Norman Broadbent Plc (LON:NBB) Chief Executive Officer Mike Brennan caught up with DirectorsTalk for an exclusive interview to discuss their year-to-date trading update, growth over the period, the impact of COVID-19 and his confidence in the Company.
Q1: An update on year-to-date trading published earlier, Mike what were the key highlights from that update?
A1: We felt it was important to get a couple of messages out to the market and to our shareholders this morning.
Obviously, we had very strong 2019 results so we had revenues up 22% last year, we had group net fee income up by 15% last year and obviously the group returned to a full-year profit. We went into 2020 in good shape and we had some good momentum.
Now, obviously, COVID hit us in March, we were due to release our results in April, that’s now been delayed because of COVID so we’re like lots of other companies out there that have unfortunately had to delay. What we’ve put out in January and today, they are the results so there’s no changes there.
I think the critical thing was we wanted to show to the market that our increase in net fee income had continued so if you look at the first four months of this year versus the first four months of last year, we’re actually about 12% up on the same period last year. So, that’s good, that’s despite these challenging markets.
We also wanted to let the market know that despite this downturn, our Company was actually profitable in March and April so we’re doing well considering.
Q2: So, what were the main changes that have contributed to growth over that period?
A2: I think there’s a number of things. Had we stayed as a traditional executive search recruiter, we wouldn’t be here today but because we started to make these strategic changes 4 years ago, we’re now a more well-rounded professional services business. So, we’ve got different service lines that can be deployed at different times by different clients and the different circumstances and that gives us a huge amount of agility.
Whereas one part of our business may be down on revenue, so in this case it’s going to be the traditional search business, but on the flip side of that, our interim business is doing well, it’s a great hedge to have in these difficult times so they are, as a team, doing extremely well in the business. Our solutions, which again is very agile, very creative group within our business, they’ve responded to these changing market conditions.
I think overall, because culturally we’ve changed so much, it’s more innovative, it’s more entrepreneurial, we have a philosophy of ‘client first’ so we always try and find a solution for a client, I think that’s what’s pulled us through this very difficult 8-week period.
Q3: Talking of that 8-week period, what impacts has COVID 19 had on Norman Broadbent and how have you adapted to all of this?
A3: We actually were prepared to go and work remotely very early so I work through the SARS crisis in 2003, I was based out in Hong Kong so I’d experienced at first-hand the impact these viruses can have on business.
Clearly, what happened in 2003 in Hong Kong is nowhere near as bad as what we’ve got today but we did go through an element of social and work distancing so with this thing coming up, myself and the management team prepared very quickly.
So, we made sure that all of our tech was up to date, where we didn’t have the right tech, we bought it, the software was good and all the protocols were put in place for remote working. So, as soon as the Prime Minister said on that fateful evening, “if you can work from home, work from home” we were ready to go.
We went into remote working straightaway and our teams have settled very quickly, I have to take my hat off to the way that they’ve operated as a team, it’s amazing. We’ve managed to work our way through this and trade almost uninterrupted.
Now, we’re back in our office, it’s our first day back, fully compliant with safety requirement and as and when people feel it’s safe to return to the office, this is a safe place for them to be.
Q4: Now, as you mentioned earlier, you were due to publish 2019 results in April but just like everybody else they’ve been delayed. Is there anything listeners should be looking out for in terms of news flow over the coming months?
A4: Nothing that I can think of. Obviously, in challenging times like this we have a duty to our shareholders to keep them informed as much as we possibly can and we will. I’m a great believer in good news flow, I talk to our shareholders, large and small, on a regular basis so if there’s any shareholders out there, feel free to contact me but we’ll keep the news flow coming as appropriate and when we can.
I’d like to think we would be in the position to get our results out in the coming months, it’s unfortunate that COVID has slowed everything down.
Q5: In the last hour or so, we’ve just seen that you’ve bought some shares yourself in Norman Broadbent, what can you tell us about that Mike?
A5: Obviously, because we knew what the results were and I wanted to buy shares, I’m confident in the Company, and I’ve had the opportunity, I’ve had clearance this morning from our NOMAD and the Board to go in and buy some more shares. So, I’ve just topped up a little bit, I want all of our shareholders to know that I’m in it with them as well and I’m looking forward to, one day, hopefully a healthy return.