Steve White-Cooper, Add-Victor

7 October 2013

Recruitment agency Add-Victor is finding second careers for former athletes and military personnel. By keeping his eye on the ball, founder Steve White-Cooper is confident of driving business growth.

“Name a company out there that doesn’t want somebody who is a strong communicator, a team player with integrity and the ability to learn fast”, says Steve White-Cooper, founder of Add-Victor, a recruitment agency focused on helping ex-sportsmen and women and former armed forces personnel into business careers.

He says his candidates have already proven that they have these skills and therefore stand out from the typical graduate recruit. “Some companies have even said that they are bored of the types of individuals they are attracting,” he says. “They’ve all got great academics, they’ve started a charity, they’ve climbed a mountain and they’ve been trained so well in interview techniques it’s difficult to tell them apart.”

These people are looking for a long-term career; they’ve sacrificed huge amounts to get there

But White-Cooper found from personal experience that the transition from sporting success to the world of work can be difficult. After university he played for rugby union club Harlequins for five years, winning two caps for England. When he stopped playing at the age of 27 he found work in the insurance industry, but left after 18 months. After nine months out, he was helped into a job in executive search – growing with one company to become its number two. He then launched his own business recruiting predominantly for the banking sector.

“What I learned through that episode was that there was no difference between sport and business. It came down to hard work and I had to use the skills I believe I got from sport,” he explains.
He soon realised the synergies between sports and the armed forces in terms of the skills they had and that businesses required – and the similar challenges faced by both in adjusting to the world of work.

A golden opportunity

Despite a depressed labour market, Add-Victor’s launch – in October 2011 – was timely, considering the build up to London 2012. “The success of Team GB acted as a great stepping stone for us,” White-Cooper says. The company made its first placement in October 2012.

He admits that sport is a good hook that helps him get a foot in the door of the offices of global chief executives. He refers to the unique sales angle

He admits that sport is a good hook that helps him get a foot in the door of the offices of global chief executives. He refers to the “unique sales angle” and the “CSR and branding opportunities” around recruiting past or current sporting stars – even if and when the memory of London 2012 fades. But he also emphasises the academic achievements of the candidates on his books.

“The last thing I want is for athletes to be seen as a bit of a gimmick,” he says. “These people are looking for a long-term career; they’ve sacrificed huge amounts to get there. Every industry has different entry requirements; some require a first-class degree from a top business school, others are more about personality. It’s got to be about finding the right opportunity for the right individual.”

He points to recent research by the Sport Industry Research Centre at Sheffield Hallam University, in which 51 per cent of graduate respondents credited involvement in sport with helping them to develop the teamwork skills and leadership qualities they needed in the workplace. Meanwhile, 94 per cent of the employers surveyed identified a clear link between sports and the skills they looked for in potential employees. Findings also suggested that graduates who engaged in sport had a higher earning potential.

Refining the strategy

Despite the strong reasoning, White-Cooper confesses that he occasionally gets carried away with the idea rather than focusing on the reality.

“You can initially get caught in the euphoria of a pat on the back rather than actually making it in business,” he says. But this is also an area where he has used his client base, and their good will, to his advantage: he has turned to them for advice, rather than using any formal business support services in establishing his company. And his ambition – which he again credits to his sporting background – means that he is pursuing new opportunities for the business all the time.

Although it’s still early days, he says Add-Victor has seen “growth quarter on quarter”. It is already involved in both full-time job placements and internships. In October the company is launching a ten-strong internship programme with a US tier-one financial institution, and it is now looking at what it can do with organisations on the apprenticeship side of things.
White-Cooper is also keen to expand the company internationally and extend its reach in the military (it currently only deals with former officers) and into other niches. “This could potentially include musicians,” he says.

And he is adamant that companies can learn a great deal from elite sports and the armed forces – to the extent that Add-Victor is now offering training and development packages to its corporate clients. “The idea is to make the employees better team players, those who will be able to participate and think critically within the team environment and therefore add greater value to their managers and the company as a whole,” he explains.

Drawing on his own experience, he adds: “The last thing you’d want to do is fill a room with 15 rugby players. But put a few of these individuals within a particular division, get them to look at it from a different perspective, to try to raise the bar internally – and they could help take a company to the next level.”

Case studies

Ashleigh Ball, GB hockey player, 27

Ball competed for England at under 16, 18 and 21 level, made her senior international debut in 2008 and has 30 caps for GB to her name. She won a bronze medal in London 2012 and is currently training towards the Rio Olympics in 2016. With a Bsc in Medical Sciences and a Masters in nutrition, Add-Victor has been able to help her into a part-time role at pharmaceutical company Almirall, allowing her to continue her training, while building a longer term second career.

Tom James, GB rower, 29

James is a double Olympic gold medallist, winning in the coxless fours in both Beijing and London. He made his first appearance for GB as a junior in 2001, and as a senior in 2003. He also represented his university, Cambridge, in the Boat Race four times between 2003 and 2007. In 2009 he was awarded an MBE.

James indicated he might retire in the run-up to last year's Olympics, saying: “It might be time to look at other things in my life”. He is now set to join management consultants Oliver Wyman on a full-time basis in October. “During my own transition I’ve been able to see the value that businesses put on those individuals who can show a high level of drive, communication and clear understanding of teamwork. These are all characteristics that are practised and required of top-level athletes every day,” he says.

Add-Victor factfile

  • Founded: October 2011
  • Staff: Five
  • Candidates: 60% athletes, 40% military officers
  • Clients include: Aon, Almirall, Financial Times, Oliver Wyman and Santander