G.J. Gardner Homes: Building trust

From humble beginnings as an independent building firm in Queensland, franchise builder G.J. Gardner Homes is now rated Australia’s No. 1 and Most Trusted National Home Building brand, focused on providing exceptional and trustworthy service to its customers.

Darren Wallis’ career with G.J. Gardner Homes began in 1994, as an accountant involved in the day-to-day running of the business, as well as assisting in the programming of the current franchise software program. In 1996 he became a director and partner of the franchising company, and was appointed MD of franchising in 2000. The franchising network now has more than 120 franchisees, and operates across Australia, New Zealand and the U.S. Talking to The Australian Business Executive, Mr Wallis discusses the firm’s decision to establish a franchise network, its commitment to gaining customer trust, and the exciting possibilities offered by its international footprint.

Pioneering franchise model

“G.J. Gardner Homes was founded by Greg Gardner back in 1983,” Mr Wallis says, “and it grew to six regional offices in southeast Queensland. Then in 1994, shortly after I joined the company, we made the decision to franchise the business.”

The opportunity to create a franchise business came about as a response to a local builder who was looking for a franchise to work with. The builder had recently approached the Housing Industry of Australia (HIA) in Brisbane for advice on how to grow his business.

“G.J. Gardner Homes was the largest builder in Queensland [at the time], and someone down there [at the HIA], we still don’t know who, said you need to buy a franchise off one of the large builders. I don’t even think franchising was in building at that point.”

This was a significant turning point for G.J. Gardner Homes. Considering a franchising approach to be potentially lucrative, the firm decided to turn its existing offices into franchise locations, with all bar one being sold to the Area Manager in charge of the office at the time.

Since then, the firm has been nationally recognised as Australia’s No. 1 and Most Trusted National Home Building Brand, in both 2016 and 2017, by consumer opinion website ProductReview.com.au, an award directly influenced by customer satisfaction levels.

“Part of [our success] is just the quality of the people we having working with us, our franchisees. We look for quality builders and people who fit our culture, and we can help them with the skills, resources and systems to grow their business.”

The franchise approach allows local builders to advertise under the trusted branding of G.J. Gardner Homes, but also to retain the same level of personalised customer service they are able to offer as a local builder.

“We made the choice several years ago to really focus on the customer. Back in the 2000s we were doing focus groups on customers, to find out what customers wanted, focusing on how we build the customer’s trust and how we build a better experience for the customer.”

 Over the years the firm has steadily built up the kind of customer trust that has seen it build homes across generations of families – from grandparents, to parents, to children and grandchildren – indicating just how high customer satisfaction has become.

Maintaining excellent service

“It’s easy to get to number one,” Mr Wallis explains, “it’s a bit harder to stay there. As part of our culture with our franchisees, and part of our culture with our staff, we’re always talking about how we can better service the customer.”

The firm’s ability to stay true to its core values as other builders come and go has been a key part of retaining customer trust and continuing to be the best. Customers always know they will receive exceptional service.

“Maybe another builder can offer a cheaper product, but can they deliver and can they give the customer that experience that they want, and can they know that if they come back time and time again, they’re going to get looked after?”

Building customer trust through a franchise system is one thing, but G.J. Gardner Homes has had to take into consideration other factors such as design and style concepts in its quest to give customers a great product at affordable prices.

“We spend a lot of time and energy and money on developing the right sort of design and style,” Mr Wallis says. “We’ve got architects that continually stay at the front of the market, but you’ve got to be able to mould that into an affordable product as well.”

This means the firm must focus on implementing exceptional operations procedures, setting up an efficient buying structure with its suppliers, and working with trades to make sure that it can deliver the latest styles and concepts at affordable prices.

In order to further boost its profile, the firm has recently teamed up with Darren Palmer from award winning reality TV show The Block, working to put together cutting edge designs and interior designs for a number of its customers.

“We got someone within the industry who wanted to work with us, and we could work together to actually bring value. For not much extra cost, we’re bringing that extra design and look to the build for the customer.”

International footprint

While it is common for commercial builders to have an international footprint, it is not standard practice for residential builders to work across multiple countries. This gives G.J. Gardner Homes an added advantage over competitors.

“We’ve got offices throughout all the states of Australia, we’ve got about 26 offices in New Zealand, and a similar number in the USA. Our biggest growth market overseas at the moment is the USA, because we can obviously have a lot more offices over there.”

GJ Gardner Homes - Darren Wallis
G.J. Gardner now has more than 120 franchisees, and operates across Australia, New Zealand and the U.S.

The company already operates in a number of states across the U.S., including Colorado, Texas, Indiana, California and Florida. It is also looking to shortly open another office in Oklahoma. The firm has also been present in New Zealand since 1996.

“We looked at the New Zealand market and we thought it was a little bit inefficient. So we thought we could help a couple of builders get established, but it really took off. We’ve got a great team over there, and have been the largest residential builder for several years.”

As an international house builder, the firm must be aware of the different expectations on builders not just in different areas in the country, but across the world, making sure it is able to adapt its style and processes to suit different projects.

“Someone building a house in Darwin is going to be totally different to someone building a house in Melbourne, or a house in Tasmania, or in our case, a house in Queenstown New Zealand or a house in Colorado, USA.”

This means architects and designers are required to be flexible, and it can be particularly difficult to remain cutting edge across a number of different housing styles. In reality, there is enough of a crossover of styles to make international building work.

“There’s still thousands of people buying new homes, and they’re looking for a company they can trust.”

