Life Stories – Marion Zalkin

What kind of marketing did you use to start the business?

I used personal canvassing.  I sat in an office and used Yellow Pages which was very big then and telephoned all the companies in the fashion industry listed, one by one.  It was a hard and boring, long slog but, by the time I was finished, they most certainly knew all about me!!

What year did you start the recruitment agency?

The agency was launched in 1972, during a very exciting era in the fashion industry.

You started this business in a time where there couldn’t have been many, if any, specialist agencies in existence and our readers would be interested in knowing if you would do anything differently if you were starting the same business today.

I would now do a lot differently of course.  I would be using all the most modern electronics now available and save myself a lot of time and energy.

The company was based on Regent Street in London and employed 50 staff, but how long was it before you knew that you had hit on to something good with the business?

I was in Great Portland Street in London for a couple of years and then we went to Hallam Street to expand, followed a couple of years later to Tottenham Court Road then, finally, on to Regent Street……but it was on Hallam Street that I knew it would be a strong business.  By then, I had developed a lot of sensitivity to candidates and clients alike and could actually feel the pulse in the business.

When and where were you born?

I was born in the middle of London at the end of 1947, which now makes me very old. 

Did you go to university or college? How did you decide what you wanted to study?

I had no ambition other than to go on to University first, but my mother was a widow and financial circumstances at home did not allow for me to do that.  It was also not the norm, so I went on to do a Pitman’s course in Shorthand and Typing (which was also not so common) but I was very sure I was not going to work in any factory, which is where a lot of my friends were headed.  You must understand that life in the UK was very different then.  Even today, I still use the skills I learnt there. 

What was your first job? What did you like or not like about it?

My first job was with a very large insurance company and I loved it.  It opened my eyes to a completely different world of business and such nice people.

I was promoted within three years and stayed a further four years, but one day I saw an advert for a secretary to the managing director of a Saville Row company.  I applied and was surprised to get it.  It was there that the idea of an agency came about as lots of tailors etc. came in and were always asking me if I knew of any jobs available.  It was also a wonderful place to learn about that very special side of the clothing industry.  So, there it was – the germ that really started Menswear Agency which, of course, was followed on by the Womenswear Division.

How did you get your current job and what positives and negatives did you experience along the way?

I presently run an engineering company – it’s a long story how I got to that, but I am still working full time and loving it.  I guess I’m not the type to give up work to sit and watch TV.  We only deal with major fleets, so there is always a lot of client contact, which is my favourite bit.  It is a follow on from interviewing I suppose.

List 3 things you couldn’t live without.

My mobile phone, mascara and family support!

Do you have any special sayings or expressions?

‘Nobody died’, ‘tomorrow is another day’ and ‘cars are just lumps of metal’.

What do you think has stayed the same about you throughout life?

I think my calmness and integrity; I am also very stubborn when I need to be so when I get an idea, I am always quietly determined to deal with it.  I also never leave anything until tomorrow; I always like to deal with it today.

What words of wisdom can you pass on to the next generation of job seekers looking for a career in your industry?

Advice to new job seekers in any industry……qualifications are vital. 

Love your industry or leave it.  Do not spend time on something that you hate. 

Work, Work, Work!

What words of wisdom would you share with your 21 year old self?

When things go wrong (and they always will) it’s the speed with which you correct it, that shows the quality of your company.

(After 27 years, the Menswear and Womenswear Recruitment Agency is no longer trading and we’re delighted to report that some the beneficiaries are happily enjoying the spoils of their labour!)

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