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Lara Quentrall-Thomas,The ‘Little Girl’ That Could

Lara.JPGLara Quentrall-Thomas has built the largest recruitment agency in the country beating out the more established players. Her company, Regency Recruitment has some of the big international names as clients even though she started as a one person business.

How did she do it? Quentrall-Thomas did her Ordinary levels at Naparima Girls in Trinidad and went to the UK to do Advanced levels. When she lost her job in the UK, one of her friends suggested that she register with an employment agency. Quentrall-Thomas had not heard about employment agencies but applied anyway. She was offered a job in 1992 as a training consultant with the company which was located on Regent Street, London. She decided later to name her company after that street.  

She worked with several companies and her last job was at a market research firm and was their HR manager. “I was not feeling challenged and somewhat stagnant,” she explained. Her father, a civil engineer, suggested she come to Trinidad and look into opening a recruitment agency.

In 1996 she returned and her father who was employed with a large UK construction company. Her father, Peter Quentrall-Thomas left construction and entered the IT field and he opened the first Apple store. She explained, “my father was a great influence on me since I was 10 years old. He had his business downstairs and we lived upstairs.” Naturally it would have been hard for the younger Quentrall-Thomas to escape the world of entrepreneurship.

But Quentrall-Thomas remembers her dream was not to start a business. She recalls that father offered her a space in Picton Street, Port-of-Spain in his business. He provided both influence and opportunity. She described her operation as, “me, a fax, phone and a computer.” So in September 1996 Regency Recruitment was born.

At 26 years old Quentrall-Thomas started of to build the business. The recruitment business essentially operates as an intermediary finding positions for job seekers. The bigger the bank of candidates the greater the chance of a match if a recruiter (the client) comes along.

Quentrall-Thomas started not by advertising for job seekers but doing market research. She called up all the big companies especially the international ones and asked for help in understanding the market. “It was literally going through the phone book page by page and calling the HR managers,” she says. Most were cooperative but one manager described her as a ‘little girl’.

She joined a number of organizations including American Chamber of Commerce and the HR Managers Association. The HR association was critical since most of her clientele were members. She says it is not enough to be a member but one should be actively involved or in a leadership position. Her strategy was not to sell but to serve first. Quentrall-Thomas advice to budding entrepreneurs is to “don’t sell, serve and selling can come after.”

Her first client was Citibank, a Fortune 500 company and they wanted a clerical position filled. It was a small start and she was lucky to have someone. The recruitment business is almost like a match making business. Since she did not have funds to advertise like most start ups, Quentrall-Thomas came up with an ingenious strategy to get job seekers. She approached companies and asked them for resumes that did not qualify and many agreed. While she was building up prospective employers, Quentrall-Thomas was slowly building a bank of job seekers.

Regency never advertised except for specific jobs. It was personal selling that did it. Her client list was expanding with names like BG, BPTT, IBM and First Citizens Bank. It was a snow ball effect as she used the big names as references and she got many to give testimonials. She continued with her networking and attended cocktails and seminars. At times there were some international conferences that she could not afford and she would volunteer as this would give her as chance to sell.  

Today the business located at New Street, Port-of-Spain, has grown to 15 full time staff, 500 contract employees and 15,000 candidates on their database. Quentrall-Thomas says many international companies do not have a legal presence here and don’t want to have an HR department. Regency hires, puts their ‘employees’ on the payroll and takes responsibility for taxes and NIS. This outsourcing strategy saves companies like GE and Whirlpool money and time.

In July 2011 Quentrall-Thomas will be District Governor of the Rotary. At age 41 she will be the youngest and be an opportunity to give back. This will take time from her business as her territory is the vast southern Caribbean. She is not worried as she has installed a strong organization structure. “I could be away for two months and the occasional email would work.” she says. Now with an MBA, she can manage from a strategic level and the business will continue to be successful.

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