“Recently, I remember, we took a lot of our more modern, inner city look housing, to Denver, Colorado, and they loved it. It’s quite unique for them over there, but by taking some stuff that we’re doing, inner city Australia became cutting edge for inner city Denver.”

Mr Wallis admits that the firm is in the fortunate position of having international influence, meaning it can take cutting edge designs from certain areas and introduce them to other parts of the world to further their appeal.

Negotiating the market

Since the final economic quarter of 2018, there have been numerous media reports of a downturn in the Australian housing market, with many homeowners heavily mortgaged. The effect this could have on G.J. Gardner’s business is not yet certain

“It could depend a little bit on what happens in the election coming up,” Mr Wallis says. “Depending on what the policies are. It could have an impact on driving up investment properties for a short period of time.”

In reality, a 10% drop in the market or similar is not likely to have a huge effect on a firm like G.J. Gardner Homes. It continues to be an industry leader, giving customers a great product, with customers continuing to search the firm out.

“There’s still thousands of people buying new homes, and they’re looking for a company they can trust. Often in those downturns, people turn back to companies that they trust. They’re not out there trying to get the cheapest price quickly.”

The reality is that during previous building downturns, the firm has actually increased its market share. This is due to customers being a little more careful about choosing which firm to work with, and looking primarily for trustworthiness.

G.J. Gardner homes has found its method of franchising to be both highly successful and effective, and the result has been a real positive for both building franchising and the construction industry as a whole.

“The fact that we do franchising in the construction industry is fairly unique,” Mr Wallis concludes. “We’re pretty much the founders of it. We just see it as a great model where we can give upcoming builders skills, resources and systems to help them grow their business.”

Find out more about G.J. Gardner Homes by visiting www.gjgardner.com.au.

William Buck: Saving companies in financial distress

William Buck is a leading firm of Chartered Accountants and advisors with offices across Australia and New Zealand. The firm’s Business Recovery Services team is a well-established middle market practice with experience assisting companies in times of financial distress to achieve the best outcome for all stakeholders.

Michael Brereton is a director of William Buck’s business recovery team. He is a leading corporate restructuring advisor and insolvency practitioner with significant experience assisting companies that are underperforming, facing financial distress, or in need of financial restructure. The recovery team focuses on the middle market, in particular owner-managed businesses, enterprises and mid-market ASX-listed companies. As part of a special report on the crucial service of business turnaround and recovery solutions, The Australian Business Executive spoke with Mr Brereton about how engaging a restructuring advisor can significantly improve the chances of a business in financial distress being able to continue operating.

Protecting directors and companies

“A restructuring advisor is typically a qualified professional advisor,” Mr Brereton says, “appointed when a company is facing financial distress, or is likely to be facing financial distress in the near future if action is not taken in the short-term to fix the issues being faced.”

There are a number of roles that a restructuring advisor can take, dependent on the circumstances being faced by the company. The recent introduction of new government safe harbour legislation helps protect directors of companies that are facing financial distress.

“Before the new legislation was introduced, directors of a financially distressed company who were attempting to rescue the company had to contend with our previously draconian insolvency trading laws, which placed directors at personal risk for any debts being incurred by the company.”

The new laws have allowed restructuring advisors to assist such directors to claim protection against being personally liable for a company’s debts, allowing the process to run more smoothly and be less financially damaging for directors.

“Another role that a restructuring advisor can undertake is to assist a company dealing with banks and secured creditors,” Mr Brereton adds. “[They] can also play a major role in assisting management of a company to develop one or more restructuring plans to save the company and avoid insolvency proceedings.”

An advisor can also assist a company in negotiating new arrangements with third-party suppliers and creditors, allowing additional time and funding for the development and implementation of a restructuring plan, as well as assisting with the raising of equity and debt.

“Restructuring advisors have significant expertise and experience in managing a multitude of issues which arise for any company facing financial distress. Existing management frequently do not have the necessary experience or the capacity to deal with the additional workload which arises in these situations.”

The result of this lack of experience is that management is often doing little more than putting out fires, finding that it does not have the capability to rectify all issues and ensure that the company is able to survive long-term.

In many cases, an advisor will work in conjunction with the management team and other specialists such as legal advisors, media, forensic, IT, and even cyber advisors, as well as industry specialists.

“The restructuring advisor’s role is to assist the company to achieve the best results and to maximize the chances of the company continuing as a going concern, protecting value for the company, for stakeholders, and most importantly retaining jobs for the employees.”

Act before it’s too late

In times of financial distress, Mr Brereton recommends that all stakeholders should consider engaging a restructuring advisor, whether it be the CEO, Board of Directors, CFO, senior management, or even lenders, creditors and shareholders.

“We’re frequently brought in by financiers or secured creditors, and even suppliers, to distressed companies,” he explains, “all of whom can benefit from advice that can be provided to them in how to deal with the company, and how to maximise their position.”

An increasingly common occurrence is a company’s management bringing in an advisor with the tacit approval of its bank, which can take comfort from the fact that management is being professionally and independently advised on the best course of action.

A general misconception of restructuring means many people believe that when an advisor is engaged it is for the sole purpose of chopping up or liquidating a business, when in reality the process can open up a number of other options for an ailing company.

“The range of options expanded dramatically over the course of the last year, when the government introduced the new safe harbour legislation. Provided directors meet certain minimum requirements, [they] are able to obtain the benefit of the safe harbour protections.”

An important part of the new legislation is the requirement for a qualified restructuring advisor to be appointed to assist the company in formulating a plan deemed to be likely to lead to a better outcome for creditors than would be attained through liquidation.

