James A. Reed (entrepreneur)

James A. Reed (born April 1963) is a British businessman. He is Chairman and Chief Executive of the Reed group of companies, which comprises Reed Specialist Recruitment, Reed Learning, Reed in Partnership and Reed Online. He is the son of Sir Alec Reed, who founded the company in 1960.

James Reed
James A. Reed

(1963-04-12) 12 April 1963
Woking, Surrey, England
NationalityBritish and Maltese
OccupationChairman and CEO, Reed Group
Spouse(s)Nicola Reed née Arkell
Parent(s)Sir Alec Reed, Adrianne Reed (née Eyre)


Reed attended Scaitcliffe prep school and St Paul's. He graduated from Christ Church, Oxford in 1984 with a degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) and subsequently gained an MBA from the Harvard Business School, where his father briefly joined him to study.

At Oxford, Reed was political editor of Samizdat, a magazine for political science students. At Harvard he produced a case study and video about slum improvement works in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Titled In The Shadow of The City,[1] the case study was taught at Harvard and other Universities. Reed was travel editor of Harbus News, the Harvard Business School's student news organisation.

Early career

Reed's first job was in a cemetery, levelling graves at a burial site in Old Windsor.[2] In an interview with The Independent newspaper Reed said: "It was miserable, it was cold, it was horrible and hard – and I didn't last very long at it." [3]

After graduating from Oxford in 1984, Reed sought to work for an entrepreneur. He wrote a speculative job application to Gordon and Anita Roddick of the Body Shop plc. The couple subsequently employed him as assistant to then-chairman Gordon. Reed has described his time at the Body Shop as his transition from university to the world of work. He has cited Anita Roddick as an influence, saying: "If a bottle of jojoba hand lotion wasn't displayed properly on the shelf, she'd pull you up on it. And I really liked that — that combination of real drive and enthusiasm, and getting the details right."[4]

During 1985–1986 Reed worked as a media planner and buyer for Saatchi & Saatchi plc, where he planned and managed advertising campaigns for British Rail, Club 18-30, Eurotunnel and Procter and Gamble.

From 1987 to 1988 Reed worked for Afghanaid and Help the Aged, co-ordinating relief and development programmes in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Soviet-occupied Afghanistan.[5] In Afghanistan he established a village assistance programme for farmers affected by regional conflict. He also co-ordinated fundraising, publicity and sponsorship services for Afghanaid, and reported on the Afghan conflict for The Independent newspaper.[6] To enter Afghanistan from Pakistan's border, Reed travelled disguised as an Afghan with a party of Mujahideen rebels.[7]

Following his graduation from Harvard in 1990, Reed began a two-year production course at the BBC, where he worked as an assistant producer on documentaries and factual programmes. These included BBC TV's Business Matters, for which Reed produced Crazy Ways for Crazy Days, a 50-minute documentary about management guru Tom Peters, and The Pros and The Cons, an inside view of prison privatisation at Strangeways. After the Tom Peters documentary grossed £1m, Reed requested funding to make a similar programme – but was turned down, leading him to grow dissatisfied with his employment at the BBC.[8]

Reed became a non-executive director of Reed in 1992. In a 2014 radio interview, Reed spoke of the circumstances leading up to joining the family business full-time:[9] "Joining the family business wasn't a fait accompli. When my father got to 60 he said 'James, there's not much point having a family business if there isn't any family in it'. I'd been sitting on the fence for some time. Then one day he said: ‘That job that I have been talking to you about? It’s going to be in The Sunday Times Appointments section next week – do you want to apply or not?" That got me off the fence! I was fearful of following him. He was a very successful entrepreneur who'd set up this business and he was well loved in the business. I was worried about failing. That fear of failure probably kept me on the fence for longer than it should have done."

Reed Group

Reed joined the Reed Group full-time in April 1994, as director of operations. He became Chief Executive in February 1997.[10] To symbolise the handover of control of the company, Reed's father presented him with a conductor's baton. The baton now hangs on the wall of Reed's personal office at the company's headquarters in Covent Garden, London.[11]

In press interviews, Reed is often asked to respond to the accusation that his appointment to the family business was an act of nepotism, which he consistently concedes. In a 2010 Guardian interview he said "There is no other way of describing it";[12] in a 2013 interview with Associated Newspapers he said: ‘The family joke is that I had a 30-year interview and eventually got in’.[13][14] Reed's father is quoted as believing that family-run businesses "...cut out a lot of company politics".[15] Reed succeeded his father to the position of chairman in 2004.[16]

