Sparked by a passion for travel and cultural immersion, Shannon Semenikow has been helping people migrate to Australia for more than a decade.
Initially working as a tour guide through the South Pacific, Semenikow was hungry to be part of something bigger. After studying migration law, the entrepreneur established Education and Migration Services Australia (EMSA) from his spare room, and the rest, he says, is history.
"I’ve always loved travelling and immersing myself in different cultures – there’s a lot of crossover between tourism and international education," he tells The CEO Magazine.
With offices spanning across Australia, the Philippines, Colombia, Mexico and most recently Indonesia, the migration gurus are on a mission to share their love of Australia with the world through education.
From helping people come to Australia for study to assisting companies with migration strategies in order to secure the best talent required to grow the business long-term, EMSA has a team of about 30 people working across all avenues.
And just as the global tourism industry was directly impacted by COVID-19, the company was forced to come up with innovative business solutions to get through the challenging period.
"Our business is primarily focused on people crossing borders, and COVID-19 has definitely provided one of the biggest challenges for our industry," Semenikow says. "If you had asked me 18 months ago if our business would survive Australian borders being closed for two years, I would have given us a 10 per cent chance of survival at best.
"We’ve had offices in countries that have faced challenges with political uncertainty over the years, such as Venezuela, but we never could have anticipated Australia being closed to the entire world."
In 2019, the global travel and tourism industry contributed US$8.9 trillion to the world’s gross domestic product. In the first 10 months of 2020, the pandemic cost the industry US$935 billion in worldwide revenue, Forbes reported. So how exactly did EMSA overcome the unprecedented circumstances?
"I’m a big believer that there’s opportunity in adversity if you choose to pursue it, and COVID-19 really pushed me back to the coalface – it reignited that initial passion, akin with when I first started the business," the entrepreneur reveals. "The difference this time was that we had a great team; we were focused, honest and agile."
And teamwork really did make the dream work in overcoming COVID-induced challenges.
"Having a close team meant everyone in the organisation agreed to drop to 80 per cent of their workload in order to help, and thankfully due to the team’s dedication and hard work, we were able to keep everyone employed and back to full time not long after," he says. "Most importantly, we were honest with the team."
Further fuelling Semenikow’s drive was a supportive network at the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) – a group he’s been part of for five years.
"Having a network of like-minded people willing to share deeply their experiences has had the biggest impact on my growth as a leader," he shares. "Another lesson I’ve learned during my career is that surrounding yourself with good people who are on a similar journey is a catalyst to growth as a leader."
With the new norm of a post-pandemic world on the horizon, adapting businesses to meet future needs is more important than ever.
"Being future-focused means staying abreast of changes and developing new strategies for our clients," Semenikow says. "Given the impact COVID-19 has had on so many industries when it comes to skill shortages means there will be a lot of opportunity in helping companies utilise a global workforce to help their companies grow.
"Connecting with, and being part of another person’s journey, in my view is a privilege."