Abandoning private practice, James Hulsken went to work on a farm in the office of Brookfield Rose, a consortium of consultancies that’s spreading – organically, of course – across Europe and beyond
Just six years qualified, James Hulsken has found himself at the head of Brookfield Rose, a rapidly expanding consortium of consultancies with an eye on international operations.
Brookfield Rose comprises 10 companies, mostly concerned with reducing recruitment costs. It grew up around the de Poel consultancy, a temporary labour procurement business.
Hulsken made the move in-house in 2011 from Manchester’s Glaisyers after qualifying into Sherrards’ corporate and commercial department. “I was looking to move in-house when I left Sherrards but was a little light on PQE,” he recalls.
Coupled with a bad economy, the lack of PQE prevented him from making the transition and so, after topping up with a year’s experience at Glaisyers, he moved to greener pastures – literally – as Brookfield Rose’s office is sited on a working farm in Knutsford, Cheshire.
“It’s mainly sheep and cows, so it makes for quite a loud day at the office when the lambing season comes round,” he jokes. “It certainly beats the hum of traffic that you get working in a city centre office.”
Hulsken knew early in his career that he wanted to move in-house rather than vie for partnership.
“I never wanted to be a partner,” he says. “I knew early on that the law firm structure wasn’t for me and had always banked on going in-house and being more than just a legal adviser.
“And the more time I spent in private practice, the more I realised that although I enjoyed the work, the politics of partnership did not appeal to me.”
Six months after arriving at Brookfield Rose as assistant legal counsel, he was promoted to group head of legal when his boss became managing director. Since then, the company has grown at a rate of knots, establishing and acquiring ventures and more than tripling the size of its staff.
“By the end of 2012, we had branched out extensively,” he says. “The difference between the company now and when I joined is incredible. We now have a European presence, 10 companies, and are looking further afield internationally.”
The companies are mainly based around de Poel’s existing work. “We expanded by adding ancillary services complementary to existing products,” says Hulsken, who has been at the centre of the growth.
The majority of the companies were established by Brookfield Rose. Only a couple – such as Compli With Us, which deals with compliance documentation for temporary workers – were acquired.
“Pretty much everything has been established,” he says. “We’ve started doing some acquisitions recently but we really don’t mind how we expand. We’re looking at more acquisitions but everything else has been through organic growth and incorporating companies as we go.
“As a group we are very fortunate,” he adds. “We’re strong and are able to look at different markets and launch our own competition if we feel that we are in a good position to do so.”
Outside of setting up new ventures, his work is concentrated around expanding the business in Europe. According to Hulsken, the group’s core service, reducing costs around hiring temporary labour, can be applied to any jurisdiction.
Fitting itself between large companies that need temporary labour and the agencies that supply that labour, the consultancy focuses on standardising the supply to the client, saving it money.
As the only practising lawyer in the business, Hulsken sits at its heart, dealing with anything and everything that crosses his desk.
“I’ve been involved with the growth strategy from the ground up, that is the beauty of it,” he says. “I am involved all the way through, from incorporating it through to looking at the commercial offering and how it will work, and assessing the risk and liabilities.
“Working in-house means that you get stuck in with every aspect of the business. The thing that always frustrated me about private practice was that, if you did your job well, you would not hear about the matter again – you didn’t get to see it pan out.”
That’s not the case now. One such project is the money-lending service MyMate, set up in January 2013.
“We set it up as an alternative solution to what we would dirtily term payday lenders,” he says. “We don’t lend on the same length of terms – we are not as short-term. We want people to see us as a viable alternative to their bank rather than a short-term payday loan.”
A corporate and commercial lawyer in private practice, he quickly had to adapt when establishing the consumer-facing moneylender.
“Starting from scratch on that was really interesting,” says Hulsken. “I’m not a financial services lawyer, so going from writing contracts where the legal counsel would know exactly what I was talking about to having to assume that the customer knows absolutely nothing was exciting.”
Position: Group head of legal
Reporting to: Group financial director
Annual legal spend: £100,000
Total legal capacity: One
de Poel Group
Procures temporary agency labour and uses streamlining software to reduce administrative costs and unnecessary paperwork.
Ensures best practice in the temporary labour market, enabling hirers to know that labour is sourced ethically and legally, and giving recruiters access to a knowledge base to meet client expectations.
de Poel Clarity
Focused on the NHS and the rest of the healthcare sector, de Poel Clarity provides cost savings in the mangement of temporary workers.
A recruitment agency that
aims to improve the employment prospects of disabled people, including those with learning difficulties, and the long-term unemployed.
A credit provider set up as an alternative to traditional banks and payday lenders.
Flo Software Solutions
A cloud-based solution to the common HR and payroll problems that face recruitment agencies, Flo enables them to process payroll, timesheets and bookings.
A payroll umbrella company that simplifies compliance, payslips and tax liabilities.
Delivery Quote Compare
An online service in which individuals and companies describe what they need from a courier and receive free quotes from delivery firms in return.
Compli With Us
Streamlines compliance documentation for temporary workers.
Enables the healthcare sector to check its workforce is fully compliant with regulations.