Overcoming natural disasters: How Coceptive Recruitment survived fires and floods

By Luke Hemmings

Founder and Senior Associate, Coceptive Recruitment


Natural disasters typically instil a climate of fear. In 2019 and 2020, my home and various other regions across Southern NSW and the ACT were in the thick of raging bushfires. On New Year’s Eve, I was woken by a warning on my phone, telling me to evacuate. Minutes later, however, the fire had passed from my street to the next street over. More than ten houses were obliterated.

There was black ash and live embers in the air and we were sweltering in extreme temperatures in the high 40s. The was a real sense of fear in my community as we watched the fires unfold before our eyes. Emergency services were overwhelmed with calls. Surf Beach was obliterated and my whole town was burned, save for a small portion of residential streets.

Natural disasters aren’t a new threat to Australian businesses. When they occur, business owners report the numerous physical and mental impacts of bushfires. Many SMEs face disruptions – including higher insurance costs, lower customer confidence and supply-chain disruption. Some businesses close temporarily. Others face reduction in cash flow and loss of customers.

Natural disasters impact all businesses, including recruitment. What impacts our industry most is how businesses react and the market responds. Additionally, there can be damage to infrastructure and logistical challenges that make it harder to do business.

The bushfires were at their peak when my co-founder and I were launching our business, Coceptive Recruitment, in Canberra. We delayed the launch for as long as we could.

I couldn’t attend our offices for a three-month period, as the main thoroughfare between Batemans Bay and Canberra was closed. The Currowan Fire, one of the main fires at the time, destroyed the bushland in this area, including a lot of roadway. I went three weeks without power in my home and moved into temporary accommodation for a short while so I could continue getting our business off the ground.

In the end, we decided there’s no such thing as the “right time,” and launched in February 2020.

Thankfully, our offices were not in the danger zone. We ramped up our marketing and advertising, which lead to candidate and client enquiries. The thoroughfare reopened, allowing me to travel to our office. Even during this time, the element of the unknown was still creating fear and uncertainty. The bushfires weren’t fully contained, so there would be times when I’d travel to work in the morning, and discover the highway was closed in the afternoon.

I’d reach out to clients and they’d reached out to me. There was a sense of raw emotion in these conversations; it was very touching. Some of their situations weren’t ideal and it was a challenging time for everyone. We simply provided the best support we could to build the relationship and help them with their recruitment needs. There was a sense of us all getting through a difficult time together.

Luckily, we didn’t experience any major supply-chain issues. Although we endured a short period where client payments slowed, we still had cashflow. We adapted by offering clients alternative payment terms and maintaining our relationships. Our Recruit Now, Pay Later delayed payment plans are a big point of difference for Coceptive Recruitment, helping our clients maintain their cashflow.

It took several months to contain the fires, and recovery was slow. Many businesses were lost, particularly large businesses and the industrial areas in Batemans Bay, which had a detrimental impact on the community. This was followed by floods along the coast, devastating areas like Ulladulla and Lake Conjola.

As a smaller agency, we had the power to be agile and adapt to market conditions quickly. We continually assessed our business model and direction to ensure we were adapting to support our clients and candidates in the best way possible. We established partnerships with suppliers to ensure that, during quieter months, we’d have financial support to remain in operation if required. This gave our business and team members certainty and confidence.

For recruiters facing challenging market conditions, good leadership is paramount. No matter how tough things are, it’s important to look for the positives and opportunities, assess the market and adapt accordingly. (Even if that means doing so on a weekly or daily basis!). Inspire your team to work towards a common goal. Meaningful goals encourage people to do their best work and endure difficult circumstances, from fires and floods, to pandemics. Set goals with your team in both challenging and “normal” times, as people work best when they work together.

As a leader, I’m also passionate about maintaining good mental health. It’s important to remember when to switch off. When Coceptive Recruitment first launched, I’d constantly work after hours. Now, I won’t leave the office until I’ve achieved everything I can in the day, but I no longer need to take work home with me. Good mental health is characterised by your personal ability to fulfil key functions, to learn things, manage emotions, retain a good mindset, and maintain good relationships.

While there has been a lot of local government, charitable and community support to recover from the natural disasters of 2019 and 2020, even today, people are still picking up the pieces.

When facing challenging market conditions in recruitment, adapt to market conditions as best you can, develop and maintain good business relationships, use good leadership and establish goals to give your team and clients the certainty they need to do their best work.


Luke Hemmings is the Founder and Senior Associate for Coceptive Recruitment. His creative ideas for campaigns, perseverance and friendly, personal approach have earned him a reputation as an industry leader in Canberra and Queanbeyan. He has achieved numerous industry accolades, most recently as a finalist in the 2021 RCSA Awards as ‘Rising Star’, ACT Business Awards, Australian HR Awards and Tiara Recruitment Awards. With a background in hospitality, law, media and the corporate sector, Luke is a damn fine negotiator with an uncanny ability to forge valuable relationships with clients and candidates alike.

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