Leanne is driven to ‘give something back’

The unorthodox journey of Natural Selection started in a freezing cold cabin in the Mount Beauty Caravan Park, in 2008.

At the time I operated one of Australia’s most successful SAP IT recruitment businesses, which I had founded in 1995.

I was concerned about being too narrow in our SAP offering and wanted to create another brand that would focus on General IT skills. Over a bottle of red wine that night, the name just came to me - Natural Selection – synonymous with evolution, survival, adaption.

I thought I had stumbled on the best name for a recruitment business ever.

However, despite grand names and plans, Natural Selection Group was to sit on the ASIC shelf for many years.

We became far too busy, building the existing business I founded to over $60 million revenue. I was soon approached to sell the business and it was listed at the end of 2013.

During the next couple of years spent completing my contractual obligations, I had recruitment burn-out and was disillusioned.

It was then time to give back. With some of the proceeds of sale, we set up our family foundation, O’Connor Duffy Foundation. This introduction to the world of philanthropy and then the shock cancer diagnosis of my husband led to a re-evaluation of what mattered.

During my year off, I couldn’t get Natural Selection Group off my mind. My passion for recruitment still simmered. What if, I thought, I could use “business as a force for good” and harness our love of placing people with our love of helping others less fortunate through philanthropy.

I knew many client organisations were already doing their part though CSR programs, but many were not.

I knew that supply chain ethical and sustainable product sourcing existed, but not the ethical sourcing of services.

I knew that many organisations were giving a percentage of net profits away (what is leftover) but what about gross fees? By giving away what you didn’t have, could you get more?

The model seemed so simple. Engage with us. Pay no more than with our competitors. We donate a percentage of our fee to your charity.

In addition to the incredible charitable opportunity, there were also ulterior motives. Could we overcome the frustrating recruitment industry challenges – lack of engagement and respect, candidate attraction and loyalty, staff attraction and retention, unsustainable payment terms, and the race to the bottom on fees? Could I reignite my own passion for an industry that I loved so much?

For our candidates: Could we get enhanced respect and attraction?

For our clients: Could we get more engagement and loyalty?

For our charities: Could we make a positive difference to the lives of others less fortunate?

For ourselves: Can we operate a financially sound business, while providing our team with the environment that gives fulfillment, work-life balance and higher purpose to their work?

I thought it could work … and it did.

It was exciting to start again. From the outset, Natural Selection Group developed a strong business strategy across three main strategic pillars of financial governance, growth and giving back.

We focussed on building strong commercial platforms in which to do business. “If we can’t place, we can’t give”, so we rely on only doing business with organisations who share our same sense of brilliance, commitment and social responsibility.

We have a strong focus on exclusive work so we can deliver better outcomes for our clients, our candidates, our charities and ourselves.

Having our clients helping us achieve because of the additional social impact means that everyone is doing their part. Of course, we still have to be great at our job, but that is a given.

We also don’t just “write cheques” to our charities. We have a strong involvement with their work and have developed mutually beneficial business relationships.

The people we have met through our charity partners are truly inspiring.

The numbers don’t lie. From 2017 to present, we have grown revenue year on year by 100%.

In turn, as at end of March 2020, we have donated over $400,000 across 22 charities of our client's choice.

Candidates and clients love the business model, which leads to all parties advocating our business to others and a desire to be visibly associated with Natural Selection Group.

We have developed relationships, loyalty and advocacy I didn’t think possible, with our clients, candidate and charity partners, for a higher purpose than just placing people with people.

I’ve been very fortunate over the past 25 years in the recruitment industry to have worked with so many inspiring people across a diverse candidate, client, employee and now charity base.

I’ve now built two very successful IT recruitment businesses, which have been run responsibly, professionally and ethically - which I believe have contributed positively to the reputation of the recruitment industry and the professionals operating in it.

Becoming a 2019 Finalist in the Telstra Business Women’s Awards, winning the 2019 SEEK Recruitment Leader of the Year Award, and most recently a 2020 RCSA Finalist for Recruitment Leader of the Year Award, have been the icing on the cake.

No one does all this without an incredible team beside them and I am very grateful to have reunited and retained the incredible staff who have been on this recruitment journey with me for a very long time.

To further commit to our charitable causes, ongoing I have pledged to match dollar-for-dollar the charitable fees Natural Selection donates from my own family foundation, doubling our charitable impact. With the support of all our stakeholders, we have the very ambitious but achievable charity target of $1 million within the next five years.

Notwithstanding the current challenges the recruitment industry faces in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic, having a disruptive and market leading business model and point of differentiation becomes even more important.

In a time when the default position may be to gravitate to scarcity and survival, it is more important than ever to believe in our business and the difference we are making, so we can come out the other side a stronger company and team.

I’m extremely proud to have built a recruitment organisation that has challenged the traditional business paradigm, in that profitability and philanthropy can, not only co-exist, it can thrive.

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