Jamie Lingham, CEO of Absolute Immigration, has a deep affiliation with the ocean. His love of the seas makes him enjoy swimming, surfing and paddleboarding. That affinity with everything related to the waters also brought him close to environmental causes. Braving the crashing waves and coming out after being struck by its force bring a different kind of thrill that Jamie can liken to the entrepreneurial journey.
“When you’re surfing and paddling out the big waves, sometimes they smash you back a bit. But then, once you get through the back end, you can surf the wave. It's amazing. That's like life. Life keeps hammering, and you're trying to get to the prize at the end. It's tough and hard. Sometimes, you want to give up, but you've just got to keep going. And then, eventually, you'll get out, bounce back, and enjoy the ride,” the highly passionate global immigration strategist stated.
That brings him to his teenage years when he would sell mangoes at Bondi Beach. “I used to get my mum's car when I was about 17. I would go to the fruit market and buy three boxes of mangoes. I would chop up the mangoes into halves, and I'd go and sell them on Bondi Beach. I buy them for 60 cents, and I'd sell them for a dollar and a half. Then, I’d go surfing for the rest of the day. So, there's always been little things that I did. I always had ideas for making money and doing little ventures,” he recalled.
It may seem that the entrepreneurial spirit has exhibited in him since he was young. When he was just five years old, he would go with his brother on paper rounds to help sell newspapers. Many years later, he also worked in the marketing and public relations field and spent some time in the hospitality industry as a waiter in fine dining restaurants.
How he got into the immigration sector is no big mystery as he was familiar with the ins and outs of this trade, especially that his father had been doing it for almost two decades. “I'm on immigration, and my dad was doing it for about 20 years. But he dealt with a lot of people in detention. He kept saying to me that I should get involved in the business. I was always reluctant to do it because I didn't want to deal with this type of people. But he would have been the influence of me getting into it. However, I didn't go into business with him. I started my own business,” Jamie explained. Sadly, his dad later passed away.
During the time Jamie began with his venture, he found a mentor in a Jesuit priest, named Fr Michael Kelly. According to Jamie, Fr Michael is “unbelievably ethical and fantastic in business. He's an entrepreneur himself. He started a business that now turns over about over hundred seventy million dollars a year. He's from nothing. He's fantastic, and he’s got a wonderful moral compass.”
Although Jamie has been running his business for 17 years already, he admits that the challenges never stop. The early hurdles were trying to carve a name for himself as he was building the foundations of his venture, striving to get a client and wondering how to do the work. “When you start a business, you're like a puppy chasing everything. You chase people. You chase kids on scooters. You chase bicycles. You chase cars. Whatever you can, you jump at it. But as you get older and more experienced, you chase things like a double-decker bus full of tourists. You don't get off the porch for anything less. You learn not to run so much and be a bit smarter on what you're targeting,” he said, reflecting on his beginnings.
Not having enough money and failing in his business were the scary bits of running a business. One time, he had an executive assistant who stole a lot of money and committed fraud. At the same time, the global financial crisis occurred. He was close to going bankrupt. “I think you sail close to the wind a lot of the time as an entrepreneur, especially when you're investing in your business and people to grow,” he uttered.
To recoup his loss, he had to work 12 hours a day, seven days a week until he got his business back on track. “I did that for six months. I just worked like crazy,” Jamie narrated. It was a difficult time for him because he lost some staff members that he was left to do all their work as well.
While being an entrepreneur is a lot of responsibility, others look at it through rose-coloured glasses. Behind those glasses, however, is an entirely different picture. “Everyone thinks the boss is making all the money. Sometimes, that's not true. I've gone through times where I've paid all my staff and not myself. I know lots of entrepreneurs who've done the same thing. It's a misconception that they think we turn out loaded and make a lot of money. We work for that. Even 17 years later, I still go through my periods, my ups and downs. It's the roller coaster of entrepreneurship. It's a great ride. It's fun. But it is a roller coaster,” he clarified.
Being a business owner is no easy position. As a leader, he needs to brave the hardships and be strong for his people. On top of that, he has to make sure that he brings them towards the finish line. “We're going through a whole process change at the moment. We’re making sure that everyone's on the same page. You have to keep reinforcing and leading by example, making sure that everyone understands how you operate. You need to be available and have proper conversations with people to let them understand what the goal looks like, and what's needed to get to that goal,” the passionate entrepreneur remarked.
