Founder: Larissa Robertson
Revenue: $8.47 million
Head Office: New South Wales
Industry: HR & recruitment
Imagine that you’re working at a large not-for-profit that is facing imminent financial doom. Your rescue plan is rejected by the board. You’re in your 20s and never run a business before. What do you do?
If you’re Larissa Robertson, you purchase the remnants of the company, save around 180 jobs and build a business with a revenue of more than $8 million.
The astonishing story unfolded after Robertson took on a role as financial controller of SES, an organisation that had recruitment, landscape and property maintenance and training divisions.
The organisation faced serious financial problems and was placed into administration. Four weeks before it was liquidated, Robertson presented a plan she felt would save SES, by splitting the company in two.
The board rejected the proposal but, rather than simply accepting the decision, Robertson forged ahead regardless.
“The business was poorly managed but had some very great employees and some very good clients,” she says.
“I couldn’t sit by and watch hundreds of people lose their jobs because of bad management so I decided to take a huge gamble and save as many jobs as I could. When SES went into liquidation I approached the staff and clients of the recruitment division and asked them to come across to my company.”
She also bought the physical assets from the liquidators and started SCO Recruitment, the profit-making part of the business. She also started a not-for-profit property management business, Spectrum Community Focus, to save a further 50 employees’ jobs.
So why on Earth did she do it? “I’m an accountant and could see that the numbers were there to make it work,” she explains. “I couldn’t let it pass by. I was a bit terrified as I’d only finished university four years previously. But I was willing to put everything on the line for it. There were a lot of sleepless nights.
“One of the hardest things was having no one to fall back on. I had no CEO or board and had to get it all right myself.”
Considering the undertaking, Robertson managed to cope very well financially. She borrowed $60,000 from two partners to get the business up and running, repaying them seven months later. Factoring through Bibby also helped with equipment – which was essential when Robertson went from zero to 180 employees almost overnight.
The challenges weren’t over, however, Robertson fell pregnant shortly after the launch of the business and a $3 million client pulled their business.
“We had to run everything very lean and we were overstaffed until more contracts came in during December,” she says. “I was very open with everyone about the pregnancy. I had to delegate and everyone had to learn very quickly.”
Buoyed by a client base of local councils that were unaffected by the global financial downturn, the business was profitable after 12 months and has doubled sales since it started. Robertson plans to take it interstate in the coming years. Understandably, her staff are happy to work for her.
“I come into work half the time now just to say ‘well done’ to everyone,” she says. “We don’t really have any staff turnover. People here just enjoy their jobs.”