“In most cases that’s reasonably easy for a restructuring advisor to work on and to put in place all the safeguards. In addition, [they] will work with the management and the company to implement the plan.”

First and foremost, directors are concerned with saving the company. In that respect, the additional support and expertise provided by advisors in terms of balance sheet restructuring, cash flow management, raising capital, dealing with banks and secured creditors, and much more, can be invaluable to a company.

“Unfortunately, it’s far too common that we see a scenario where management and the board really are in denial,” Mr Brereton says, “and don’t reach out for assistance from a properly qualified restructuring advisor until it’s too late.”

A successful restructure will invariably take a significant amount of time and funding to complete, meaning companies that leave the decision to call in a professional until the last minute risk missing the chance to turnaround its fortunes.

“If you compare this to the US, which has a reputation of a strong business rescue culture, and is regarded as very entrepreneurial – if you actually look at the US bankruptcy law, Chapter 11, while it’s held as the benchmark for restructuring, it’s actually a very cumbersome, very expensive process, which requires a lot of upfront funding and a lot of time.”

All of which means that companies will need sufficient time and funding to put a restructure in place. Waiting until insolvency becomes evident is usually too late for anything effective to be done.

“Management need to act as soon as they get an indication that the business is facing some degree of financial distress,” Mr Brereton says. “If they reach out early enough, they give themselves the best chance of actually saving the business.”

Selecting the right advisor

The process of restructuring is not something that most healthy and solvent businesses will be familiar with. Because of this, it can be a particularly confusing process for management to choose the right advisor to have the greatest impact.

“Any business looking to appoint a restructuring advisor needs to make sure the advisor has a broad base of turnaround, restructuring and insolvency experience. I would recommend that the board look at any of the ARITA professional members.”

Members of ARITA are required to take a rigorous post-qualification course, and all have a broad experience of finance, accounting and law, meaning members are held in very high regard in the industry.

“Restructuring advisors become a trusted advisor to the company and management, and the board needs to have confidence that the advisor has the appropriate expertise and experience to assist them in troubling times.”

William Buck has an experienced team focused on the middle-market with a strong track-record in assisting companies in financial distress. The firm’s work helping these companies is usually conducted out of the public eye and kept confidential.

One of William Buck’s recent projects arose from an approach for the recovery team to take the role of safe harbour advisor to the directors of a retail company struggling to stay afloat in the nation’s current retail climate.

“The business was faced with sharply declining revenue. Management had not foreseen the changes to the business and were struggling to react in time. While management had been desperately trying to stem the declining revenues, and were looking for alternative growth areas, they weren’t meeting with much success at that point in time.”

William Buck’s initial role was purely as a safe harbour advisor, but this quickly expanded to assisting the CFO in engaging with the bank, which clearly had a very different point of view about the business’ prospects than the company did.

“We found we were almost acting as translator between the company and the bank, and while the bank thought they’d clearly signalled to the company that they had some serious questions on the viability of the business, and was looking at exit strategies, management of the company were looking at how do they grow out of the current predicament.”

Eventually William Buck was able to work with the company and bank to put a restructuring plan in place, part of which involved developing a cash-flow model which set out the basis for the turnaround of the business.

“On the back of that,” Mr Brereton says, “we were then able to assist the company to negotiate a twelve-month forbearance agreement, subject to a number of conditions, one of which was that the company raised capital.”

With William Buck’s assistance, the company was able to raise capital, which was used to partially pay down the bank, with the balance helping sure up the solvency of the company and provide for future growth. The company then had a solid base to continue operating.

“[This] was a great result, in the sense that the management, the directors, the banks, the shareholders, and most importantly the employees, all got something out of it. While there were some minor redundancies, the vast majority of the company continued operating, value was retained and the business continued operating.”

Mr Brereton concludes that directors of companies facing financial distress should reach out quickly to appoint a properly qualified restructuring advisor such as William Buck, in order to significantly improve the chances of the business being able to continue operating.

Find out more about William Buck by visiting www.williambuck.com.

Coming back from the edge

When a company is in financial distress the difference between recovery and insolvency usually comes down to getting the right advice ASAP.

With falling house prices, tightening credit and slowing export markets, our economy is looking increasingly shaky. As I write this, the OECD is warning the global economy is slowing more quickly than expected. They have sliced Australia’s growth forecast for this year by 0.2 percentage points to 2.7%, and next year to 2.5%.

We have had an enviable run of economic success, with 26 years of uninterrupted GDP growth. But with Brexit, Trump’s trade wars, a slowing Chinese economy, the huge rise in non-performing loans in Asia, and declines in business and consumer confidence, there’s a rising sense that this run may be coming to an end.

And many pundits are concerned the next downturn will be a big one. At a macro-economic level, most developed economies have little capacity to respond to any major downturn. Most central banks have nowhere to go in terms of a stimulatory monetary responses, and most national governments are already carrying far too much debt to attempt further stimulatory spending in a downturn of the type that saved Australia in the GFC.

None of this should cause business leaders to panic. But forewarned is forearmed. Now is a good time to pause and take stock of how your company is performing and how you may get through a future downturn.

