collar’s group general manager of professional services.

Peter Dais, had led the way for James and Horton in Victoria with the 17-year Hays veteran having joined as Collar’s director for Victoria the previous August.

Along with the trio of Hays alumni, a host of other well-established senior leaders from large local recruitment businesses, have also taken a leap of faith to join Collar, most prominently;

Rachel Jones (formerly Chandler Macleod’s WA leader for professional and white collar mining, industrial, technical and engineering, now Collar’s managing director); Alfred Wilkinson (formerly Chandler Macleod’s national manager for client solutions, Federal Government, now Collar’s, group general manger); Amanda Stewart (formerly Hays’s regional injury manager for WA, now Collar’s director of injury management and wellbeing); Corin Leckie (formerly of Protech, Chandler Macleod and Workpac, now Collar’s NSW state director, Jamie Mallinder (formerly Chandler Macleod’s OHS regional leader for WA, SA and NT, now Collar’s chief risk officer); Emma Koester (formerly at Cornerstone HR, IPA and Adecco, now Collar’s director for mining, trades and labour); and Joshua Allen (most recently Navartis’s director for Australia and previously with both Michael Page and Chandler Macleod, amongst others, now Queensland director for Collar).

So far most of the senior hires at Collar have stuck with Chris Neale, who lasted six months as Collar’s group general manager for RPO and MSP talent solutions Jamie Lewis, who departed last month after a year as Collar’s Queensland director, and Janelle Coppin whose eight-month tenure at Collar, most recently as director for WA, ended last August, appearing to be the most senior Collar leaders who are no longer with the group.

Stephenson tells me Collar’s sales last financial year were $45 million. This year he’s expecting to hit $120 million by 30 June. He’s projecting $300 million for the 2025 financial year, jumping to $500 million the following year.

The projections are not driven by him, Stephenson assures me, it’s all to do with the number of panels Collar is on, and the calibre and optimism of his senior leaders.

“Our tender team has delivered us $1 billion worth of potential spend,” Stephenson tells me. “The number of successful panellists (on these panels) varies from 50 to 7 so we obviously have to still go out and win the work but we’re optimistic we can secure at least 10% of that total potential spend,” he added.

Winning a place on a panel is great but you need to have capable recruiters to deliver the work and Stephenson is determined to make Collar Group a highly attractive place to work.

A flexible work policy, a no-threshold monthly commission scheme, unused sick leave taken as wellbeing leave, an additional three days leave between Christmas and New Year, plus your birthday off as well as a 3 pm finish each Friday are all part of what Stephenson hopes will both attract and keep talented people at Collar. An appearance on the 2023 Australian list of the 50 Best Workplaces for Women would seem to indicate so-far-so-good.

Not content with luring senior recruitment talent from Hays, Stephenson enthuses about one of his most recent back office hires, Sheila Mulrennan, who left Hays after 14 years, most recently as systems learning and development manager, to join Collar as national systems learning and development manager.

Mulrennan will be a key Collar leader in the $400,000 investment Stephenson is making in the implementation of Salesforce’s TargetRecruit platform.

Stephenson is convinced TargetRecruit will be a big winner for Collar, “It will be absolute game-changer,” he enthuses, as he details the investment he’s made in headcount and consulting support.

It’s all in service of Stephenson’s ambition to break the long-standing dominance of the existing large generalist recruiters in Australia, such as Hays, Chandler Macleod, Workpac, Manpower, Adecco, Programmed, and Randstad.

As Stephenson told Pete Watson last year as part of his Recruitment Journeys podcast interview, “We want Collar to be known as the greatest generalist recruitment agency in Australia.”

Stephenson also answered, in the same interview, the most-speculated aspect of Collar’s growth – where’s the money coming from? Stephenson (“hand on heart”) told Watson, “Collar is a one-shareholder business…and that’s me.”

For a 35-year industry veteran like me, who’s seen it all before when it comes to rapid-growth recruitment companies, I remain somewhat skeptical that such enormous year-on-year growth can continue.

However, if anybody can build a profitable $500 million recruitment business within five years, it’s Ephram Stephenson.

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Simon Drake

What’s amazing about the growth being seen with Collar – is the people that are on the journey with them… And the opportunities it’s creating for others…

Bob Olivier

Probably now out of a job in a tough recruitment market. Careers shattered.

Saul

It sure would be great if he doesn’t run it into the ground like all his previous recruitment agencies

Andrew

It’s like you had a crystal ball

Bob Olivier

Well spotted. Looks like folk should have done their due diligence on this cowboy

Marcus

A lot of those names have since jumped the sinking ship.

Steve

From what I have heard from many of the people I know who work at Collar there are real systemic and cultural problems. Payroll issues consistent, commissions aren’t being paid correctly, bullying and harassment is rife and anyone that tries to help becomes a target. Some of my contacts were really disappointed to see Jamie Mallinder leave and now feel like they have no one to trust.

Tanya

It is literally the most toxic workplace I’ve ever encountered. Bullying and harassment is how it’s run and they never actually deal with any internal issues. All swept under the carpet. The name amongst Clients is not well spoken of and they seem to be hiring more in the Philippines to run departments. Working from home is taken away and used as a punishment and it’s never 2 days. Unrealistic targets are another bully tactic to performance manage people out. Turnover of internal staff horrendous. Maybe concentrate less on social media and actually get Management and culture right. Nothing they say or do is the truth.

Anonymous

I can vouch for both of these comments. Jamie really connected with people, was supportive and helped make the offices he visited more positive. The toxicity in offices was bad before but at least I felt like it could change because someone was listening and trying to support us to change leadership behaviours and culture. The place has been horrendous since Tim joined and if you aren’t in the purple circle, you become a target for bullying. No one feels comfortable and safety clearly isn’t a priority anymore…

Anon

Your skepticism appears to have been right… Collar went into voluntary administration and loads of people (including me) have been terminated.

Alex

Well this aged like milk lol

J k

… Article reads as satire after the events of yesterday…

Bob

Rubicor….

The CEO has a sanitised LI profile, nothing before 2021. He also talked about himself in the third person and described himself as a visionary thought leader.

Bob Olivier

Must believe his own bull. Cowboy. A lot of people will suffer as a result.I wish there were a way people like this were banned for life.
At least the DPN issued by the ATO might make him personally liable for some of the debts.

Anon

It’s scary that this interview took place nearly a month to the day that Ephram was first contacted by the administrators. He continued to hire people, including relocating interstate and sponsoring international hires (including partners and children). This is the 3rd company he’s done this with, sickening.

Anon

Feeling for everyone involved, but as an insider… can’t help but think this was always coming.

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Anis kaur

Still no formal announcement?

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Bob Olivier

Hi Ross, looks like your skepticism was warranted. What a cowboy.

Obviously full of bull and completely out of his depth commercially. Bragging about growth when he knows full well the ATO are funding the business because APositive have been limiting their exposure! At least the ATO issued a DPN this time and that means he might be up personally.

I really feel for the unsecured creditors and some of those senior people poached out of very good firms who will now be struggling in a tough recruitment market.Careers shattered.

He’s got to be up there with the worst operators in the sectors history. When is this going to end? Never, I guess.

Tom

The guy is an absolute joke… unfortunate that he will likely avoid accountability and do it all over again.

anon

Tim is a bully and toxic. Pushed his own agenda and helped ruin this place. Maybe if he didnt hire the 40+ people he hired, some of the people Eph let go and actually contributed more than air and empty words would still be here! Useless.

Anis kaur

Shroom shakes in Bali? Must have forgot to call the staff before sending the email?

Reached out to the candidates via email and yet still nothing for everyone he jas made redundant.

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