A Company with Heart

SCO Recruitment

SCO Recruitment is a company with heart. Founding Director and CEO Larissa Robertson pulled the business from the ashes of a dying organisation in order to save 180 jobs and keep doing the not-for-profit work that she believed in…

Her dedication and good intentions quickly paid off, and SCO Recruitment is now the fastest growing recruitment agency in New South Wales – and the second fastest growing company in all of Australia.

The story began eight years ago, when Mrs Robertson went to work for Spectrum Employment Services (SES) as a financial controller. The not-for-profit helped disadvantaged people transition from long term unemployment into a meaningful career, and Mrs Robertson was thrilled to see her work change lives for the better. Unfortunately, she also uncovered a major problem as soon as she began studying the books. “They were losing money,” and she could see the writing on the wall. She spent the rest of her time at SES trying to convince the board to make the changes needed to keep the company afloat. “I had the same conversation with them for about four years and nothing really got done,” she recalls. “They just kept growing the business rather than fixing any problems, and so in 2009 they went into liquidation.”

But Mrs Robertson wasn’t willing to just walk away. “There was such a good business there,” she says. “When you see someone who is third generation unemployed and then they become the first people in their family to move out and buy a house and their whole life changes – it is something I didn’t want to give up.” She also didn’t want to see all of the employees lose their jobs. “Having worked there for four years and knowing the people on the ground and how hard they work and everything they do – I couldn’t let that happen.”

Mrs Robertson rolled up her sleeves and forged ahead. She secured funding from angel investors and implemented the restructuring plans that the board had been rejecting for the past four years. After purchasing the assets and operations of SES, she split the organisation into two companies: SCO Recruitment to handle recruitment services, and Trim and Proper Property Services to continue SES’s charity work.

Mrs Robertson’s next move was to go to each former SES client and convince them to stay on board. “I said, ‘I guarantee the people that you have been dealing with on a day to day basis will be the same. But we are going to change the management. We are going to change the board.’ I explained the restructuring and how there would not by any more problems.” The reassurances worked and all of SES’ clients stuck with the team. Mrs Robertson especially credits “the loyalty and the relationships that the people in the business had built,” for the remarkable level of client retention.

Today, SCO Recruitment specialises in providing permanent and temporary recruitment solutions to the private industrial and Local Government sectors. In 2012, the team placed almost 1,000 employees at 100 different sites across Australia, averaging 400 to 500 employees daily. The astounding growth and success was then used to keep Trim and Proper Property Services going. “SCO Recruitment heavily subsidises Trim and Proper to keep them running so they can keep doing the work they are doing,” Mrs Robertson explains. “We operate from the same premises in Moorebank and we share the same management team and board. What that means is that, even though the charity only has a $2 million turnover, it is getting the benefit of the $16 million company’s management and board and resources.” This support, Mrs Robertson adds, is absolutely crucial. “It is a self-run not for profit,” she explains. “We have to make our own money to cover our own costs.”

Trim and Proper Property Services supplies lawn and garden maintenance, commercial / public space cleaning, clean ups / rubbish removal, and general handyman services. “We hire long term unemployed and socially disadvantaged [people],” Mrs Robertson explains, and the team welcomes them on board as regular staff members and invests heavily in their future. “We permanently recruit them because the way out of poverty is employment, I believe.” The first step is intense training. “Some of them are third generation unemployed, so they spend the first six months developing a work ethic and learning how to function in a working area.” Next, the team finds job placements for the new workers, often through Department of Housing contracts.

Mrs Robertson credits several factors for the business’ success in addition to the restructuring. Identifying and focusing on what SCO Recruitment does best has been key. “We have been really focused on doing the blue collar, the industrial, the local government,” Mrs Robertson reports. “We have really been focused on that because we are really good at it. So we deliver great service and our customers are happy with us so they use us again and again. We have been really [successful] niching ourselves in that industry.”

Providing stellar customer service has also been crucial. “We really care about our customers and what they want. We really listen to their needs,” Mrs Robertson explains. “And we also really care about our candidates. We are not one to put bums on seats; we try to make sure we match the right person with the right job and we really work hard at that. We want to keep everyone happy and working well.”

The team deserves a tremendous amount of credit, Mrs Robertson adds. “We have a really great team. That is the whole reason why the company has survived liquidation and it has taken off and it has grown so much in the last four years.” Management makes it a point to believe in their workers – but to also be readily available if there is a need. “So really it has been about trusting them to do what they know how to do and giving them the support and structure to do it.”

In fact, the entire company culture is geared toward creating a positive work experience. The internal staff enjoys a relaxed office environment and a number of important perks. “We are different to a lot of recruitment companies, which can be very harsh and make their staff work really long hours and have high turnover,” Mrs Robertson says. “We are very flexible, very family friendly.” There is even a day care facility on site for children under five. “Everyone can bring their children to work, so you can have lunch with your little ones and see them throughout the day.” Mrs Robertson understands how important an arrangement like this is – she has a three year old and a newborn baby. “I get to see [my children] at work,” she explains, and is glad to give others that opportunity as well. She also believes it is better for business. “Having that sort of support behind the staff means they are really happy and they are delivering great customer service.”

Mrs Robertson refuses to take the credit for herself, but it is clear that her dedication and winning strategies are foundational to the success of both SCO Recruitment and Trim and Proper Property Services. She developed the concept to restructure a dying business into two separate companies – one a for-profit and the other a not-for-profit – in order to keep the latter running. And she put in the sweet equity to make it work. “It has been very hectic,” she admits. “I was working 80 to 90 hours a week.” What’s more, when I caught up with her, Mrs Robertson had just taken on yet another job – mothering her second child. She spoke with me while on maternity leave, successfully juggling a thriving business with the demands of home and a new addition to the family.

But, in fact, she is ready to take the business to the next level. After successfully cornering the market on blue collar industrial and government jobs, the team is ready to add white collar business support to their list of expertise. “We are going to start a new brand, a new business,” Mrs Robertson announces. “It will be the third company within the group.”

After all that the team has achieved, Mrs Robertson isn’t concerned about moving into a new arena. “The challenge was taking the liquidated company and changing it into two well running companies,” she says. “I think we have handled that quite well. Now it is just onwards and upwards.”

Making Sense of Management

Management is the art, or science, of getting things done through people. Sounds fairly straightforward – except for the fact that people are not robots waiting to do our bidding. People have their own minds, motivations, and goals. So how do managers keep operations – and the people behind them – running as planned?

December 16, 2018, 6:43 AM AEDT