14 ways to identify a struggling company

There are well-established warning signs that a company is in financial distress. As business leaders, we should always be checking that we aren’t ticking any of these boxes – or expecting to be ticking them soon:

The following list was established in a 2003 court case that examined an insolvent company. It remains the go-to checklist for signs of insolvency or serious financial distress:

  1. continuing losses
  2. liquidity ratio below one i.e. more debt than liquid assets
  3. overdue Commonwealth and State taxes
  4. poor relationship with present bank including inability to borrow further funds
  5. no access to alternative finance
  6. inability to raise further equity capital
  7. suppliers placing the company on cash on delivery (COD) terms, or otherwise demanding special payments before resuming supply
  8. creditors unpaid outside trading terms
  9. issuing post-dated cheques
  10. dishonoured cheques (and now, the more contemporary measure of dishonoured EFT payments)
  11. special arrangements with selected creditors
  12. solicitors’ letters, summonses, judgments, or warrants issued against the company
  13. payments to creditors of rounded sums, which are not reconcilable to specific invoices
  14. inability to produce timely and accurate financial information to display the company’s trading performance and financial position and make reliable forecasts.

If your company meets one or more of these criteria you must take action quickly. Sadly, many companies fail because the owners put their heads in the sand and deny or diminish the distress the business is heading into.

Are you insolvent?

If your company is showing signs of financial distress, it’s crucial to determine if it’s insolvent. Insolvency is defined as the point when you can’t pay your debts as and when they fall due. If you suspect you are insolvent, you need professional advice from a properly qualified Registered Liquidator or a specialist insolvency lawyer.

Registered Liquidators are highly trained insolvency experts who are closely regulated by ASIC. They will usually offer a free initial consultation to gauge your current situation and help you to determine if you are likely to be insolvent and map out a plan for you.

And if you’re not insolvent, here’s the good news: Registered Liquidators and also happen to be some of the very best business restructuring and turnaround advisers in the market. You’re already talking to the right people who can help you.

Beware of false promises

When your company is in financial distress, it’s important to choose your adviser very carefully. Because nowadays there are many unscrupulous and unqualified ‘pre-insolvency’ advisers spruiking their services on the internet.

It can be difficult to discern between unregulated, unqualified advisers and reputable, legitimate advisers, because pre-insolvency advisers utilise slick advertising and websites that make them appear to be legitimate and trustworthy.

They will often claim to remove the worry of your financial situation and help you avoid legal duties you may owe. But taking their advice may make your situation worse and put you on the wrong side of the law.

The best way to avoid bad advice is to deal with only a Registered Liquidator or a lawyer with additional insolvency law qualifications, and preferably those who are Australian Restructuring Insolvency and Turnaround Association (ARITA) Professional Members.

ARITA Professional Members are fully qualified in the intricacies of Australia’s complex insolvency laws. Because they’re also experts in restructuring and turning around businesses of all sizes, they can help you understand your financial position, your options and help you set a path forward.

New company turnaround laws

There’s some good news if your company is in distress. Last year, after many years of advocacy by ARITA, the government introduced new ‘safe harbour’ legislation.

The new laws are designed to help protect company directors of businesses who attempt to do the right thing and turn their company around lawfully, even if they are technically insolvent.

There are important steps, which are legal prerequisites, you must take to protect yourself as well as giving your company the best chance to get back to profitability:

  • Get your financial records in order

You can’t get the protection of a safe harbour unless you’ve got your books and records in order. This is vital because unless you know where your money is coming from or going to, you can’t really have a plan to solve the problems your business is facing. It’s also vital to understand where your debts may be and how much you really owe, including tax debts, and this is important in understanding if your business is actually viable or insolvent.

  • You must get expert help

The law requires that you get advice from an appropriately qualified adviser. While the law, unhelpfully, doesn’t define who that is, the most qualified advisers are always going to be ARITA Professional Members. The sooner you seek expert advice, the more options you are likely to have.

You will need to pay for this professional advice and, at a time where money may be hard to come by, this may be challenging. But your investment in good turnaround advice – or professional advice about your options if you are actually insolvent – can save you money in the long run. It’s vitally important that you don’t go to dodgy pre-insolvency advisers that promise things that seem too good to be true. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of that type of advice out there.

  • You must properly inform yourself of your company’s financial position

So, you’ve got your financial records up to date, you’ve taken advice from a qualified adviser and now you must make a decision about where to from here. The law now says you’ve got to decide if what you’re about to do will ‘reasonably likely to lead to a better outcome for the company and the company’s creditors than if it had entered into voluntary administration or liquidation’. And that’s where the advice from a properly qualified professional is vital.

  • Develop and implement a restructuring plan for the company

So, your adviser has told you there’s good options to get the company back to profitability. Great news. But the law – and common sense – says you must have a properly documented restructuring plan for your company. It’s important that it’s documented, not just for you to be able to check off that you are following the plan, but also if the turnaround doesn’t work, this gives a future liquidator comfort that the steps you took, even if they failed, had merit and the right intent and it will help make sure you are protected.

A restructuring plan doesn’t need to be long or complex. As long as it has clear and sensible steps to getting your business back to financial health and, importantly, as long as you follow that plan.

Differences for SMEs & large businesses

The law doesn’t distinguish the treatment of financial distress between different sizes of businesses. While we think that’s a real problem, it’s unlikely to change any time soon.

In a practical sense, the main difference is the size of your response to how you handle distress. Engaging a restructuring or insolvency professional doesn’t need to be onerously expensive if you’re an SME. Indeed, the majority of insolvency and turnaround professionals work in small firms themselves.

If you’re an executive or a director of a larger firm, you will likely need a larger, and likely industry specialist, team to work on your turnaround. So, you’ll need to pick a firm that has the resources to cover that.

There are good options to helping you through financial distress. But expert advice is key. And for your own safety, make sure you don’t go to some of the dodgy advisers who may offer their service through Google advertising. Often their only qualification is that they’ve been bankrupt before.

