Burbank Group of Companies: building success

Formed of a host of subsidiary companies that cover the full spectrum of building industry services, including the award winning Burbank Homes, the Burbank Group of Companies is reimagining the format of a home and property group.

The group’s Managing Director, Jarrod Sanfilippo, talks about the diversification that interlinks the companies and the continuing expansion that has seen the group continue to go from strength to strength.

All in the Family

“It was a business started by my father,” Mr Sanfilippo says. “Everything we do is linked through to property or built form assets, in one way or another.”

The group consists of companies that deal with the land needed for building, trade firms that help build properties, storage firms helping people store items when work is underway and a finance business that helps customers pay for their homes.

“My father was an accountant, and his step-brother was an electrician. Obviously, the major two sides of building are the sales, marketing, accounting side of the business, and then there’s the trade, supplier base. So, together they formed Burbank Homes, to start with.”

This first company, a firm that has since grown to become one of Australia’s leading builders, began as a modest weekend project. Years of hard work helped it develop in size and stature, and from there the Burbank Group of Companies grew with it.

“They ended up deciding to make it a business,” Mr Sanfilippo explains. “It started from just one display home in the nearby suburbs to their home, and it’s now grown to spread right across Victoria.” Mr Sanfilippo’s uncle left the business nearly a decade ago.

Burbank Homes started a slow but steady migration across the country, and has since moved into New South Wales and South Australia over the last five years.

Mr Sanfilippo and his father spent some time running the company together, with the former concentrating on developing the group into other states in Australia, while the latter focused on the group’s land development company.

“That allowed us to both grow together,” Mr Sanfilippo says, “having a separate focus but also interlinked, because obviously working as father-son, but also the two crucial parts of the group.”

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The Burbank Group of Companies is reimagining the format of a home and property group

With the intention of not only helping grow Burbank Homes, but also of creating a business that could develop in its own right, the company started selling land off to other builders and customers. This developed into offering a full service in property development.

“The two trades required for certificates in the building process are plumbing and electrical. So, to control that process and to understand it, it was decided to start plumbing and electrical businesses which now carry out all of our work, plus have their own clientele outside of Burbank Homes.”

As well as undertaking all work for the group, these companies are mandated to work outside of the company structure. It is important that all businesses within the group stand alone, and not rely solely on another part of the group for trade.

A key part of the group is National Pacific Finance, a privately-owned company that acts as a brokering service for the group’s customers to buy Burbank homes, as well as anything else they might want to finance.

“We created National Pacific Finance to not only help customers obtain loans,” Mr Sanfilippo continues, “but also provide us with the avenue to be able to understand more about our customers.  And, the group just continued to grow organically.”

The size and diversity of the group has meant it has been able to acquire many smaller companies over the years, and is now made up of a long list of firms working across several different industries.

“The Burbank Group is our parent brand, which has all the other companies underneath. So it includes Storage Box, National Pacific Properties, Dynamic Technology Solutions, Vault Plumbing, National Pacific Finance, Beacon Building Services, Digital Minds Software Solutions, Urbanedge Homes and Eight Homes—all those companies which are in the group, but we also have Burbank Homes.”

The group itself is made up of eleven companies, one of which is Burbank, which is further split into several smaller companies that work across the different territories and the three different areas of the building process.

National Footprint

Following the passing of his father last year, Mr Sanfilippo has now taken over the reins of the business. In the past half-decade, the transformation from Victoria-based company to one of national renown has been quite astounding.

“It was really off the back of a very strong business in Victoria,” he explains. “Expanding into Queensland first, we’ve always done it slowly but carefully. We grew naturally, not just going out and expanding at a big rate. It was just one step at a time really.”

Burbank Group of Companies
A key part of the group is National Pacific Finance, a privately-owned company that acts as a brokering service for the group’s customers

The solid base of Burbank Homes and National Pacific Properties, the two major Victoria-based firms, helped the group significantly. It was able to lean on these resources from a corporate perspective, while simultaneously expanding with General Managers in each state.

“Each state start-up was all going very differently. Queensland started by myself going up and searching for office space and display locations, and then starting the construction off that and recruiting someone to be on the ground for me.”

The start-up in South Australia came out of the purchase of Japanese home builder Sekisui House, owners of residential developers AVJennings. As a result, Sekisui House decided to pull out of contract housing in NSW, which likewise left an opening for Burbank to move into.

