Hays, the UK’s largest headhunter, today said it had weathered the post-Brexit job drought well and was leaning on rapid international expansion to grow profits.
The FTSE 250 firm posted record annual net fees and profits in what its boss called a “milestone year”, rewarding shareholders with a bumper special dividend.
Hays shares rose over 2.5 per cent in morning trading.
“Probably for the first time ever in our history, we’ve managed to weather the storm of the UK going down 21 per cent at the profit line and yet we’ve still grown the group. That simply would not have been possible in previous cycles,” Hays chief executive Alistair Cox told City A.M..
Operating in 33 countries, around a quarter of fees and less than a fifth of profits are generated in UK and Ireland.
Germany is Hays’ largest single market with fees growing at a rate of 14 per cent each year. With recruitment historically performed in-house, Cox said there are plenty of opportunities for further growth.
I am absolutely certain that in the next five years we can double the size of our German business yet again.
The recruiter cleared all its bank debt, meaning its balance sheet was in its strongest ever position, according to Cox. Generating £217m of cash during the year led to Hays rewarding investors with a special dividend of 4.25p per share. This took total dividends for the year to 7.47p, more than double 2016 payouts.
Cox admitted UK recruiting had dried up in the weeks that followed last year’s Brexit referendum. While there were some green shoots emerging – in particular in the private sector – he did not expect a dramatic uptick at home. Cox said he anticipated “good days and bad days” while a Brexit deal is hammered out over the next two years.