John Winter is the Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Restructuring Insolvency & Turnaround Association. Find out more about ARITA by visiting www.arita.com.au.

Novita Healthcare (ASX:NHL): Ground-breaking game-based training

Novita Healthcare is a medical technology company listed on the ASX, focused on the development of innovative TALI technology through its subsidiary TALI Health, with the aim of becoming a leader in the assessment and treatment of childhood attention difficulties by pioneering digital solutions for children across the world.

Novita’s technology solutions are reshaping the global health and education sectors, providing software that can make an impact in early childhood and create significant socio-economic outcomes for both developed and developing economies. Novita’s Managing Director is Glenn Smith, an experienced CEO, entrepreneur and investor with success in growing customer-centric businesses that deliver global technology solutions. Mr Smith spoke with The Australian Business Executive about the company’s commitment to developing research-driven software, its growing line of exciting products, and the significant returns on offer for investors in a number of global markets.

Leveraging research and technology

“Novita Healthcare is a technology company,” Mr Smith explains, “and we’re driven by developing technology and commercialising that technology, so really productising software algorithms into applications.”

The company’s first line of products focusses on the early childhood sector, comprising of applications that are interventions and assessments for children with attention issues such as attention hyperactivity disorder and autism.

“We have taken research that has come out of a significant institution in Australia, Monash University in Victoria. That is a twenty-year research project that has really developed the basis of how we’ve built the algorithms and the software.”

This lengthy research has provided a solid platform, through proven scientific trials and peer reviewed published papers, to help Novita deliver real outcomes to children struggling with attention issues, particularly those between the ages of three to eight years.

“We deliver products that can be accessible to children, to parents, to teachers and healthcare professionals, that aren’t invasive and that compliment other interventions such as pharmaceuticals, or other types of clinical intervention, that can be used out of clinic and out of home as well.”

The company through which Novita is marketing these products is its subsidiary company, TALI Health Pty Ltd, a Melbourne-based firm made up of a team of neuroscientists, software engineers and games developers.

The TALI technology is focused on children in age ranges three to eight years. Prior to adolescence, until about the age of fourteen, the human brain develops at a rapid rate, making it the ideal stage to intervene on any potential issues.

The TALI Train application is in market now for children in Australia, having produced significant results in Singapore and Hong Kong

“Your neuroplasticity, or how pliable your brain is, is very significant at that stage. So it allows any type of intervention to potentially change the neural pathways. We have a non-drug intervention that is delivered through a game-based training program, that actually trains the brain and the research suggests changes the neural pathways to the child so that they learn better attention skills.”

Helping them develop skills in a more robust fashion, strengthening their core attention so they can build on the experience going forward.

Strengthening and assessing core attention

“We’re at a very exciting stage,” Mr Smith says. “Our first product is a product called TALI Train, and that is the intervention that is delivered through the application. It’s an intensive five-week intervention, and it can be used by children from 3 to 8 at home, with a healthcare professional or in a school setting.”

The TALI Train application is in market now for children in Australia, having produced significant results in Singapore and Hong Kong, where clients are already purchasing and using the application.

“We’re really looking to expand into other markets, such as North America, and we have activities underway right now for the global deployment of the TALI Train product into international markets.”

The five-week programme has been designed on the basis of trials and scientific evidence, with this age group representing the earliest time that proven results have been collected, but it is by no means the limit of the application’s scope.

“We are developing ongoing additions to TALI Train, where children can simply activate the application ongoing, and continue to use TALI to strengthen and maintain those attention gains, so that they can feel like they’re winning from this particular type of activity.”

Even more exciting in the long term is the ongoing work of the company’s Research & Development arm, which is working on a second product, to be launched later in 2019, called TALI Detect.

“That is a very quick, 15 to 20-minute screening assessment tool for every child on the planet, to see what type of inattention issues they might have. They can do that and then be helped either by a healthcare professional, educator or parent, and they may actually choose to then go onto the training programme, TALI Train.”

The real significance of TALI Detect is that it will be available to all children, at an early age, helping education and health departments globally to assess which children might be at risk and put early intervention into practice.

In order to successfully market the TALI technology, Novita has developed both a B2C and B2B strategy, designed to effectively transmit the message about the benefits of TALI Train and other products to the public.

“[With] the consumer strategy, we have taken the approach that parents should have access to these new digital interventions, so they can participate in their child’s outcome from these solutions. So we market using social channels that allow parents to feel like they’re part of a community, and that they can help their child from the get-go with their attention.”

The company’s B2B strategy is primarily focused on going direct to schools, but also involves plans to partner with organisations that have a foothold in education in different geographic areas, such as Asia and North America.

“We’re looking for them to help us co-market these products back out through their existing customers, and perhaps complimenting some of the other applications and software that they deliver out to schools and education districts in Asia and North America.”

In order to achieve this, the company has been building the internal capability to help train those organisations in how to seamlessly deliver the TALI software through a positive customer experience, and why it is so important to do so.

“We’re certainly squarely focused on delivering out our current product, TALI Train, so we can be the first to market and really get a foothold in the digital therapeutics early intervention space for these kinds of applications.”

Significant returns for investors

“About eighteen months ago I was recruited in as CEO of Novita Healthcare. My background is in taking technology, and building teams and companies, and scaling them globally, to deliver technology solutions, or products and services, to both consumers and businesses.”

