Matt Southall, the person behind one of Wales' most successful companies and one of the nations most recognised business brands Acorn Recruitment, has announced he is leaving his post as Group Managing Director.
Matt founded Newport-headquartered Acorn in 1992, opening its first branch in his home city on Bridge Street. Since then, the business has gone from strength to strength, boasting some 60 different branches across the UK, Poland, Portugal and Australia, and currently attracting a combined annual turnover of circa £180million.
It is estimated that over the years, Acorn has placed some 2.7million people into new jobs via temporary and permanent positions, cementing Acorn’s reputation as an important contributor to the Welsh and UK economy, and having a fundamental impact on so many individual people’s lives and their families.
Speaking of his departure, Matt said: “It has been nearly 30 years since, with the kind support of three businessmen, initiated by the wonderful Bill Morris, that myself and co-founder Mike Mahoney opened that first branch of Acorn, and I have to say it has been an amazing adventure ever since.”
“Together with some incredible colleagues, building the company from that one branch to the international business it is today makes me very proud – I’ve been so fortunate to have been joined on this journey by such a brilliant bunch of people.”
Over the years, Acorn has consistently made its mark on a vast business sector made up of some 26,000 different recruitment agencies across the UK, of which Acorn reached top 50, achieving many nominations for national awards, including in one year being awarded the coveted titles of both Best Regional Recruitment Agency and the UK’s Best Recruitment Agency at the national Professional Recruiter Awards.
In Wales, Acorn was the first business to appear in the Wales Fast Growth 50 listing for four years in succession, thereby becoming the first Welsh business to win the Excellence in Growth Award, and Matt was also the first recipient of the South Wales Argus Business Award’s Lifetime Achievement Award, in 2018.
Together with Acorn’s parent, the Synergie Group, Matt also set up Acorn Global and Synaco, subsidiaries of Acorn Recruitment Ltd., which now include eleven offices in every major city in Australia.
In 2016, Acorn sold its long-standing training and learning division to Cardiff & Vale College; during its time at Acorn, the business had achieved numerous awards for its apprenticeship programmes and had supported tens of thousands of young people; providing them with their first steps for their future careers.
Faithful to his beloved Newport, the city where Matt was born and raised, Acorn Recruitment sponsored Newport County Football Club for 14 years; at the time becoming the third longest-running sponsorship in British football history.
Remaining true to his roots, Acorn relocated its head offices to Celtic Springs, just outside Newport. Acorn was the first business to invest in the site, a move very much to the liking of the Welsh Development Agency at the time, which wanted a major investor on the site, and were also very keen to keep Acorn’s HQ in Wales. The building was formally opened by Wales’ then First Minister Rhodri Morgan in 2002.
Of particular importance to Matt, is that Acorn is recognised as a genuinely community-centred business, which has invested a significant amount in supporting local causes in the communities where it is based, including becoming Wales’ first corporate partner for the NSPCC full stop appeal, the headline sponsor for the St David’s Hospice annual Dalmatian Ride, working closely with various homeless charities such as the Wallich, and includes the development of Wales’ first CEO Sleepout that raised £80,000 in one night.
Matt has retained particularly close ties to Welsh football and the Football Association of Wales, both on a personal and family level, and also of course through Acorn; most recently through the joint Acorn / FAW initiative, ‘CEO Kickabout’, which brings company directors together for a day of football with former Welsh international players, and in doing so raises significant funds for the FAW Trust, helping to create access to sport for young girls, and children from disadvantaged backgrounds in particular.
Through Matt’s direct influence, Acorn has also helped generate significant levels of fundraising for the Velindre Cancer Centre in Cardiff, and the company still continues to support a huge number of one-off initiatives, children’s sports clubs, and many, many community groups, both throughout Wales and UK-wide.
It was in 2006 when Europe’s fifth-largest recruiter, French company Synergie took a majority stake in Acorn, and with the support of Synergie’s CEO Daniel Augeraeu, they have continued to invest and develop Acorn, with Matt remaining at the helm for the last 15 years.
“I recall a telephone conversation I had with Rhodri Morgan shortly after we had completed the deal, when he remarked once again his admiration for what we had achieved as a business for Wales and for the people and organisations we supported; he asked very directly, “I hope this isn’t the end of Acorn . . . ?”, to which I replied that it was the beginning of a new start, which is how things have turned out.
“The success of Acorn is down to a team of people who believe in the work they do and who genuinely want to help provide the best value for employers and for the people we place with them,” Matt added.
“I will miss Acorn very much of course but the time is right for me and the business, and I wish my former colleagues, many of whom have become very close friends, every success for the next 30 years.”
Daniel Augeraeu, CEO of Synergie, Acorn's parent company said; “We are grateful to Matt for his years of leadership at one of our most emblematic subsidiaries around the world. We wish Matt all the best in his future endeavours, even though we are convinced that he will miss continuing to be involved in a business that supports people to reach their potential.
“We will certainly miss him, and he will be forever associated with the history of Acorn and the Synergie Group.
“Through his various colleagues at Acorn Matt has surrounded himself with a wealth of expertise in the field of global human resources management, as such the succession for Acorn benefits greatly, and Acorn’s Group Operations Director Andrew Tugwell now takes on the role of Interim Managing Director”.