“There was an instant team, an instant book of work and a process in place already. So NSW and SA were closely linked in terms of us taking over another business that was already operating.”

The size of the operation moving into South Australia worked as a perfect small-size test case, allowing the group to work out its management methods and carry them over on a larger scale into the business in New South Wales.

But although this kind of acquisition was beneficial for effecting a quick and smooth start-up in these regions, it did not come without challenges of its own, most specifically the lack of brand awareness in new territories.

“At first,” Mr Sanfilippo says, “nobody knew us, and a lot of the challenge was, when they opened the doors in Queensland, or NSW, or SA, the reaction often was ‘who’s Burbank’? The name was not known or trusted, so there was a lot of work to educate the customers.”

This meant the group had to invest a lot of time in ensuring potential customers in new territories understood the history and values of the brand, to send the message that it wasn’t just an inexperienced start-up.

“Off the back of us expanding interstate, a lot of the way we market is how we have been building for thirty years. The fact that we have that stability of history and growth and also have the group structure behind us which we can all lean on, helps us grow.”

Other USPs for the group include the offer of an extended warranty on its homes, which other places do not provide. Burbank homes are guaranteed for fifteen months rather than the industry standard of three months.

“That’s our point of difference,” Mr Sanfilippo says, “is fixed costs, so there’s no surprises. We’ll lock that total price in with no more variation. We also offer a thirty year structural guarantee and a fifteen month maintenance pledge and we’ve been building for nearly thirty-five years.”

In addition, the company is one of very few able to offer experience and knowledge in the three key areas of residential construction, these being detached homes, townhouse developments and apartment buildings.

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Burbank Homes started a slow but steady migration across the country, and has since moved into New South Wales and South Australia over the last five years

Mr Sanfilippo can’t name another organisation in the country that offers all three of these areas of expertise, and therefore cites this as being the group’s biggest selling point. But the group’s diversification also has a big effect on how it gains custom.

“When you become a player in a certain industry, you understand that industry well enough, and there are a lot of trends and information that you learn, so you can put those together and paint a more solid picture on how to strategize each company moving forward.”

Owning a finance business, for example, allows the group to see what is happening with banks and at the financial level, and to use this information to influence things happening at the level of the build. The same can be said for other parts of the group.

“We can see what’s happening in land, when land’s coming up, what the strategies are with government proposals or regulations, how fast things are selling, pricing intel, and how that links in with building a residential dwelling.”

By following and recognising trends over time, the group can see how they correlate and use the information to better inform every part of its business, to make the business smarter, both collectively and at the individual level.

“For example, if sales start to slow down in land, it follows about 6-12 months later in the building arm, because they need the land first and then they need to start building on it. Things like that we need to monitor and be more aware of.”

This gives the group a significant advantage over its competitors, as it can often put Burbank significantly further ahead in a building process than those who don’t have such close ties to other areas of the industry.

Key Milestones

“To grow across the Eastern Seaboard over five years has taken a lot of focus and time and strategy from the management group, so that’s definitely a key milestone. Queensland was five years ago, SA was two and a half and NSW was one year ago.”

Within this time, the group is proud to have become a shareholder in Urbanedge Homes, a high-end architectural firm in Victoria with over a decade of experience building premium service and luxury new homes.

“All of our expansion meant we are one of Australia’s top ten home-dwelling construction businesses,” Mr Sanfilippo explains, “which was [another] big milestone for us.”

Another of the group’s key achievements comes in the form of software development company Digital Minds Solutions, a company started and operated in India, and created for a very specific role in the day-to-day running of the group.

“Digital Minds was created because for all group subsidiaries to efficiently linked in with each other, our IT-based requirements are high. Digital Minds is responsible for all of our software development within the group, helping us streamline our digital environment and improve efficiencies.”

Because of the high volume of digital expertise available in India, the group came up with the idea of developing and building a company capable of handling all the group’s IT requirements, rather than outsourcing to a firm in the same area.

“Whether that’s support, whether that’s website creation, whether that’s computer-generated imagery. For example, if we’re to build an apartment building or townhouses, they create the renders of lifelike computerised images for our marketing material.”

All of these extras help the group get ahead in an industry that, like all others, experiences several issues that need to be overcome by those working within it. Mr Sanfilippo believes most of these issues are arising from the problem of housing affordability.

