Curtin graduate Jessica Ellison would never have predicted that Life Ready Physio and Pilates – a company she co-founded just eight years ago – would become the market leader in physiotherapy in Western Australia.
As co-founder and Chief Operations Officer of the organisation, Ellison oversees the business processes of 25 clinics across Western Australia and Victoria, and develops strategies to care for its 200 employees.
But experiencing such rapid growth and now having three per cent of Western Australia’s clients entrust her organisation with their physical health – a substantial percentage, given the fragmented physiotherapy customer base – was “never the plan”, Ellison jokes.
“It’s good, and it’s also a very terrifying: there are a lot of people to look after,” Ellison says.
“But that’s why [CEO] Ben Trinh and I get up in the morning: we’re both really passionate. We want to provide a cool workplace for our employees, somewhere they feel they belong and get excited about.”
Ellison founded Life Ready Physio and Pilates when she was just 23 years old.
She had recently returned from a year working abroad when she was contacted by Trinh, a fellow physiotherapy graduate, to see if she wanted to start up a low-cost physiotherapy clinic with him.
“We chatted about how much our previous jobs had disappointed us. We had just both been really uninspired: the lack of autonomy, the lack of passion, the lack of direction.
“We started to imagine what we could do if we hired friendly receptionists, offered clients free coffee in beautiful waiting rooms and charged them competitive rates.”
Trinh saved enough money to buy a practice in Yokine, north of Perth – a quaint and unassuming building a short drive from Wanneroo Road.
Before long, Trinh and Ellison opened a second clinic in a spare room in a friend’s dentistry practice in Perth central business district. The third was opened with the help of another classmate, Matt Thomas, in Inglewood.
The organisation’s rapid growth has been helped by its unusual business structure, a 50/50 partnership model, in which Life Ready Health Group – mostly owned by Trinh and Ellison – own 50 per cent of a clinic, with the other 50 per cent owned by a managing partner who works at the clinic.
But even though Life Ready Physio and Pilates has experienced exponential growth, Ellison and Trinh never forgot the outcomes of their initial meeting: the coffee in each clinic’s waiting room is still free and the organisation is still guided by its values.
“We made a commitment that no matter how big we got, we would always feel like a small business. We still hire people on character over competency,” Ellison says.
“Our values – passion, family, authenticity, proactive not reactive, strength focused, and embracers and drivers of change – were articulated by our staff when we were still small. It sounds cliché to say but we are very much a values-driven company.”
This past year, with Trinh relocating to Melbourne to grow Life Ready Physio and Pilates interstate, Ellison has taken greater control of the organisation in Perth.
Recently, she launched Life Ready Open House, a pro-bono initiative where physiotherapists at the organisation’s clinics offer three free sessions to those who can’t afford physiotherapy under the recommendation of their GP.
“We did a survey about 18 months ago asking if our staff wanted to get involved in some sort of charity program, and they indicated they wanted to volunteer their skills.
“The idea is that each clinic opens their doors for a window every fortnight. It’s up to our staff and the time they can volunteer.”
The initiative was recognised in the 2019 40under40 Awards in which Ellison was named one of the award winners. The awards celebrate young business peple for their personal, commercial and philanthropic achievements.
But despite her meteoric rise in the business world, Ellison keeps her feet planted firmly on the ground, still enjoying treating patients personally.
“At Curtin I remember being taught to ‘assess, then reassess’, over and over again in our musculoskeletal classes,” Ellison says.
“That’s what I do as a physiotherapist and I think it’s what you have to do in a business as well, all the time: assess the problem and then assess if your solution worked.”