Running a startup can, at times, be more stressful than heading up a A$100 million company. You have a responsibility to drive an unproven brand to the top, and you’re often working without a safety net.
The ability to successfully tread such a fine line is a gift, and is the reason why Collar Group’s Ephram Stephenson has taken home Startup Executive of the Year at The CEO Magazine’s Executive of the Year Awards 2022.
“It’s arguably the highlight of my career,” Stephenson says of the win. “I’ve always been a big admirer of The CEO Magazine, so it’s something for which I’ll be forever grateful.”
Ask any employer trying to fill a role and they’ll tell you that finding the right person for the job is an art. By that logic, the UK-born Collar Group Founder and Director is surely one of the modern masters.
An industry veteran, Stephenson has dedicated his career to the game of human chess that is recruitment. Through various roles and companies, the serial entrepreneur and his teams have successfully placed over 10,000 people into permanent roles and a further 25,000 people into temporary jobs across Australia’s mining, oil and gas, engineering, construction, facilities management and building industries.
Stephenson’s formidable 18 years of experience gave him a unique standing when he founded Collar Group in 2021, a move brought about by a life-changing event.
“It had always been my lifelong desire to become a father,” Stephenson says. “When my wife and I learned we were expecting, I was Executive Director at a recruitment company that had turned over A$10 million in its first 12 months. The day after we got the news, I politely resigned my position.”
Collar Group was born the very next day. Stephenson established the company with the desire to change the industry he’d come to know so well, and by bucking trends, that’s exactly what Collar has done. A year on, it’s a multi-million dollar recruiter with six offices across Australia.
“Collar is the 12th agency I’ve founded during my career,” says Stephenson, no stranger to startups. “And I believe the reason why Collar has been so successful is having all that knowledge and experience. All the highs, the lows, the wins, the losses along the way, and being able to channel all of that into this business.”
“We’ve made sure not to scale too fast or get too carried away with marketing and branding.”
The company’s wealth of wisdom (“I surround myself with over 400 years’ worth of combined recruitment experience,”) has set Collar apart. “We’ve made sure not to scale too fast or get too carried away with marketing and branding,” he notes.
Collar specialises in large and small volume recruitment across a variety of industries, including mining, transport and logistics, facilities management, property and construction, call centre and customer service, professional services, medical, aged care, engineering, infrastructure, trades, and labour and building services.
The company has made a point of eschewing KPIs and other traditional methods of performance measurement in favour of valuing people. In charge of driving Collar’s strategic direction and vision, Stephenson ensures the highest standards of quality and service throughout the company.
“Customer is king,” he stresses. “Winning customer trust is a challenge for all businesses. In recruitment, the saying goes ‘you’re only as good as your last placement’, so I’ve personally brought in the major accounts to Collar Group and set up an account management model where I choose the best recruiters to handle each account.”
It’s a big part of Collar Group’s customer-driven approach. “Without our clients and candidates, we don’t have a business,” Stephenson acknowledges. “It’s about doing the right thing every time and treating people as you’d expect to be treated.”
“Without our clients and candidates, we don’t have a business.”
A hands-on leader, Stephenson directs business development, community engagement and manages the day-to-day operations of the organisation to achieve optimum outcomes as well as effective use of human resources and business assets. Authentic, human connections play a big part in his approach to his work, which has made Collar Group one of the top talent management companies in the country as well as a certified Great Place To Work in 2022.
With The CEO Magazine’s Startup Executive of the Year Award now added to the mantle, Collar Group sits atop a very high plateau from which to make its next move. “I think we’ll try to take a step back and appreciate everything we’ve achieved in the last 12 months,” Stephenson says. “We’re only just getting started, and I think what’s possible over the next 18 months is more expansion, but keeping it very humble and grounded.
“No one person is bigger than this business, not even myself. Collar Group is the biggest impact in business, and personally, I’ve made in my life,” he says. “The reason behind the company is to leave a legacy for my little boy.”
And with his win at The CEO Magazine’s Executive of the Year Awards, Stephenson’s legacy has turned a new corner. “This trophy is going to go in my son’s room,” he says. “It’s something I want him to be able to look up to and aspire to. I came to Australia as a backpacker with no recruitment experience all those years ago, and I’ve learned that anything is possible if you put your heart and mind to it. Australia really is a land of opportunity.”