The team has worked previously in such diverse sectors as healthcare, education, Internet of Things, Augmented Reality and more, successfully commercialising and building companies, both listed and private

“I’ve raised a significant amount of capital to do that,” Mr Smith explains, “and I’ve helped those companies build organisations that deliver those products and services to global audiences.”

One of Novita’s real strengths is a team of skilled individuals working within the organisation, from software development, to commercialisation and capital, and most importantly the core business of marketing the products and services.

“That runs from the top down. Our board is strong in terms of our ability to leverage the marketing and sales skills, and the scientific and law skills, of someone like Sue MacLeman, who’s Chair of Novita Healthcare.”

Ms MacLeman has over thirty years’ experience in the areas of biotechnology, medical technology and pharmaceuticals, and is also Chair of several other ASX and NASDAQ listed companies in Australia.

The rest of the board is made up of Jefferson Harcourt, an expert in commercialisation who leads a world-class team in his own business of commercialisation experts, and Mark Simari, who has more than twenty years’ experience in capital markets, mergers and acquisitions, and developing companies to scale.

“Those type of really key human assets at the board level have allowed us to bring in a whole lot of talented people in the operational area, that really will allow us to market this to key global audiences.”

For investors in parent company Novita, there is a substantial opportunity for significant returns. Running as a software development company, Novita develops particularly high-margin products and solutions.

“Because they’re high margin, and we’re global, we will have significant volumes, and the plan is that we have significant revenues from the sale of those applications. So, a very high margin business that will deliver profits.”

Additionally, by building socially conscious software and applications focused on improving the lives of children, the company offers individuals a social impact investment strategy for their portfolio, allowing them to be a part of a company that is reshaping the global intervention market for children with new technology solutions.

“This is a really global opportunity, and we have a great head start on our competitors. This is a world first in this space for 3 to 8 year olds, this type of intervention. That’s exciting for investors, and other people who partner with us, to realise that we can gain traction early on and make TALI and Novita Healthcare significant brands in global markets.”

Find out more about Tali Health by visiting www.talihealth.com.

Find out more about Novita Healthcare (ASX:NHL) by visiting www.novitahealthcare.com.au.

SDI Plastics: Returning manufacturing to Australian shores

SDI Plastics has spent nearly two decades perfecting the art of plastics injection moulding. Despite operating in an industry that has been around since 1872, the Brisbane company continues to innovate, producing award-winning designs for big ideas in plastics manufacturing and tool making. It is also involved in many R&D projects.

The family-operated company is born out of a true passion for manipulating raw materials into functional components. The Australian Business Executive recently connected with company Director Kulbir Dhanda to discuss how SDI Plastics successfully caters to a global clientele, survives revolutionary changes in the manufacturing industry and continues to push the boundaries on thought processes and practices.

Building a dedicated and active executive team

Since 1993, SDI Plastics has built its expertise in engineering high-quality plastic parts for a diverse array of clients, ranging from Tier 1 corporates to mom-and-pop inventors. While the bulk of the mouldings are used in the packaging, construction and industrial sectors, the company has projects currently running in the farming, medical, landscaping and automotive industries as well. SDI serves a partner to each client’s growth, guiding them through everything from design challenges to prototype development to international market launches.

Dhanda, who currently leads the company’s R&D efforts and oversees its strategic growth initiatives, was introduced to plastics as a child. The journey began with his father, who worked for Kodaks European injection moulding facility that introduced new products to the market. His expertise was honed on 17 types of injection moulding machines that produced more than 11 million parts per month for the European market.

Despite inheriting his father’s passion for plastics at a young age, Dhanda decided to pursue a degree in international business from Griffith University in Brisbane. He then polished his skillset in product sourcing, negotiations, management and export market planning in Australia’s telecommunications industry. Finally, in 2003, he came back to the family business and received formal training to become a qualified injection moulding technician.

The company boasts an impressive 186 years of combined experience in the industry, and no one is afraid to roll up their sleeves to get the job done. “From the top down, we can all run an injection moulding machine,” Dhanda says proudly. “We have a huge amount of knowledge when it comes to designing parts for injection moulding and tool making, so there are all sorts of problems that we resolve.”

When working with SDI Plastics, clients get to tap into the company’s global network of partners throughout Australia, China and Malaysia and its extensive knowledge of foreign contracts, cultural negotiations, supply chains, market testing and service delivery. “All the guesswork is removed,” explains Dhanda, who describes SDI Plastics as a complete OEM solution. “They really don’t have to worry about anything. Our clients can comfortably pick and choose which way they want to go.”

Diversifying is the key to surviving

Navigating the slump in Australian manufacturing, which was largely due to high labour costs and outsourcing, required creativity and an in-depth look at every facet of the company. “We survived by strategically pivoting various parts of our business, and we grew in areas that we never developed,” notes Dhanda, who believes companies are returning to Australia because of the higher level of service found here.

When working with SDI Plastics, clients get to tap into the company's global network of partners throughout Australia, China and Malaysia and its extensive knowledge of foreign contracts
When working with SDI Plastics, clients get to tap into the company’s global network of partners throughout Australia, China and Malaysia and its extensive knowledge of foreign contracts

First, the company focused on strengthening its executive leadership, even if that meant making the difficult decisions to remove people who were not on board with moving in a new direction. In recent years, SDI Plastics has also cultivated blue ocean markets to build mutually beneficial global partnerships, has strengthened its investment in R&D programmes and fine-tuned production inefficiencies and automation.

“It was not one specific thing that helped us through that downturn in Australian manufacturing,” Dhanda says. “We really did pivot in many areas to change the way we do things to become a competitive company in Australia.”

