It’s been 17 years since La Trobe alumni and sisters Michelle and Katie Johnson launched Bendigo recruitment company ESE Consulting, armed with two PCs, two home phones and a spreadsheet of contacts to cold call.
“We thought we’d take the good aspects out of the businesses we’d worked for and give our own business a go,” Michelle says.
“We were young and naïve,” laughs Katie, adding thankfully so, as it meant they could dive in without too many doubts. “Initially we received lots of rejections, so we became pretty resilient. But overall, it was a very positive experience. Businesses in Bendigo were really keen to support a new local business.”
The pair had both graduated with a Bachelor of Business/Marketing from the Bendigo Campus in the early 2000s, then gained a few years’ experience working in marketing and human resources locally and in and Melbourne.
“We both initially worked for recruitment agencies where it was just a numbers game, it wasn’t about finding candidates that were a good cultural fit,” Katie says. “Then I worked for a boutique agency that was the polar opposite.”
That experience inspired the women, then in their mid-20s, to establish a new recruitment company in Bendigo, where integrity, transparency and authenticity were at the heart of the business. It was also an opportunity for them to put into practice the theories they had studied at La Trobe, in marketing, balance and loss statements, HR and employment law – the latter which is constantly changing.
Katie says the business too is always in flux – 17 years ago banking was completed inside a bank, superannuation was a full day’s work and payslips were sent by snail mail.
The sisters are all about completing good work with good people, and that includes their staff. The four women they employ are also La Trobe alumni. Kate Rankin, Stephanie Ludeman, Virginia Morris and Eve Lyon are all employed as HR consultants.
“It was the sort of place that offered a lot of independence, which encouraged us to be self-motivated, dedicated and to use our initiative,” Katie says of La Trobe.
Michelle says they find that Bendigo graduates have excellent communication and computer skills. “We do look very highly on people who have completed a business degree,” she says. “We know they are interested in the industry, they have majored in HR, so they’re passionate about the industry.”
ESE Consulting is also firmly in the business of helping graduates start their careers, in all sorts of industries, all around Australia.
“We’re recruiting for engineers at the moment, so we’ve had a lot of graduate engineers contact us,” Michelle says. “It’s really rewarding to help people, and If people contact us and we’re not able to find them a job we still give them advice and that works in well with our values.”
The sisters’ advice to uni students and graduates is to keep an eye on the ESE Consulting website for employment vacancies, and to think outside the square with their initial plans.
“Some graduates aim high for their first role but it’s good to consider other roles that will give them the skills to progress,” Michelle says.
Katie adds; “People need to be mindful that they sometimes may need to start in a different but similar industry to get their foot in the door. They can then always sidestep after gaining some initial work experience.”
ESE favours candidates who have worked while studying, and often that is experience in hospitality or retail, or even volunteer work, as it shows their dedication and ability to multi-task. “Flexibility and adaptability are the two characteristics that are most valued,” Katie says.
Also, they say not to discount the benefits of building a career in Bendigo. Katie says she intended to stay for six months to set up ESE Consulting before moving back to Melbourne. “And 17 years later I’m still here,” she says. “Working in Melbourne is a good experience when you finish uni.”
“…and to realise how good Bendigo is,” adds Michelle.
Both say they are now considering their futures in their home city, which will involve more community work and collaborations with other business leaders.
“Bendigo is the best place to do business,” Michelle says. “We were accepted early on in Bendigo because of our sense of community and loyalty.”
Photograph by Leon Schoots