Business

Selling everything to start again in the energy sector

David Spencer-Percival Image copyright David Spencer-Percival
Image caption Starting a business from scratch was "really scary", says Mr Spencer-Percival

David Spencer-Percival grew up in suburban London and left school at 16 feeling he was "done" with education and wanted to go out into the world.

Fast forward nearly three decades and he has turned not one but two recruitment businesses from zero to multi-million pound turnover enterprises in just a year each time. And that's not his only claim to fame. Before entering the corporate world, he worked in fashion, providing clothing to Robbie Williams during his Take That days.

In 2000, when his career in recruitment kicked off, Mr Spencer-Percival, 44, helped found recruiter Huntress and developed it into a business with a turnover of £100m.

'Thrilling and terrifying'

Despite his success, less than a decade later, he quit his six-figure salary and sold all of his possessions, including a 19th Century manor house in the Cotswolds, his collection of classic cars, antiques and artwork - including work by Damien Hirst - to raise money and start a new business.

In 2010 he started Spencer Ogden, a specialist recruiter in the energy field. It now has revenues of more than £100m a year, offices across the world and employs 400 internal staff and 900 contractors. Last year, it received a Queen's Award recognising the firm's contribution to exports.

Image copyright David Spencer-Percival
Image caption "With these manor houses there is always something wrong with the roof or the garden", says Mr Spencer-Percival

Selling everything and giving up his £350,000 salary at Huntress was "thrilling and terrifying" he says.

"I became successful quite young and I bought lots of toys but it never really satisfied me. I had spent a year at Christie's [auction house] buying antiques and in a week it was gone."

'Frazzled'

"I felt so free. It allowed me to be a lot more flexible. When you have got stuff it is quite complicated to look after, with these manor houses there is always something wrong with the roof or the garden. My poor wife, she had just finished the seventh bedroom - and we sold it," he adds.

But he says his wife, Bonita, was "fantastic - she could see I was clearly unhappy".

Image copyright David Spencer-Percival
Image caption Mr Spencer-Percival says his life is "starting to come back to how it was" with houses in Chelsea, the Cotswolds and Ibiza

Working at Huntress, he had not had a holiday for seven or eight years, although the company "won virtually every award going". "I was frazzled, to be honest," he says.

He decided to go to the US and travel for three months with his wife.

He went with the comfort of already having another iron in the fire. Multimillionaire Sir Peter Ogden, who founded the £3bn Computacenter computer services company had already sounded him out about a new business.

'I don't do failure'

"Sir Peter Ogden rang me up and said 'let's do something, I'll back it'. So I went knowing I had a business plan. It was such a wonderful feeling - I didn't have anything except a pile of money in the bank."

Having already worked in recruitment, he could see there was a gap in the market in the energy sector.

Image copyright David Spencer-Percival
Image caption Mr Spencer-Percival received an award from the Queen for exports, presented by Sir Ian Johnston

"I wanted to set the company up just to do renewable energy, but it's not a very big market. So we broke it out into all energy: nuclear, gas, oil, power and renewables. It took off - it was just phenomenal," says the entrepreneur.

He says he didn't take a salary for two years, which "can be quite expensive" and building the business was really scary as "you always have tight cash flow because you are growing so fast".

Nonetheless, he was certain the business would succeed. "I had this overwhelming confidence I would be successful," he says. "I don't do failure."

He says he got his confidence from his father, who worked in insurance and was "almost aggravatingly confident".

Because the new company has done so well, he says his life is "starting to come back to how it was" with a growing collection of classic cars, and houses in Chelsea, the Cotswolds and Ibiza.

A jacket for Robbie

It's a far cry from his early working life. After leaving school he wanted to work in London, but the bank management scheme he had joined wouldn't transfer him.

"I worked in sleepy villages in these banks. It was so tedious," he says.

A friend suggested recruitment and he soon realised it suited him.

Image copyright David Spencer-Percival
Image caption He decided he wasn't suited to a career in banking

"So I went to work in fashion. I gave it all up - to the horror of my parents. There was no money in it but I wore great clothes and went to the best parties," says Mr Spencer-Percival.

It was while working in the fashion industry that he met his wife Bonita. A dancer with the Royal Ballet and Top of the Pops, she was also the stylist for Take That.

"She came into the shop I was working in. She said 'that jacket will fit Robbie Williams, can I borrow it?'. I said OK - he was my size," he says.

He says after a while in fashion, a friend suggested he would be good at recruitment and that's when he got his first job in the sector despite "having long hair".

If Mr Spencer-Percival's past is anything to go by, it is about time for another change. But he insists that for now, at least, he won't be changing careers or starting from scratch again.

"The next phase is to make it from a small-medium enterprise to a big company and I think we are going to spend the next three to four years doubling the size of the company.

"I think it has got so much potential because it's a very, very big market," he says.

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