Dhanda is also aware that his company will need to continue along the path of innovation so that it can stay ahead of an increasingly competitive crowd of companies that supply fantastic components. SDI Plastics spends extra time in the research and discovery phase, challenging operations at every stage.

“Our clients desire new methodologies to help them become more globally competitive in this market. Our thought process is there has to be a better way than the conventional method,” he explains. “There are numerous times where we’ve been able to successfully make a component run more efficiently by using better quality parts because we have a complete understanding of the whole process.”

Along with its R&D programmes, Dhanda believes resourcefulness, efficiency, service and a reputation for delivering results is what truly differentiates SDI Plastics from its peers. “We are a results-producing company. How we operate, our experience, our skillset is what sets us apart,” he shared. “We take personal pride in every relationship that we establish, and we really do take each project personally.”

An industry focus on environmental sustainability and new technology

Reaching $164 billion (AUD) in 2017, the plastic injection moulding industry is projected to generate nearly $327 billion by 2023. While rising demand in packaging, food and medical devices is driving global growth, Dhanda is most excited to explore collaborations with tech companies by capitalising on artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things (IoT). He also sees potential to diversify into exporting Australian products overseas thanks to the absence of a foreign exchange rate.

Dhanda is inspired by the industry’s growing embracement of a circular economy to reduce the amount of plastics thrown into the rubbish. Under this guiding principle, companies are finding new ways to recycle plastic components into the production process to incorporate them into other products. He notes that Australia will soon benefit from the big changes that are currently happening across Europe.

Along with its R&D programmes, Dhanda believes resourcefulness, efficiency, service and a reputation for delivering results is what truly differentiates SDI Plastics from its peers.

While he concedes that changing human behaviour regarding waste is difficult, particularly in Third World countries, there are some fantastic solutions emerging from industry collaborations. SDI Plastics is currently working on an R&D project that Dhanda expects will have a massive impact locally and globally if it comes to commercialisation.

Another trend trickling into Australia out of the European market is the use of metal 3D printing. This technology enables manufacturers to integrate metal components with plastic parts to provide reinforcement, rapid prototyping and low-volume manufacturing. During the past two years, SDI Plastics has emerged as a leader in this space with projects currently in development. “This is really going to change the industry in a big way,” Dhanda reveals.

“I see many areas where we are growing, and our R&D department is thriving,” Dhanda says. “It’s really exciting to see how that is going to come to fruition in the near future.”

For more information on SDI Plastics visit www.sdiplastics.com.au.

Culture is strategy and strategy is culture

In what is now a well-known piece of testimony given to the 2018 Hayne Royal Commission, a then senior executive, Matt Comyn, reported proposing to his then CEO, Ian Narev, that he wanted to do the right thing by the bank’s customers by abolishing a range of lucrative junk insurance products.

The response from the CEO received at the time was to “temper your sense of justice”. Comyn reportedly added that he did not take that flawed advice to the board because he believed the board shared the same view: that financial results mattered and that customers were expendable in achieving them.

Three years earlier the same bank had put a remuneration report to its annual general meeting which consisted of executive bonuses paid on the basis of meeting a number of non-financial key performance indicators that included good governance practices and customer satisfaction targets. A number of institutional shareholders objected, complaining that bonuses should not be paid on the basis of meeting ‘soft performance targets’ and that only financial indicators can be taken seriously.

It’s worth reflecting that even though Ian Narev was ostensibly a powerful chief executive of a prestigious institution, he was part of and captive to the culture of an entity that was bigger than one person, and that entity included the board to which he reported and the shareholders to whom the board reported.

It was therefore a pleasure to hear in March 2019, three years later, the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority chairman, Wayne Byers, state that the formulaic approaches to executive pay, that some investors favour, based on the single metric of shareholder return is “not going to cut it”.

In calling for a remuneration metric based on an even balance of financial and non-financial considerations, the regulator has picked up on Kenneth’s Hayne’s conclusion about the vagaries of human nature.

When Commissioner Hayne concluded that “entities and individuals acted the way they did because they could,” it seems reasonable to infer that he wasn’t simply touching on the fragility of the moral compass that order individual lives; he was also making a judgement about how the group thinking of people within entities is self-generating and requires effective self-checking and correction mechanisms.

In delivering his report to Government, the Commissioner left little doubt that while it might be people who create value in an organisation through their ideas, innovations and dynamism, it is also the people in an organisation who will lose their way if there are no corrective instruments preventing them doing so.

It is those instruments that have the potential to contribute to culture, a word often used as shorthand to describe ‘the way things are done around here’.

While the Hayne Commission has been a sobering experience for the Australian finance sector and business in general, as the head of the HR peak body, I noticed with a degree of curiosity that the executives called to give evidence and reveal the lamentable flaws in their corporate practices, were almost all in charge of operational divisions.

The counsel assisting the Commission, Rowena Orr QC, refrained from calling chief human resource officers to the stand even though they would ostensibly be the executives charged with the ownership of culture.

There may be a number of reasons for HR flying under the Commission’s radar but the one that interests me is the likelihood that the HR function was not taken sufficiently seriously within the entities that appeared at the Commission. By that I mean not only did the counsel assisting believe HR executives did not exercise enough influence to deserve a grilling from her, but that the entities themselves did not believe so either.

The Hayne Commission is not the only time I’ve been struck by the phenomenon of the HR function flying under the radar when it might be expected to be in the firing line. Another was the VW emissions scandal, which if nothing else was a case of a company living comfortably with a people culture in which coyness to speak out about grossly unethical and illegal behaviour was acceptable, and in which remaining mute was the unspoken code that was rewarded.

