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Secrets to success

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From Sarina Russo – often-sacked legal secretary – to Sarina Russo of eponymous Sarina Russo Group –an international organisation employing upwards of 1000 – Russo is, and has been for the last 30 years, one of Australia’s most successful entrepreneurs. On her way to the top, she’s rubbed shoulders with the likes of Bill Clinton and made quite the mark in the recruitment game.

And now she shares the secrets of her success with Peter Switzer on his program SWITZER on Sky News Business Channel.

From sacked to success

Russo started her own business out of necessity – she simply couldn’t hold down a nine to five.

“I’d been fired from every legal job and finally I decided I had to find my own financial independence. I’m a great believer of financial independence,” says Russo.

“In 1979, I was a fired legal secretary and I was a typing teacher at night…After being fired several times and then fired from my evening job – and [then] reinstated because the students wanted me back – I realised that I was good at something. That was the start of my life, where I am today. It’s an extraordinary journey, and I would like to think that I would inspire someone today who’s just been fired or made redundant to do the same thing.”

Ironically, the woman who couldn’t keep a job grew a business out of finding others employment when her typing school turned to recruitment. The reasons for such a move, she says, were simple.

“You can’t train unless you’re going to lead to something – the job outcome is really what it’s all about. So I was determined that I would not only train, but help people get jobs,” says Russo.

And this is precisely what the Sarina Russo brand has done for “tens and tens and tens of thousands of students and jobseekers”.

Keep the faith

The Sarina Russo brand now boasts a partnership with James Cook University; the apprenticeship and traineeship, the Job Network, vocational training and have recently expanded their operations to the UK. Looking back, is she surprised by the growth and subsequent diversification of the Russo brand?

“I’ve been doing this for 30 years. My advice is if you stay focused, you’re passionate and you’re single minded about your goal, you will achieve. Repetition is the mother of skill – if you do something often enough, you’ll get good at it.”

Mentors are also important, says Russo. Their advice, coupled with self-belief – “You’ve got to have self belief” – will help you overcome any obstacles. When it comes to obstacles, it’s a matter of when, not if.

“Honestly, obstacles happen when you start a business, obstacles happen in life; but it’s not what happens to you, it’s what you do about it,” says Russo. “I mean, this year, my thirtieth year, I thought that life was really great and there I was tendering for a massive Job Network contract and I didn’t get what I wanted. Queensland did not get what we’d really decided we deserved.”

The set back, says Russo, was a rough $50 million which, under normal circumstances, would have spelled cuts – namely, her executives and 150 staff.

“You’ve got to be able to do is embrace certainty with uncertainty and always be ready to reengineer yourself. All of a sudden, this tsunami hit, the lifejacket wasn’t on and I thought, what am I going to do?” recalls Russo. “I challenged the status quo.”

She kept her staff on and, in a matter of weeks, they won more work and kicked off their UK operations.

“We reengineered our company,” says Russo, adding that she was grateful for the opportunity to do so.

“You’ve always got to do thank you notes to people who challenge your thinking and challenge your capacity.”

In this sense, Russo turned threats into opportunities – this, she says, is part of her business philosophy.

“But it’s more than that,” says Russo. “You’ve got to dance with fear. Fear exists all the time, but it’s how you embrace your vision and the only thing that limits you is limiting your imagination. So what I say is, you must allow your imagination to expand and be able to have that vision and take your team with you, because that’s really the secret to success.”

Gender’s not on the agenda

As a woman, Russo has never known a business obstacle that was gender related.

“I just think that’s a fallacy,” she says. “Women today, are being blessed. I mean, today, women can do anything they want to do. We love employing women – we’re great believers it’s not about gender, it’s about capacity.”

She says it’s self-belief that allows you to tap into your full potential. This includes taking risks.

“Think of the greatness that you can create by giving it a go. A lot of people are afraid in making decisions, because they’re afraid to fail. My advice is to go out there, it’s better to give it a go than never to have given it a go [where] you could have succeeded. I’ve done that, and that’s what I believe, go out there and empower yourself to do more.”

Success, says Russo, is all about risks. And leadership is about encouraging those around you to do the same.

“[It’s about] having leadership and vision and executing that vision with your management team. And really taking your management team and challenging their thinking and their capacity as well.”

The buzz

The brand, and the business, has generated a great deal of publicity. Russo says this comes back to the strength of the brand.

“We’ve really always had a point of difference; we’ve always challenged the status quo; we’ve always thought differently, we’ve always exceeded the expectation of our clients; we’ve always delivered with urgency and speed, and that’s what brand is. Brand is trust. And, of course, publicity comes with that because people want to know about your brand, people want to know what is it you’re doing different, that’s what brand is.”

Important information:This content has been prepared without taking account of the objectives, financial situation or needs of any particular individual. It does not constitute formal advice. For this reason, any individual should, before acting, consider the appropriateness of the information, having regard to the individual’s objectives, financial situation and needs and, if necessary, seek appropriate professional advice. 

Published on: Sunday, September 06, 2009

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