Ashley Lawrence (Executive MBA, 2018) is the founder and Chairperson of Trinnovo Group. Trinnovo Group is an international recruitment company, bringing together three market specialists and their own social enterprise. The Group’s mission is to build diversity, create inclusion and encourage workplace innovation, “as a recruitment agency, we’re not just sending CVs. It’s actually more important for us than that – we track the impact that we’re having as an organisation”. We caught up with Ashley to find out about the lessons he learnt from the COVID-19 pandemic and his reflections on his time at the Business School.
“My journey was well balanced between year one year two: bringing those together created a fantastic blueprint for our business”
When Ashley started his EMBA at the Business School, his business was one social enterprise with 30 employees. Today Trinnovo Group make up four brands across four locations worldwide, with over 150 employees. Ashley tells us that a big part of the success of Trinnovo Group has been down to the skills he learnt throughout his course. Having left school after completing his GSCEs and going straight into work, Ashley felt he had missed out a little in terms of education – “that’s where the Executive MBA came in”.
Coming to education later in his career gave Ashley a respectful understanding for the importance of education, which in turn has impacted the shape of Trinnovo group. “I don’t think we would have such a focus on learning development, career progression had I not spent some time at the Business School… We put all our leaders through different programmes and training and it’s a big part of our business, but I think that stems from my experience at the Business School.”
Ashley recalls his first-year module in Organisational Behaviour with Professor Clifford Oswick as being particularly significant, “he was really engaging and gave me a real area of understanding around how engagement of people really outweighs, to some degree, business strategy or even operations, particularly if you’re a people-based business”. His thesis on planning and maximising value for the UK recruitment sector gave him the opportunity to talk with other entrepreneurs, allowing him to shape his learning around something that was meaningful for him and his business. “My journey was well balanced between the early part of year one, and the back end of year two, bringing those together created a fantastic blueprint for our business, that underpins lots of the decision making we do today”.
“One of my classmates is still my mentor today, I am very happy to have met him”
Trinnovo Group have managed to successfully navigate the pandemic while still expanding. Ashley explains that one of their key strengths is the trust they have earnt from their employees. In the recent Best Companies to Work For list 2021, Trinnovo Group placed 5th Best Recruitment company in the UK, 9th Best place to work across industries in London and 27th Best place to work across the whole of the UK. Something he gained from his studies was an appreciation for the importance of both education and the alumni network. He is still in touch with many alumni – one of whom is his mentor today!
“The most rewarding part has been seeing people improve every day”
Despite Trinnovo Group’s success as an organisation, the outbreak of COVID-19 still posed the biggest career challenge that Ashley has faced so far. “As a CEO, everyone looks at you to have all the answers but [in the midst of a global pandemic] you definitely don’t have the answers”. The situation forced him to develop a skill set and empathy that he may not otherwise have gained, “COVID actually made us think about becoming more inclusive and empowering as an organisation because you have to build this community of trust and sense of protection in the current climate”. He tells us that this improved communication has allowed them to cultivate new ideas from all areas of Trinnovo Group, “we’ve had some brilliant suggestions, that I never would have thought of, from trainees and people who have only been in the sector for a small period of time”. Trinnovo Group is also running a FastFutures initiative to help 18-22-year old’s gain workplace skills during the pandemic. The programme is currently delivering free digital skills training courses to between four to six thousand candidates between the ages of 18 and 42.
Alongside the pride he feels in overcoming the challenges caused by the pandemic, Ashley tells us the most rewarding part of his career has been “seeing people improve every day: creating an environment where people feel that they can trust and be themselves and come up with new ideas and different ways of thinking. You see some people walk through the door as a trainee and then you see the same people, two years on, running offices, running divisions running practices, launching their own communities… The most rewarding part is seeing people go from good to great.”
Number one: Focus on what you’re passionate about.
Number two: Celebrate failure. I think an entrepreneur’s skill set improves with how they learn from failure. I always thought I would try and get everything right the first time, whereas now I have learnt to embrace failure, try new ideas and take a bit of time to get to the result.
Number three: Listen. There are lots of people who have been there and done it and can share with you some ideas or be a good sounding board. You’re not going to have all the answers all the time, so try and develop a network of people for advice and support.