“The prices are rising massively across the industry, from the price of land through to the homes. So, overall a house and land package, or land and dwelling that they’re buying separately, are costing more and more.”

Much of this rising cost is fuelled by the strength of the economy, although in the last two years there has been a significant increase in the number of active building sites across the industry, putting huge pressure on the trades needed to keep the industry moving.

“Whether that be drafting, estimating, or whether that be bricklayers or carpenters, there is really a need for greater training in that space, because all builders are short on trades that can meet the demand. Supply and demand is becoming very critical.”

Another issue in Victoria is related to the costs of building and the amount of time it takes for a project to get started. When a home is sold now, on many occasions the land cannot be titled for another 12-18 months.

“If we sell a home today, it doesn’t get to site on average for 10-12 months. So you’re selling at today’s price, but the price rises that happen with trades and regulation changes—it really squeezes your margin by the time you go to build it.”

Mr Sanfilippo admits this is a huge challenge for the industry in general, with single firms unable to control the timings from sale to the start of building, meaning many of them are looking for regulations to change for protection.

In the long term, the group intends to bring land and development projects into the other states, moving across the other companies in the group to replicate the model that has been so successful in Victoria.

“Our goal is really to replicate the Group businesses we have in Victoria into the other states,” Mr Sanfilippo concludes, discussing the group’s future plans.

“We do have our Dynamic Technology Solutions, Vault Plumbing and Beacon Building Services in some states other than Victoria,” he continues. “But over time, we want to expand to have a whole Burbank Group presence in other states.”

LBT Innovations (ASX:LBT): expansion and development in artificial intelligence platforms

Brent Barnes LBT Innovations

Brent Barnes is the CEO of LBT innovations (ASX: LBT), an artificial intelligence company which has made its mark as a designer of ground breaking advanced automated technologies for microbiology laboratories.

Brent Barnes’ career in technology began at the Sydney-based global headquarters of Cochlear, tasked with moving the company’s paper-based configuration and document management processes to an electronic-based system over a period of two and a half years. His time in Sydney led to an opportunity to relocate to the North American head office of Cochlear in Denver, Colorado. His list of diverse responsibilities moved to include running technical service operations and logistic functions, start a manufacturing subsidiary and also run sales.

“A company like Cochlear exposed me to an extensive range of skills and opportunities, not only from an internal product development perspective, but also from a field and operations-based perspective, in being responsible for revenue and having access to live in certain countries,” Mr Barnes says.

After four years in the US, Mr Barnes moved back to Australia in 2011, remaining with Cochlear, he took on a role as the Director Asia Growth Markets and Operations in Asia-Pacific. His main role was to expand into new markets and grow sales and revenue growth in a diverse range of countries predominately in South East Asia as well as Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

“It’s really interesting looking at the different markets that exist in Asia, I had a really varied range of responsibilities which included going to countries such as Myanmar, which required establishing medical disciplines such as Audiology that didn’t exist, yet was required to market and sell cochlear implants into the country.”

As his skills strengthened and diversified, Mr Barnes was headhunted to become the CEO of LBT Innovations. The company was moving into a transitional phase toward commercialisation on a global scale. Knowing Mr Barnes would have the necessary skills and experience to not only help market their newest product, APAS, to global markets, however also establish a company strategy for future growth.

“It’s important to have someone with some background who understands the regulatory environment and the quality processes required for product development. More importantly, I had the experience with global markets and ability to navigate the sales process and commercialisation of distributors and direct sales teams. It also helped being successful in revenue generation.” Mr Barnes says.

 

LBT Innovations has collaborated closely with the University of Adelaide’s Australian Centre for Visual Technologies (ACVT)

LBT Innovations

LBT Innovations are an artificial intelligence company distinct in their field for having technology which is patent protected and FDA cleared. They made their first impression in 2009 with an invention which would later become MicroStreak, a technology for automated culture-plate streaking and inoculation which obtained the largest share in its market within just five years of global sales.

“During the past 11 years, we have brought two products to the market. The first is automating the inoculation in the streaking of the specimen on agar plates. Rather than a human needing to put the specimen onto an agar plate, we developed an instrument that did it automatically, and provided some automation with respect to that first step. That product was launched in 2009 and resolved between 2009 and 2015.” Mr Barnes says.

