Going international: Opening a New York Office

We chat with Dan McCarthy from international financial recruitment specialists One Search about successfully opening a New York office. We find out what they learned about overseas expansion and how their key business advisors played a major role in making it happen.

Tell us about One Search

One Search is a specialist search and selection business within the Infrastructure & Energy Finance space. We recruit at all levels from Analyst to CEO within this growing industry, helping banks, funds and sponsors meet the ever-growing need for investment into new assets in renewable energy, traditional power plants, new roads, rail links, etc. We have operated for 10 years out of our Mayfair offices but with each passing year have become more and more international, placing people in locations from Mexico City to Bahrain, and New York to Johannesburg. We recognised huge potential for growth in the Americas not only due to huge activity levels in the power sector, but also the fact that no US recruitment firm seems to offer as specialised and well-connected service as we do.

What was the experience of opening a new office in a different country like? What was the biggest challenge?

The biggest challenge without doubt was finding someone to run our business in NYC. Any new hire is critical, but when it is someone who will become the very embodiment of your business in a major market, you cannot afford to get it wrong. Staffing up under this individual(s) is also important, but if you haven’t got someone in place to lead your business who shares your values, your passion, and your knowledge level, you are doomed from the start. Secondary challenges (but still significant) were understanding the legal differences in the US from the UK, incorporating the right sort of corporate entity, and setting up a US bank account – things we would do in our sleep back home became whole new learning experiences!

How did you approach the decision to open an office in New York?

Lots of firms say they have offices in X, Y, Z location but really it is just an office address and a phone number that loops back to some loft conversion in Wolverhampton, and we didn’t want to be another one of these. We knew we had to be there on the ground building relationships in person with our client base, and that long distance telephone calls weren’t going to cut it. So from the moment we decided to do it, we were never going to be half-hearted about it, we wanted to do it properly.

What tips do you have / advice would you give to a business considering expanding/establishing their business overseas?

Make sure you understand the legal and regulatory framework in your target market, both in terms of how you can operate, how you can hire people, and crucially, how you can repatriate your profits. If you get this wrong you could be doing great business from an operational standpoint but have some nasty surprises at the end of the year from a financial perspective. I would also advise business owners to consider the personal investment required of them when it comes to the process of establishing your business in a new market – it is like starting up from scratch again in some ways, which is exciting but also very demanding.

How did you adapt the business to fit a different culture?

We were only moving from London to New York and there are strong similarities in the cultures. Recruiters tend to be more aggressive in NY than London, but all recruiters can hold their own and in any case, we were looking to change the accepted NY recruitment culture (where it somehow seems acceptable not to have met your candidates, and to treat them very much as commodities, as numbers) to some extent, and I believe we are making small steps towards that already.

What does your five-year business plan look like?

It is on the back of a cigarette packet somewhere. I have just had a look for it and must have thrown it away… No but seriously, I don’t hold too much stock in these business plans. We wouldn’t have set up our NY office until we had already done enough business remotely to know it was financially viable – in fact we had already made enough profit remotely to fund it for its first twelve months. We expect good profits in year one, and for these to grow gradually each year as the business becomes better entrenched in the Americas market. But to have specific figures as to expectations on revenues or team size five years from now would be guesswork of Gideon Osborne proportions!