Sunil Wickremeratne stumbled into IT recruitment. Wicks, as Sunil is known, whose father is Sri Lankan, graduated with an economics degree from London University. He briefly sold ads for a computer magazine publisher before becoming a management trainee at Computer Futures, another recruitment agency on the league table. A little over two years later, he’d peaked. At age 26, he had become the top-performing senior consultant. Looking for a fresh challenge, he approached company founders William Arber and Simon Bottriell in 1990, and proposed the launch of a new company. Eight years later Progressive is one of the fastest-growing private companies in the UK. It was number three on last year’s league table. The IT personnel agency has increased sales from £1m in 1994 to over £26m in 1997, growing at a compound annual rate of over 197%. It’s growing so fast that it’s had to move offices five times. Headquartered in Wimbledon, it has a regional office in Birmingham. Offices in Manchester and Reading are scheduled to open soon. Founded during the recession, Progressive barely broke even its first year. The next couple of years weren’t much better. Wicks actually credits the recession with whipping his sales team into shape. Since selling was like “squeezing blood from a stone, people improved their sales skills and learned the IT business,” he says. “If you did business, you did business because you were very good.” Ironically, Progressive’s biggest competitor is Computer Futures. Progressive not only competes head-to-head with its mother company, but with three sister companies as well. Computer Futures has spawned two competitors including Progressive, and Progressive itself has spun off two companies. Advertisements portray the businesses as fierce competitors. For the most part, they are. While the companies share buying power, for example, of office supplies and advertising – running roughly five times as many ads as their nearest competitors — they do not share applicant names, database information, or even placement numbers. In fact, the companies compete in such earnest that Wicks worries about infighting. Still, he’s confident the competition spurs employees on and it gives the company its competitive edge. Since candidates who don’t view them as part of a group are more likely to sign up with each company, the group has a five times greater chance of placing them in a job.
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