Just the job
PUBLISHED: 17:08 20 February 2015 | UPDATED: 17:24 20 February 2015
Manu Palomeque 07977074797
Craig Vidler is at the helm of a multi-million pound recruitment business founded in Kent in 1957. He was 67 when he took on the top job. A revered figure in the recruitment industry, he talks about his Maidstone upbringing, work in South Africa, charity fundraising and the challenges of owning and running businesses
In business, experience can often trump youth.
Running a multi-million pound company is tough at any age, while taking on the top job in your sixties can be tougher still - but not if you’re Craig Vidler.
Now 69, he has been at the top of his game as a recruitment specialist and charity fundraiser for more than 40 years.
As group managing director of HR GO plc, a £90 million company founded in Dartford in 1957 and now a national operation headquartered in Ashford, he uses his four decades in the industry to lead from the front.
“There are a lot of things I have to cope with which would have been much more difficult in my mid-forties,” he says. “I’ve been around the block a few times and now I’ve been there done that, it’s easier.”
But he insists it’s vital to have younger people around an older leader. “You need a combination of youth with hunger and passion, and the older person’s knowledge and experience.”
Craig says the MD’s role is exactly what it says. “You manage and direct. You’re not there to do the job for others, but to work with them and develop a team atmosphere.”
Craig was born in Maidstone, spending “many happy times playing in Mote Park, finding newts, frogs, toads and grass snakes and even camping out.”
The Maidstone Grammar School pupil preferred sport to academic life. He loved cricket and recalls hitting a six through the headmaster’s greenhouse, narrowly missing his wife.
After leaving school at 16 with distinctly “ordinary” achievements, he did various jobs, from driving a forklift truck to picking hops, working in a shop to a man with a van for a firm that sold goods on tick and collecting payments.
Life changed dramatically when he joined his father in South Africa after Vidler Snr landed a job with retailer OK Bazaars.
Craig became buying and merchandising manager with Stuttaford’s department store chain, rising rapidly through the ranks. At the age of 24, he was a high-flier and a leading young retailer in South Africa.
There he met teenage hosiery demonstrator Marjorie and they married when she was 18. They are still together 44 years later. Soon after daughter Claire was born, the family returned to Maidstone in 1971, buying a bungalow for £7,200 in Loose.
Craig teamed up with the founder of recruitment firm Star Agency – and so began a successful career finding the right people for the right job.
He founded Star Executives that grew into one of the UK’s largest retail recruitment agencies; Prima Principia, a finance company; and Grey4Gold, which recruits experienced executives to mentor and advise businesses.
Craig headhunted talented people to fill high-level posts in Selfridge’s, Harvey Nichols, Next and Dorothy Perkins. Some became household names.
As a trustee of the Retail Trust charity, he hosts an annual fly-fishing day that in 27 years has raised more than £220,000 net, attracting leading figures in the industry, and friends like Procol Harum’s lead singer Gary Brooker, composer of the iconic Whiter Shade of Pale.
Craig – a “people person” - is a good communicator, believing this is a key attribute for a business leader.
After meeting HR GO chairman Jack Parkinson, whose mother Betty had founded PSB (Parkinson Staff Bureau), he was invited to be a non-executive director, and later managing director.
“I have always respected HR GO as a business.” Craig said. “Clearly it had significant challenges due to the recent severe financial crisis.”
In the past year he has helped transform the business, complementing its strengths in temporary placements with a strong permanent division enhanced under the Exectec banner.
Craig keeps many balls in the air, overseeing a re-structuring of the business spanning specialist sectors such as human resources, surveyor recruitment, IT, oil, gas and healthcare. It operates from some 40 offices and branches nationwide, including seven in Kent and Medway.
For many, it is tough finding a job, so what are Craig’s tips for jobseekers? “Aim for the sun because if you don’t quite reach the sun, you get to the moon on the way back. If you only aim for the moon and miss it, all you will do is fall back to earth.
“Never be afraid of a challenge; never say I can’t do that; never say you’re not going to apply for a job because you don’t think you’ll get it.
“The worst that can happen is you don’t get it. But you didn’t have it when you went in. Be confident, don’t be afraid – and go for it.”
Craig’s life has been so packed with a richness of fascinating experiences and characters that he has begun writing about them in his autobiography.
There will be plenty in it about the county that has influenced his life and outlook. “I’ve enjoyed growing up in Kent. I love the county. It’s shaped me and is close to my heart.”
Craig is looking forward to spending more time with his two-year old granddaughter Hope. But don’t expect him to quit business to take his pension any time soon.
His commitment to corporate life remains undimmed. “I wake up at 6.30am every morning and I can’t remember when I’ve not looked forward to getting into the office. I love the job, love the people, we’ve got a fabulous team.”
Get in touch
HR GO plc
Head office: Wellington House, Church Road, Ashford TN23 1RE