In parallel with their first product, LBT began work on the Automated Plate Assessment System, known by its acronym, APAS. APAS is an artificial intelligence technology that reads and interprets colony growth on an agar plate following incubation. “After incubation, the agar plate comes out. Rather than a scientist or a microbiologist needing to handle it, we’ve developed the technology that is able to automate that process.”

“The technology itself is quite unique, we have developed a portfolio of patents where we have global coverage on our core technology. We have some patents around the imaging apparatus that are unique to our own technology, and we have used artificial intelligence specifically to train our algorithms to interpret the colony growth on the agar plate. We have entered into a 50/50 joint venture and created the company Clever Culture Systems (CCS) who are the legal manufacturer of APAS products and responsible for bringing the product to market globally.”

The superiority of their technology was demonstrated in a recent FDA clearance announcement on October 10th of 2016 following a clinical trial consisting of 10,000 patients. 7,500 patients from the US and 2,500 patients from Australia took part in the global multi-centre study. The clinical trial and data were submitted to the FDA in December 2015 and the clearance was obtained to approve a “de novo” submission. “The ‘de novo’ necessarily indicated that there is no predicate device or no other similar technology that has received clearance for its intended application and use within the United States. Receiving that clearance in October last year was a really significant milestone.”

“The market, both from a capitalisation share price perspective and also from a microbiology perspective really saw this as a validation to the clients that it absolutely works. We worked collaboratively across a ten month period, and having gone through that process satisfied the FDA that the achievement of the output of the technology was successful.”

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Brent Barnes is only the second CEO of LBT Innovations

The FDA clearance was a great milestone for LBT Innovations, but the company was still twelve months away from having a product available for sales. The span between the FDA announcement and their marketable product caused major fluctuations in their stock value, and Mr Barnes described their stock market fluctuations as a “double-edged sword,” as their share price spiked significantly over a short period, signalling day trading, and created uncertainty in the investor’s minds as to what the company was doing.

“The positive part around all of this is that we ended up more than doubling the value of the company.” Mr Barnes says, noting that, since the FDA clearance, the company’s market cap peaked at ~$100 million, although has stabilised over the subsequent 12 months into “normal levels” of around $40 million.

The first APAS to go into a laboratory was in St. Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne, “This is the first APAS Independence instrument in a laboratory for clinical evaluation. Over the last 12 months we’ve been running an accelerated engineering schedule where we’ve had an instrument at trade shows which has been working, but it’s been a demonstration instrument at trade shows in an exhibition centre. St Vincent’s is the first time that the instrument has been installed into a laboratory, and they have successfully completed an independent evaluation of their APAS Independence instrument. The evaluation being the first in situ installation of the instrument globally.”

“Placement in St Vincent’s Hospital, a highly regarded centre of excellence, enabled the evaluation of the instrument’s performance within a diagnostic pathology laboratory in an end user style setting with pathology scientists using the APAS Independence instrument over a six- week period.” Mr Barnes says, “The evaluation included over 3000 urine samples which were automatically read and interpreted, and the instrument was successful in triaging the negative plates, allowing microbiologists to focus on positive plates only. The APAS Independence will deliver efficiency savings in the reading and interpretation of urine cultures because all of the negative plates are removed from the workflow, allowing skilled scientific staff to focus on positive samples. In addition, the APAS Independence facilitated significant upstream efficiencies in specimen processing, which we did not expect.

“The evaluation provides further validation that the foundational technology works, and the instrument does deliver efficiencies in a laboratory.”

Expanding their technologies

LBT Innovations have established their technologies in microbiology, but Mr Barnes and the company do not intend to limit themselves to a singular field. Looking out toward humans and human blood samples as well as applications in agriculture, the company is working to extend the training of their algorithms into other specimen types. “We’ve done the work with respect to the algorithms for urine, but there are other specimen types that we will still need to train to further expand its clinical use. So, blood, MRSA, sputum, wounds, swabs are all examples of specimens that we will need to further develop as part of our portfolio of what we call analysis modules, which we can provide to the market.”

“When joint venture company CCS release this instrument next year for sales, we expect to cover the majority of specimens and the majority of volumes. We want to make sure that we’re covering around 60 – 70% of all specimens that go through this culture plate workflow. We’ll then look to further expand the other specimen types.”