With all the weight he carries on his shoulder, the journey can often be lonely. Reassuringly, he found solace in EO Melbourne. Jamie realised that with EO, “there are so many different learnings. The life of an entrepreneur can be quite isolated. To have a support network of peers who understand what I'm going through and have been through it themselves, just having that level of connection and support is important.”
The pertinent ideas and lessons he took from EO have helped him swim through high waters. Their industry is hard-hitting, and competition is stiff, especially with over 7,000 migration agents offering immigration assistance. The players are too many, and the tide can abruptly change against his favour. “The biggest thing that affects our industry is government regulation. With regards to migration, they can turn the tap on or off. We can have a significant law change that can affect our business. And so, it's finding new ways to continue to be in business, not only to survive but also to thrive,” opined Jamie.
He had to reinvent and innovate in his business to rise above the flow and get ahead of other swimmers in the ocean. A strong relationship with his clients is another key component that keeps his business going. Absolute Immigration’s tagline is ‘People, Not Paper,’ and there’s a good reason for it. For Jamie, “I've always gone by the rule of making sure I give the best possible advice to clients. If I stay true to that, my advice is going to be the best. I don't hold anything back.” According to him, it comes down to the level of strategic thinking they offer, which is going beyond the transaction. He always pushes himself and his team to give more effort each time, to exceed expectations, and to get the right results.
In the 17 years of his business, as much as there were many disappointments, Jamie also had lots of victories and big wins. He may have been on the brink of bankruptcy, but the highs still keep coming. “What a victory looks like changes the longer you go in business. Winning a client that is a medium-sized company at the start might be a fantastic feature for you. Then winning a big company down the track might be the next victory. And things like buying a building and a warehouse for our office are great victories to celebrate,” Jamie described.
To get to those highs, it’s an arduous ascent. Jamie likens it to scaling Mt. Everest. “You think your high is Basecamp. But it's not really. There's still a journey to go. Once you get to the top of the mountain, there's another mountain to go behind,” he illustrated. Despite how rough and daunting the entrepreneurial rollercoaster cycle is, he sticks to it because he found it satisfying.
“An important thing to do is to understand that each day is a brand new day and then reset yourself for that day. It is not taking where the problems have been from your defeats the day before. You don't take them to a new day. You may get knocked over yesterday, but tomorrow is another day, and you're still pumping the same vision,” the determined entrepreneur imparted.
Looking towards the future, Jamie is keen to know how they can change the nature of work for immigration professionals. It all comes down to technology. “You could be doing my job and then working on the beach in Byron Bay, Mexico or Boracay. I think that the days of working in big firms until late at night are about to end. And so, I see us pioneering in our space in changing the way people work,” he thought deeply.
Apart from business, Jamie also has personal aspirations on how his future will look like several years down the road. Paramount to that is his family. Talking about his children brought a twinkle in his eyes. His joy was evident as he mentioned his two sons and two-year-old daughter. “We call her boss baby because she runs the house,” Jamie fondly said, referring to their youngest child. “Yes, she runs the house, the boss baby. She's hilarious.”
Hence, he hopes to be able to devote more time to his family in the years to come. “I want to make sure that I continue to have lots of time with my kids. I don't think they would want to hang around with me all their life. I think that period is only going to be very short. Making sure that I can always be available to them and spend time with them is important to me. But also, I want to look further and see how I can get more involved with environmental causes and help look at sustainability and things like that.”
With his past, present and future laid down before him, Jamie learned one particular thing that could have changed his entrepreneurial path. He believes that saving 10% of his income would have made a huge difference in his life if he had done that from the start. He may not be able to turn back time and redo things, but it’s a lesson that budding entrepreneurs can also learn early in their journey. Still, he believes that money always comes, just like the oxygen in the air. “You don't have to breathe in all the oxygen in the room. It'll come, and it'll go. But I think if you put ten percent away from that, it'll be amazing what can happen.”
As an ocean lover, Jamie knows the dangers of the raging waves and the strong currents. But they enable him to stretch his muscles and taste the fun of being in the water. His entrepreneurial journey is like surfing in the ocean. Armed with a vision, and the commitment and resilience to accomplish it, he was able to handle thousands of doors slammed on his face. That is why he keeps pushing, no matter what. He never gives up in the face of difficulties and bounces back stronger than ever. Such determination and tenacity allow him to get on his board, stand tall, and feel the thrill of the ride. “There are lots of people that will tell you that you can't do it or it will feel hard. Some days, you'll feel beaten up and defeated. But come back and do it again the next day. Don't stop until you've got to your goal,” he counselled.