Reed has said that he considers his three most significant contributions to the Reed Group to be the development of reed.co.uk, the advent of Reed in Partnership and the globalisation of the company.[17] Under his leadership the company's turnover has grown from £150m to £1.1bn.[18] In June 2018 he relocated Reed Group's corporate HQ from Malta to the UK, citing the firm's predominantly British operations and his personal confidence in Britain's economy post-Brexit.[19]

Welfare-to-work (Reed in Partnership)

In 1997 the-then Paymaster General Geoffrey Robinson invited Reed to bid for the inaugural contracts issued by the newly elected Blair Government which, as part of its New Deal programme, saw some of the traditional work of Job Centres outsourced to the private sector. As of 2011, Reed in Partnership employed 900 staff. Reed has expanded the business into Poland and Australia.


As chief executive, Reed delisted Reed Executive from the UK Stock Exchange in 2003, buying back the company for 140p per share, at a valuation of £62.6 million, an 18% premium to the previous day's closing price. Shares in Reed Executive rose 15% following the announcement.[12][20]

At the time, some financial commentators suggested that the Reed family were taking advantage of a lull in the firm's share price, in the wake of both a cyclical downturn and the controversy over Reed's decision to spin off Reed Health.[21][22] Two years later Reed would launch a £38m hostile takeover for Reed Health, following which the company eventually came back under the Reed family's control.

Reed stated that the firm was delisted because it no longer had need of outside capital. In his autobiography, Reed's father suggested that the de-listing was due in part to the publication of the Higgs and Cadbury reports into public company governance, both of which called for wide-ranging restrictions upon directors and their appointments.[8]


reed.co.uk was the first recruitment website offered by a recruitment agency in the UK.[23] It launched in 1995 with 40 vacancies. It now advertises over 270,000 vacancies a day. In interview, Reed has made light of the fact that the company's first website was suggested and built by a young IT contractor nicknamed "Pancake the Clown", after the contractor's sideline business as a children's entertainer. Reed later said: "The truth of the matter is, I got Pancake the Clown to build our first prototype."[24]

Reed has also spoken of being "horrified" when a young member of staff suggested that the website should offer vacancies advertised by rival recruitment firms. Reed would go on to approve the experiment; the scheme began in May 2000 and by November of the same year over 2000 rival firms had registered on the site. Reed would go on to credit the idea as being the foundation of the firm's online strategy; the junior staff member was paid a £100,000 bonus for his suggestion.[25]

Media commentary

Reed regularly comments in the media on employment issues, including apprenticeships,[26][27] automation,[28] zero-hours contracts,[29] workplace skills, employee engagement,[30][31] taxation reform for family businesses[32] and jobs for prisoners and ex-prisoners.[33] He has called for state contracts to be held back from firms that deliberately delay payment to creditors; citing the collapse of Carillion and the £2bn it owed to its suppliers, Reed has characterised such firms as "drunk-drivers".[34][35] He has also encouraged school-leavers to consider joining the workplace instead of attending university, and has called upon Oxbridge universities to increase their intake by doubling their semesters.[36][37][38]

Reed is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). He was formerly an Associate of the Prime Minister's Delivery Unit and a member of the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR)'s business-led Taskforce on Race Equality and Diversity in the Private Sector. In the run-up to the 2010 general election, Reed conducted public video-interviews with the three Parliamentary candidates nominated for the role of Secretary of State (Steve Webb, Yvette Cooper and Theresa May), asking questions sent in by job hunters.[39] For the 2017 general election, Reed's cross-party interviews were conducted with Damien Hinds,[40] Debbie Abrahams[41] and Baroness Kramer.[42]

Television appearances

Between 2008 and 2018, Reed was depicted in a series of humorous TV adverts featuring the actor and comedian Rufus Jones. Some of these adverts have been directed by the previous year's winners of Reed's annual Short Film Competition.[43] The adverts begin with Jones introducing himself as James Reed. Jones' portrayal of Reed is a knowingly over-acted caricature of a comic book superhero, one who has the superpower to transform job-hunters into their ideal vocation.[44] In one advert Reed makes a cameo appearance as an ice cream seller who is transformed into a nightclub DJ by the character of James Reed as played by Jones. The adverts have received more than 28 million YouTube views.[45] The 2016 TV campaign sees Jones playing Reed as a comic knight.

Reed has made appearances in Series 11 and Series 13 of BBC Television's The Apprentice.


Reed is a trustee of several Reed family charitable initiatives, including The Reed Foundation and The Big Give Trust. The Big Give was founded by James's father Sir Alec Reed in 2007 and has helped to raise over £112m for UK-registered charities.