CommSec’s Tom Piotrowski speaks with LBT Innovations CEO & MD Brent Barnes about the company’s Automated Plate Assessment System which automates culture plate screening

Another upcoming groundbreaking technology in its prototype stage is in woundview. The technology implements LBT’s FDA cleared artificial intelligence platform to look at chronic wounds and automatically calculate the surface area of the wound using a 3D camera alongside algorithms which identify tissue constituents and tissue types on the wound. “The focus is within the clinical microbiology segment, however woundview demonstrates that our platform technology can be applied more broadly.” Mr Barnes Says.

Commercialising APAS

“A microbiologist will typically do between 40 to 60 reads per hour. The APAS Independence will be able to process 200 plates per hour. That’s at least three times faster than a human. This efficiency gain for the lab allows the scientists or microbiologists to focus on all the value-added activities that you really need them to be working on.”

“Globally there are around 27,000 pathology labs, however, based on market segmentation the addressable market size for labs to purchase an instrument is around 13,000 labs.” Says Mr Barnes, “Our return on investment calculations indicate the payback on a lab processing 400 plates per day is a little over three years. So we are focusing on those labs who process more than 400 plates per day. When labs get up to 800 plates per day, the return on investment is between one and a half and two years based on primarily headcount savings alone.”

As these technologies make their way to the market, LBT have stated that the product would be available worldwide through international distributors. “Our joint venture company CCS plan on selling the instrument through distributors in the global market. LBT has been appointed the distributor for the Australian market, and the Australian market is very representative of other global markets. Going direct here makes a lot of sense.”

LBT Innovations’ products will be available globally through a network of distributors

Clever Culture Systems have made plans to develop comprehensive training tools which will train distributors based on customer feedback.

“We expect Europe to be in the first half of next year, and the US to be in the second half of the next calendar year, 2018. We expect to commence our first European centre of excellence evaluation, similar to what was done at St Vincent’s in the first quarter of 2018 calendar year.”

APAS Independence will be available in Australian markets by January 2018, following the St. Vincent’s evaluation. LBT Innovations is actively talking to other labs in the region in order to line up the next location to receive the instrument from the beginning of next year. Their product will be sold at a one-off cost of USD$300,000 and an annual software licence (SAAS) fee of around USD$30,000.

Mr Barnes intends to expand the capabilities and applications of LBT’s platform technology through opportunities to partner, merge and acquire other companies. Amongst these opportunities is their partnership with Chinese company Autobio, “We’ve been working with this company in China called Autobio, they have a market cap of around $4 billion and are listed on the Shanghai Stock Exchange. They are the largest culture plate manufacturer in China and they operate within the microbiology space.” Mr Barnes said, “We have transferred the patents of our founding technology, MicroStreak, over to them, and they will look to redevelop the instrument and bring it to market in China. They have taken a $2 million strategic placement in LBT to own around 4% of the company. Having a technology partner sitting on our share registry as a top shareholder is really positive and there is absolutely opportunity where we can cooperate and co-develop products.”

Mr Barnes’ effect and vision as CEO of LBT Innovations is to handle both the expansion of their company into world markets and development of their products in tandem. In his time as CEO he has focused on how he can bring the broad skills and understandings he has developed throughout his career into the new field of artificial intelligence. His role as the CEO is now to create an inflection point which builds on their past success and looks to build new opportunities for their groundbreaking APAS technology across global markets.

“What we are doing to scale up the company is really focused around building core capability and expanding the application of our platform AI technology, which builds on what we’ve achieved over the last 11 years. We’re also looking to really develop this platform technology, and that is through the employment of new resources to transition to insource capability rather than outsource to expensive engineering companies. I’ve built some real bench-strength in our organisation over the past 15 months and we are bringing science and technology together.”

LBT Innovations (ASX:LBT) CEO & MD Brent Barnes podcast

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Brent Barnes is the CEO & MD of ASX listed company LBT Innovations.

Headhunted to become only their second CEO, Brent has a range of experience including a decade of experience with Cochlear prior to joining LBT Innovations.

In this podcast he breaks down the company’s unique platform technology based on artificial intelligence and how they’ve built a team of AI specialists allowing them to commercialise.

Brent details their bright future as they expand to become a multi-product, multi-revenue company distributing across the globe.

Find out more about LBT Innovations by visiting www.LBTinnovations.com.