January marks Reo Groups’ 10 year anniversary. This has been a challenging and exciting journey with many ups and downs. To mark this momentous milestone, I want to share my story; an entrepreneur’s journey of growth, hardship and dreams of what’s to come.
Before the beginning.
I was a genuine misfit. With a failed career in the medical industry (3 different vocations), I realised that therapy in the medical sense was never going to scratch my itch. I had business in my blood and this drove me out of institutions like the public hospital system and Johnson and Johnson. In 2006 I had lost my first business Mind Connection, a Neuro-Linguistic Programming therapy and coaching practice. I sank all my money and then some into that business, which landed me in significant debt. Mind Connection grew to over 18 patients (coaches) on a weekly basis but the revenue didn’t cover my costs. I had a small office on Darling St in Balmain which cost me more per week than what I was earning. I was an inexperienced rookie.
Poor and hungry (literally), I was chasing financial security. I applied to a Recruitment Consultant job with a US Global MNC. I had no idea what recruitment was, and like many recruiters, fell into the trade by accident. My journey at the agency was short and very successful. I had found my calling. In recruitment, I was able to apply all that I had learned in my medical days; bedside manner, coaching and therapy and apply it to my candidates. I became APAC #1 billing recruiter inside of my first 12 months. This was the first time in my life that I felt I fit into a profession. I was hungry for success, but most of all happy that a found a job I felt I fit into.
The following year started with the Global Financial Crisis and the agency’s culture turned. Like any institution, they tightened in anticipation. Slowly all the women in my office left, then my boss, and my bosses boss. Before long I was the only female in the Sydney practice. I felt alone, isolated, unsafe. I know first hand what a lack of diversity looks like, and feels like in the workplace. This ignited my desire of wanting a more nurturing and wholesome workplace for women.
But that’s not why I left. There were a number of events that happened prior to my resignation that triggered my exit, primarily a sexual harassment incident that was poorly managed by the agency. A consultant grabbed me on the bum in front of HR at the High Billers Work Conference. The culprit was a high income earning and top biller for the agency. There was no warning, reprimand or performance management given to him. Like many sales environments, high performers can behave as they want. I have a few stories like this. Boys losing their cool on the drink and then having a go. I was sick of it. Already married to my husband Marcelo for 2 years, I was settled and found these incidences offensive and childish.
This was the catalyst for my exit and this has been my driving energy since to build an organisation that is nurturing and safe for people to have a decent career.
If you want to know more about this, take a read of Legacy, the Sustainable Development Goals In Action Chapter 8.
I resigned. Not a pleasant experience. I had a 6-month non-compete. During this time I was quite frightened and paranoid. I felt like I had PI’s on me and if I spoke to a candidate or client, the agency would do something hurtful or nasty I went silent, not a peep. I honoured my 6-month non-compete agreement.
It’s unusual these days for recruiters to honour their non-compete. People need to work right? However, there is one thing that I truly run my life by and that is to honour your commitments. If you make a commitment, follow through. I believe much of the Reo success has come from this philosophy. It resonates with following through on what you say. This is what builds trust and respect.
Waiting out of the market was hard, I went into a lot of debt, but I knew it was the right thing to do. I gave my former agency 6 months to recover from my exit. That was my thank you to them for teaching me a trade that has set me on course to fulfill my life’s purpose.
If you make a commitment, follow through. I believe much of the Reo success has come from this philosophy
Starting Reo and the financial burden.
Reo? What’s the go with the name?
Well, I didn’t want to name an agency after me that’s for sure. I wanted a name that was one syllable, like Coke or Nike that meant nothing to anyone. I wanted a name that we could build a brand around. A brand that will be worth something one day, an asset that is saleable – not a business built around me and my name.
Starting the business was hard. Marcelo had just sold his last business and the two of us were out of work and had a $500K mortgage. With us both not working for six months this debt grew. But we didn’t let that stop us! We started Reo Group (then Reo Recruitment) in a large shared service office. We set up the office with 4 computers and one interview room. We were tight but we were a professional outfit. We didn’t start the business on a zero dollar budget. We started it and held the vision of what it would become in year one.
We outgrew that office in 9 months. I often reflect on the guts we had to launch into the business with so much gusto. You need to if you are going to start a business. You need to start with as much momentum as possible.
We launched Reo on the 18th of January 2010. Exactly 6 months after I left my former agency. In the first week, I picked up two jobs with long-standing loyal customers, Aldi and Revlon. Within a week I had closed our first two jobs and both on the same day. Both organisations hold a very dear place in my heart and without both, I couldn’t say that Reo Group would be where it is today. I can understand why recruitment is such a hard game. I brought many of my former agency’s customers to Reo Group. I waited my time but they equally waited for me. When an agency loses a strong consultant, it can be annihilating. This is the nature of the beast. That’s why you need a robust recruitment method that transcends individual billers that you can recruit your customers into over the long term.
Where did Raghav come from?
Raghav was a candidate I placed at Capital Finance in 2007. After I left the Agency he asked to see me as a friend. We caught up in Concord one night and he said to me, “I know you guys are going to start something, I want in”. Before Reo even had a name, Raghav had joined the business. He resigned from Capital Finance on a handshake and started with Reo a few weeks after we launched. He is as pivotal to Reo’s success and growth as I have been. Raghav is a business partner and he has also been a friend. We have grown up together. This will be one of the most beautiful stories I will be sharing with my grandchildren as I age.
My greatest challenge.
To grow an agency you need to grow recruiters. Who was going to join the 2-year-old recruiter? No one! I was a rookie. I knew it and my brand was laughable.
My biggest issue was attracting recruiters, so I decided I wouldn’t target recruiters. I knew I would fail in this. Instead, I went with a strategy of targeting Finance professionals and teaching them recruitment. For every 2 I taught, 1 would fail. I had a great training program but it took me a good 8 years to figure out the profile of finance professional that would be able to learn sales and convert their career. Since taking this strategy, I have successfully trained close to 30 non-sales professionals to be recruiters. I believe that anyone can do any job they want, as long as they have a deep burning desire and their underling strengths align.
10 years on, I have managed to overcome the rookie label and I am now able to attract and hire experienced recruiters. This has been the biggest challenge and also the most fulfilling slog of my life.
And so this has been phase one of my exciting and challenging journey with Reo! In Part 2, I will share my journey to scale, my failures, having babies and working, and my vision and hope for the future.
Have you had any similar experiences, in business or in life? Sharing with one another is the key to adult growth, so I would be delighted to hear from you.