Grenfell Tower appeal

Reed's family home in London is within sight of Grenfell Tower. After witnessing the Grenfell Tower fire, Reed set up a Big Give charity appeal that raised £1m within 48 hours of the disaster. The appeal went on to raise £2.6m before being closed in September 2017. Reed donated £100,000 of his own money and The Reed Foundation donated a further £100,000, alongside donations made by members of the public, businesses and local organisations. The proceeds were donated to The K&C Foundation. Reed has called for some of the appeal proceeds to be spent on an educational centre, for residents of the area to learn coding and other digital skills, as part of a wider project to form a hub of digital companies in North Kensington.[46][47]


Put Your Mindset to Work

Coauthored by Reed and Harvard lecturer Paul G. Stoltz, Put Your Mindset to Work was published by Portfolio Penguin in May 2011. The book offers research data underlining the importance of employee mindset, citing that 97% of employers would put mindset ahead of skill set when recruiting. The book goes on to identify three elements of a competitive employment mindset, namely Global, Good and Grit, which the authors summarise as "the 3G's". Global is said to measure an employee's ability to set their actions and decisions in a global context; Good refers to an employee's interpersonal sensitivity and a desire to do good for others; Grit references an employee's tenacity and intensity in the workplace.[48]

Put Your Mindset to Work was awarded the CMI Management Book of the Year Award in the Commuters' Read category.[49] The book entered the USA Today best-seller list in June 2011.[50] A second edition of the work was published in August 2013, with jacket endorsements from Timpson CEO James Timpson, Gordon Roddick and management author Jim Kouzes.

Why You: 101 Interview Questions You'll Never Fear Again

Reed's second book with Penguin Portfolio features examples of interview questions and strategies for answering them, based on research obtained from Reed's network of hirers, recruiters and interviewees.[51] The book's premise is that all interview questions are variations on 15 distinct themes, referred to as "The Fateful Fifteen". Reed encourages candidates to relate all interview questions to these 15 themes, while cautioning against preparing canned answers in advance, arguing that this approach gets in the way of genuine and spontaneous conversation.

Bookbag.co.uk awarded the title a "Highly Recommended" in its review section;[52] The Notting Hill Post called the book "...essential reading"[53]

The 7-Second CV: How to Land the Interview

In January 2019 Reed published his third book, with the Virgin Books imprint at Ebury. The title is a reference typical amount of time a recruiter will spend reading a CV before deciding to shortlist or reject an application. The book is written in two voices, consisting of Reed’s commentary on first-person accounts from front-line recruiters. As with his other works, the book was crowd-sourced using Reed Executive’s network, and builds on Reed’s ideas of a "growth mindset”.

The overall theme is that jobseeker CVs should give more consideration to the time-pressure faced by the recruiter, where most vacancies are heavily oversubscribed and many CVs appear alike. The book offers advice on presenting a relevant work history and honing a unique selling point. Other topics include automated applicant-tracking systems and the role of social media profiles. The book carries an endorsement by Lord Sugar.[54]

The Happy Recruiter

In June 2019 Reed published The Happy Recruiter, a short book offering career advice for professional recruiters.[55]

Personal life

Reed is married to Nicola. The couple live in London and Wiltshire and have six children. His hobbies are said to include running, riding and driving horses, football and mountaineering.[4] He has participated in two of Reed's annual Alpine Leadership Challenges led by the alpinist Stefan Gatt.

Reed has identified his father as the person he most admires in the recruitment industry, and King Alfred the Great as his boyhood hero.[56]


In 2019 Reed was voted top recruitment CEO on Glassdoor's Employees' Choice awards, and 20th CEO across all industries.[57][58] In the same year he was also named to the Europe Staffing 100 list of recruitment professionals, published by Staffing Industry Analysis.


