Last year Dering Employment hit Australian shores with a bang. Dering is a British company that was set up by a Deaf man, Stephen Dering. Mr Dering had been working assisting people with disabilities, particularly deaf, to find employment. Dering felt that there was a huge gap in the market in the provision of specialist employment services for the deaf in England. He decided to set up his own company and applied for some contracts with the British Government and was successful. From these first contracts Dering went from strength to strength. The company expanded rapidly and has market targets in France, Israel and Germany. As the story goes Dering had two Australian employees who encouraged him to tackle employment service in the Australian market. Last July that is exactly what he did.
Dering is Deaf. In many ways he was an inspiration to deaf people. He showed that deaf people could be innovative and take on the system. He did so with panache. When his company arrived in Australia he took the Australian Deaf community by surprise. He came from nowhere! Rapidly he set up offices in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. He employed workers in three states and even won contracts from the Australian Government. It is also apparent he had excellent contacts. He had arrangements with a number of big employment companies such as Sarina Russo Job Access and Max Employment to service any Deaf, hearing impaired and deafblind clients that were referred to these companies. Both these companies have a huge presence in Australia and overseas. The world was Dering’s oyster – or so it seemed.
In October 2009 Dering advertised in Australia for a Managing Director. I was fortunate to be selected as one of the people he interviewed. He hosted a fabulous interview process that involved work-shopping and presentations. All the applicants had to meet and compete against each other. All the applicants were deaf. Dering was fortunate to have some of the cream of Australia’s deaf managerial talent at his disposal. While I was not successful I was extremely impressed by the process and set up. Whoever won the job, Dering would have been pleased.
Meanwhile Dering had even expanded into South Australia. Advertisements were made for new employment consultants. Partnerships were being established with agencies in South Australia for Dering to service their deaf clientele. Dering also won contracts to provide service through Disability Employment Services in Queensland for the Australian Government. They won a contract to do workplace assessments for deaf people who were seeking interpreting or technology under the new Employment Assistance Fund that is set to commence in March this year. All was set for a rapid expansion. And then suddenly news broke out that Dering was closing all its Australian operations. What a shock that was to everyone.
The new Managing Director had been chosen and verbally offered a contract. He was on the cusp of signing but was told his services were no longer needed. People employed as employment consultants were given notice that the organisation was closing down and they would no longer have a job. Some had actually moved intestate to take up their positions. It is believed that Dering is trying to secure employment for these employees with partner organisations. The contracts and partnerships that Dering established and accepted, I assume, were cancelled rapidly. The dream was over!
Suddenly news filtered in from Britain that all was not well. The British based Operations Manager resigned. Staff were being laid off. It is clear something was amiss and that Dering was in the process of making some tough business decisions. Cutting operations in Australia would seem to be the first of these.
Most likely Dering made the classical mistake of over committing rather than consolidating its current successful operations. Dering, it would seem, set out on a course of too rapid expansion. Funds and resources were committed based on predicted outcomes. Unfortunately the predicted outcomes did not eventuate. Referrals did not meet expectations, in some cases apparently being zero. Dering found itself in a classic cash flow situation. Most likely part of the issue is also that it has not been paid for services thus compounding the cash flow problems. Too much had been outlaid and too little was coming in. Dering had no choice but to cut his losses and get out.
It is an absolute tragedy because Dering was living the dream. A Deaf person made good – employing deaf people as staff and to manage the business. He was showing the world what was possible. He was a trail blazer. But it all went wrong. One can not help but fear what that will mean for deaf people in general. One can imagine the nay sayers using Dering as an example of how deaf people are a risky proposition in business. This is undeserved but an unfortunate conclusion of Dering’s spectacular collapse in Australia.
To understand part of where Dering went wrong one must understand the employment support system in Australia. In Australia, indeed as it is in many parts of the world, the system is competitive. It is profit driven and to make a profit organisations that provide employment support for the Australian Government need to place people into employment and in large numbers. Although there are scales of support and funding for people with additional needs the system is simple – jobs equal profits!
Dering’s focus in Australia, while not entirely Deaf was mainly Deaf. The Deaf market in Australia is very small. To succeed a degree of diversity in the market is essential. They had scope to work with hearing impaired and deafblind but referrals received were largely Deaf. To be sustainable and profitable Dering needed a certain number of referrals. Clearly Dering’s calculations as to what the Australian market would be and what the market was, turned out to be far below what it expected. Perhaps overtime Dering could have built its client base but it seems it had over-committed and the money coming in simply could not sustain operations.
Sadly for Dering its Australian dream is over. Sadly for deaf people Dering did not succeed. For if it had succeeded it could have been a beacon for what Deaf people were capable of. Sadly there is also the human tragedy of people losing their jobs and people whose dreams have been shattered. One can only hope that Dering can salvage something from the disaster and recover some of the ground it has lost. More importantly we must all hope that Dering is judged simply as a business that made classic errors of over-commitment and over-ambitious predictions. Not on the fact that it is a Deaf business gone wrong!