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As recently published in Recruitment International, Jonathan Lee, founder of Jonathan Lee Recruitment, spoke to Becky Wilson as the company celebrates its 40th anniversary, sharing his thoughts on everything from technology to plans for the future.

Jonathan began his recruitment career in 1976; after applying for a role through a recruitment company, he was so impressed with the interview process, he asked to join them instead. He worked for the company for two years and set up its Birmingham office, before deciding to start up on his own in 1978 launching Jonathan Lee Recruitment in the West Midlands, focusing on the engineering and manufacturing sectors.

Today, the company has 100 employees, and has offices in Stourbridge, Basildon and Warwick. Reflecting on the process of starting up his own business, Jonathan reveals, “It was very challenging as companies in the West Midlands at this time were really not used to using agencies, especially for technical recruitment.

Forty years on the business continues to go from strength to strength, innovating and adapting to meet the opportunities and challenges of today’s recruitment environment. Jonathan explains that there is currently a great opportunity to expand its design services company, due to the demand for more design and digital modelling services, particularly from established and emerging electric vehicle OEMs.

The company’s search and selection business is also growing, and it is seeing an increased need for permanent and contract recruitment across several industry sectors. One of the major challenges, in comparison, is increasing levels of legislation, most notably GDPR. There also continues to be a shortage of high-quality candidates and Jonathan observes, “Many companies now have their own in-house recruitment teams, so we must remain ahead of the game to continue to demonstrate additional capability.”


With the company celebrating its 40thanniversary during 2018, Lee believes that its special culture is key to its success. “We are very proud of our culture which is extremely supportive and promotes teamworking, a can-do attitude, family spirit, professional attitude and a good work/life balance. As the company has grown, our employees still regularly socialise, although I no longer know all of our team’s families personally. Our core values are the same, and it remains a family business”.

In order to promote this culture and attract and retain key talent, Jonathan shares, “Our brand is key to attracting people and we try to ensure that work is fun. Our employees will stay with us whilst they remain happy and we continue to be successful.” When it comes to adding new talent to the business, the company is always looking out for people with a good attitude, empathy and crucially, an ability to understand its technical markets.

To celebrate the landmark anniversary, the company held a celebratory anniversary luncheon for over 200 clients, business partners and staff in June, as well as a family fun day for staff. The summer party took place in September, and former employees were invited to a celebratory gathering more recently. Jonathan Lee Recruitment is committed to its CSR work and supporting local charities. As part of this, at the anniversary luncheon, the company raised £4,000 for The Emily Jordan Foundation, a charity that supports people with learning difficulties in accessing the workplace.  


Jonathan Lee Recruitment is positive about the impact of new technologies on business and Jonathan says, “They present an opportunity to interact with our customers more quickly and in a more targeted manner. We believe that, used correctly, these technologies should improve the accuracy of our sourcing activities.” Rather than thinking that artificial intelligence may replace recruitment consultants, Jonathan believes AI will support staff to find talent with the right skills quicker.

“Our consultants understand both the technical aspects and the softer skills of the roles we handle,” he shares, “We do not see AI being an effective substitute for the human interaction that matches candidates to a client’s need and vice versa.”

Considering the changes the industry has experienced since he started out, Jonathan mentions that immense changes in technology and data processing have created more of an “arm’s length process”. Despite this, he emphasises that a personal service is still very much required, particularly with SMEs.


During his 42 years in recruitment, Jonathan has always placed a great importance on candidates and believes they are as important today as ever, but happen to be more scarce. Due to skills shortages in the sectors the company operates in, he reveals they are having to look further afield to find the right talent. When it comes to attracting this talent to new roles, he shares that recent legislation has made this more difficult:

“The benefits of being able to offer a flexible workforce to clients using contract staff have been eroded by a raft of legislation from the EU over recent years. The traditional benefits enjoyed by contractors over permanent staff in exchange for less job security has largely been mitigated.” The company continues to find ways to attract staff for clients, and Jonathan adds that Brexit has led to a stalling in investment, which could have a big impact in the coming months.

With over 40 years’ recruitment experience, Jonathan has got to know the industry well. When asked what he enjoys about working in the sector, he reveals, “I am a people person, and this is a people industry. I like the challenge of winning new business, the pleasure of meeting clients’ needs and helping candidates in their careers. I also get a lot of satisfaction from seeing our own team members progress.”

As we come to the end of our conversation, Jonathan shares his thoughts on what makes a successful business. He reveals, “I believe any successful business needs to differentiate itself from its competitors and provide the service that is needed at that time. Retention of staff has been key for us. Continuity is also key for clients.” Discussing leadership qualities, he admits that he is “still learning”, but says that he and his managing director, David Hale, both believe that: “You really need to understand your people and whilst being fair and consistent is critically important, you need to treat staff as individuals and keep praising them for their hard work, commitment and success. You should also maintain a happy working atmosphere and share success with all your team.”

When considering the future of recruitment, Jonathan stresses that it will remain vital for recruiters to, “Thoroughly understand a client’s needs for skills but also for cultural fit, and source appropriate candidates.” He thinks that technology will continue to drive change but believes this remains the key to great recruitment. Looking to the future for Jonathan Lee Recruitment, the company is focused on strengthening some of its markets, growing its design services and contractor base, as a flexible workforce will be critical in an uncertain market in the run up to Brexit. He adds that sustainability is also high on the agenda.

After reflecting on the company’s 40 year history, he hopes that the business will continue to support the industries into which it recruits and be a part of the continued success of UK engineering and manufacturing long into the future.

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