  1. James Reed; Anne Donnelon; Nicholas Richardson. "In the Shadow of the City". HBR.Org. Harvard. Retrieved 26 August 2014.
  2. "My money… James Reed". Metro Newspaper UK. Retrieved 21 March 2019.
  3. Davies, Clancy (22 November 2000). "Twenty Questions: James Reed, Chief Executive, Reed Executive". The Independent. Archived from the original on 21 March 2009. Retrieved 30 July 2014.
  4. Doke, DeeDee. "Venturing into fresh fishing grounds". Recruiter. Redactive Publishing Limited. Retrieved 29 July 2014. She brought huge energy into her work and loved what she did. She also had incredible attention to detail.
  5. "James Reed: The man who took recruitment online". Retrieved 2 March 2018.
  6. Reed, James (23 December 1987). "How The Stinger has transformed the Afghan War". The Independent.
  7. Jones, Lyndsey (22 April 1988). "Behind Enemy Lines: Relief worker's close-up view of the Afghan war". Retrieved 29 July 2014. One of the officers told me to wear Afghan clothes and a turban and pretend to be asleep on the bus...so that's what I did and it was quite easy
  8. Alec Reed; Judi Bevan (5 January 2012). I Love Mondays: The autobiography of Sir Alec Reed CBE. Profile Books. pp. 130–131. ISBN 1-84765-767-2.
  9. Best of the guest; Best of the guest; Best of the guest; Effori, Nilo; Shapers, Business; Best of the guest (27 June 2014). "June 2014". Business Shapers. Retrieved 29 March 2018.
  10. Hirschkorn, Jenny (April 2002). "Interview: A Family Affair". Accountancy Live. Wolters Kluwer. Retrieved 29 July 2014.
  11. Alec Reed; Judi Bevan (5 January 2012). I Love Mondays: The autobiography of Sir Alec Reed CBE. Profile Books. ISBN 1-84765-767-2.
  12. Teather, David (3 June 2010). "Alec and James Reed: recruitment is just the job for father and son". The Guardian. Scott Trust. "It was quite a big deal for me. I was only 34 and it was a bit sooner than I had expected
  13. Owen, Vicki. "I don't like the zero hours deal either – but it's better than no work at all': James Reed on controversial pay plans". Daily Mail. Retrieved 26 August 2014.
  14. BLM interviews James Reed of Reed Recruitment, retrieved 8 October 2018
  15. Colin Barrow; Robert Brown; Liz Clarke (2004). The Business Enterprise Handbook. Kogan Page Publishers. p. 344. ISBN 978-0-7494-4100-5. Retrieved 4 August 2014. You know the MD won't be headhunted
  16. Duff, Charlie (20 July 2010). "James Reed: The three Rs - recruitment, retention and relationships". HR Zone. Retrieved 30 July 2014.
  17. "Ten Minutes with….James Reed". 24 January 2012. Retrieved 30 July 2014.
  18. Christie, Sophie (4 September 2018). "Taking over from a CEO: How to make a success of succession". The Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 27 September 2018.
  19. Torrance, Jack (9 February 2019). "Reed insists Brexit will pay off as family pocket £4.1m". The Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 10 February 2019.
  20. "Reed Executive to go private". StockMarketWire.com. 4 April 2003. Retrieved 4 August 2014. Due to negative market sentiment towards smaller quoted companies and the increasing illiquidity of the Reed Ordinary Shares, the directors of James Reed & Partners believe that the benefits to the company of maintaining its listing have been significantly eroded.
  21. George, Jemma (4 April 2004). "Reed Executive jumps on MBO move". Citywire.co.uk. Retrieved 4 August 2014. There was nothing to suggest trading would improve in the short-term, which is in keeping with the message from others in the sector such as Robert Walters, Michael Page, PSD and Whitehead Mann...their share prices continue to languish at new lows creating opportunities for corporate action.
  22. Prynn, Jonathan (2 December 2002). "Reed sackings put Sawyer on spot". This is Money. Retrieved 31 July 2014. In what is reckoned to be an unprecedented act...Alec Reed voted without warning to block the reappointment of chief executive Christa Echtle and finance director Desmond Doyle, effectively terminating their contracts on the spot. Echtle...believes Alec Reed intervened because of a resolution at the annual meeting to issue new shares to fund acquisitions. It is understood Alec Reed did not want a dilution of his controlling holding in the company.
  23. "E-MAIL US YOUR CV, PLEASE". Management Today. Retrieved 4 August 2014.
  24. "Business Shapers – James Reed". JazzFM. Retrieved 4 August 2014.
  25. Doke, DeeDee (31 July 2004). "Venturing into fresh fishing grounds". Recruiter.co.uk. Retrieved 31 July 2014.
  26. "CEO Today Magazine March 2018 Edition". FlippingBook. 19 March 2018. Retrieved 29 March 2018.
  27. "'A society that truly embraces apprenticeships will revolutionise work'". Tes. 27 March 2018. Retrieved 29 March 2018.
  28. "Don't fear the rise of the machine says James Reed | Recruiter". www.recruiter.co.uk. Retrieved 2 March 2018.
  29. Owen, Vicki (3 August 2013). "'I don't like the zero hours deal either – but it's better than no work at all': James Reed on controversial pay plans". This Is Money. Retrieved 31 July 2014. 'I don't like zero-hour jobs, don't get me wrong, but they are part of the scene'
  30. "The two principles of great employee engagement". www.managementtoday.co.uk. Retrieved 19 February 2019.
  31. Reed, James. "Why summer work experience is so important". FE News. Retrieved 16 August 2018.
  32. Clark, Andrew (14 November 2011). "Family firms call for help to remain going concerns". The Times. Retrieved 4 August 2014.
  33. Warrell, Helen (3 October 2011). "Give prisoners better chance to find work, say company chiefs". Financial Times. Pearson. Retrieved 31 July 2014.
  34. "Stop giving state contracts to late payers, says Reed". This is Money. Retrieved 30 January 2018.
  35. Reed, James (28 February 2018). "End the scandal of 90-day payments: What we must learn from the Carillion collapse". International Business Times UK. Retrieved 2 March 2018.
  36. Reed, James. "Widening Participation - What Oxbridge can do to diversify more". FE News. Retrieved 18 June 2018.
  37. "Jobs boss: Talented teens don't all need university". Evening Standard. Retrieved 30 January 2018.
  38. Haworth, Elliott (5 February 2018). "Firms 'doing a Carillion' will murder small businesses, says REED chairman". City A.M. Retrieved 8 February 2018.
  39. "Reed.co.uk Election interviews". Retrieved 31 July 2014 via YouTube.
  40. reed.co.uk (5 June 2017), Damian Hinds (Conservative) interviewed by James Reed, retrieved 5 February 2018
  41. reed.co.uk (5 June 2017), Debbie Abrahams (Labour) interviewed by James Reed, retrieved 5 February 2018
  42. reed.co.uk (5 June 2017), Baroness Kramer (Liberal Democrats) interviewed by James Reed, retrieved 5 February 2018
  43. "Street 40". Retrieved 30 July 2014 via YouTube. 4m23s
  44. "Reed.co.uk launches major TV campaign". OnRec.com. Retrieved 31 July 2014.
  45. "Analytics for ReedOnline". YouTube. Retrieved 21 December 2015.
  46. "Reed Chairman makes plea to push The Big Give matching fund for Grenfell Tower victims to £3m". City Philanthropy. 22 June 2017. Retrieved 15 November 2017.
  47. "Big Give Grenfell appeal raises £2.6m: its biggest ever total for an individual cause". UK Fundraising. 7 September 2017. Retrieved 15 November 2017.
  48. Chynoweth, Carly (6 June 2011). "Attitude is worth more than skills". SundayTimes.co.uk. Retrieved 4 August 2014. Back in the worst days of the financial crisis in 2008 I went to a seminar and one of the speakers said 'the problem is we don't know what skills will be most in demand in 10 years'. I remember thinking 'no, of course we don't, but I do know the people I will want to hire', and it was all about mindset."
  49. "CMI: Management Book of the Year 2012 – Dame Mary Marsh". CMI. February 2012. Retrieved 4 August 2014 via YouTube.
  50. "Put Your Mindset to Work". USA Today. Retrieved 4 August 2014.
  51. "Why You? 101 WAYS TO SHINE AT INTERVIEW". Penguin.co.uk. Retrieved 31 July 2014.
  52. Lesley Mason. "Why You? 101 Interview Questions You'll Never Fear Again by James Reed". TheBookbag.co.uk. Retrieved 1 February 2016.
  53. Mary-Lu Bakker. "HOW TO BE A GOOD INTERVIEWEE … BUT DON'T FORGET YOUR SHIRT". The Notting Hill Post. Retrieved 1 February 2016.
  54. "Dreaming of a new job for 2019? Tear up that old CV and take some expert advice". Metro Newspaper UK. Retrieved 9 January 2019.
  55. Grapevine, Recruitment. "Exclusive: Reed Group CEO shares what recruiters need for success". www.recruitmentgrapevine.com. Retrieved 18 June 2019.
  56. Jacobs, Emma (July 2011). "20 questions: James Reed". Financial Times. Pearson. Retrieved 31 July 2014. My boyhood hero, King Alfred the Great. He wasn't very good about the house but he transformed the country for the better and gave the Vikings a good thrashing.
  57. "James Reed recognised as highest-ranking recruitment ceo in uk - Recruitment International". www.recruitment-international.co.uk. Retrieved 25 June 2019.
  58. "Top CEOs UK". Glassdoor. Retrieved 3 July 2018.
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