In resisting the temptation to suggest that business needs to take the HR function more seriously, I would say that a greater number of HR executives and practitioners, many of whom are members of the organisation I lead, need to be more upfront and visible in assuming their role as the owners of culture, and where that is not seen as their role, to take a lead in putting the case to the entity for doing so.

For that eventuality to succeed, HR leaders must be credible professionals in their own right so that the organisation has the confidence to vest the HR function with responsibility for culture in its own interests.

There are organisations which have done just that. They have seen that HR can boost the performance levels of its people which in turn contributes to achievement of its mission and sound financial results by paying appropriate attention to its customers.

A contemporary example of such a company is the entertainment service to which many of us subscribe. I refer to Netflix, which over the past decade has moved from physically shipping DVDs, to mailing content, to streaming movies digitally, to where it is now – a major creator of content, the 2018 Oscar winning movie Roma being a case in point.

In a 2018 Harvard Business Review article, the Fast Company co-founder Bill Taylor put Netflix success down to three things.

The first relates to big data, but not so much to the data itself as the ‘big ideas’ generated by using big data.

The second is a point about disruption. Netflix’s success involved breaking free from the accepted wisdom within the industry of which it was part. The company was not simply interested in how its customers watched but was keen to influence what thy watched, and it replaced an industry focus on demographics with the creation of ‘taste clusters’.

Taylor’s point is that Netflix didn’t just disrupt an industry, it also disrupted itself in the service of its mission. A company that ships DVDs is not the same company that makes content.

The third point goes to Netflix’s philosophy, described as ‘culture is strategy and strategy is culture’. Taylor sees Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix, as a leader who thinks just as rigorously about people and culture as he does about digital streaming and content.

Culture for Reed is about values, and he believes that values written down are less indicative of culture than “the real values of a firm which are shown by who gets rewarded or let go”.

And going to the question of who gets rewarded, he says they are people “who say what they think, when it’s in the best interest of Netfix, even if saying it is uncomfortable”. They are willing to be critical of the status quo and make tough decisions without agonising.

Netflix doesn’t make artificial distinctions between financial and not-financial metrics. They are the same thing. If the company can service its customers within the bounds of its mission better than its competitors, it will be successful. And it has at the expense of Blockbuster, which no longer trades.

So we are talking about a serious success story with Netflix, and on all three of Taylor’s success measures, people are central.

Only people can generate big ideas.

Only people can decide that in order to disrupt an industry it’s necessary to disrupt yourself, and then do it.

And only people can decide to adopt a philosophy about the interconnected centrality of culture and strategy, and make it work.

If Netflix is a stellar success story founded on a people culture, the aftermath of the Hayne Royal Commission is a crisis presented to the finance sector with culture at its core, and survival of 2019 annual general meetings without incurring a second strike on executive remuneration.

When Winston Churchill wanted to set up a United Nations at the end of World War II, he reminded world leaders that they should “never let a good crisis go to waste”.

For the HR profession in Australia, there has never been a better time than now to assist the banks in dealing with a culture crisis. Since 2015 the Australian HR Institute has set a high certification bar on professional HR standards and practice. We now require eligible practitioners to undertake a set number of exacting internationally benchmarked postgraduate units, as well as minimum years of service, and mandated continuing professional development.

In a profession which has previously set no bar to entry, this is a significant initiative that recognises the demands that businesses are now making on the skills, knowledge and behaviours required of an HR professional working as a partner to the business. HR certified practitioners can and will take ownership of driving economic performance while at the same time exercising the influence and courage where necessary to ensure the people and the entity remain ethically and legally focused on achieving its mission.

Lyn Goodear FAHRI GAICD is the CEO of the Australian HR Institute, www.ahri.com.au.

Why blog? Six reasons why every website owner needs one.

WEB-FEATURED-Featured image-Senka_Pupacic_Top_10_SEO

Every business needs a website and I remember the days in early 2000 – 2005 clients saying to me they don’t need a website. How the view of websites has changed so much since then.

I have found that up until 2014, all I needed to do was create a brilliant website for my client. This website would be filled with fresh and unique content on the subject, and organic search engine optimisation SEO applied to the site. Within a few months, they would be on page one for most of the keywords.

Since February 2014, Google has changed the game and so much more work is now involved to gain a high score for your website. Fresh and unique content is still significant. Now, we supply Google with this via blogs.

Outbound marketing vs. inbound marketing

Outbound marketing is essentially the use of traditional advertising methods such as flyers, email marketing, and cold calling to reach potential customers. This wide-net method tends to be rather costly and ineffective due to the lack of targeting and usually offers a relatively low ROI.

While outbound marketing focuses on reaching out to potential customers, inbound marketing methods are aimed at attracting prospective customers who are already seeking a product or service like yours. By providing value by offering useful and helpful content at every stage of your prospects buying journey, they are much more likely to purchase from you.

However, what is the most effective inbound method to include in your marketing strategy? The answer is surprisingly simple yet highly effective: launch a blog (short for ‘web log’) on your company’s website and regularly publish useful and relevant content.

With this in mind, here are six reasons why every company needs a blog on their website.

1. A blog can increase traffic to your site

If your primary marketing strategy focuses on outbound methods, you most likely only attract a low number of qualified leads per month. Chances are, your website doesn’t receive much traffic from search engines – and this is where a large proportion of your potential customers will be coming from.

As most business websites are just a few pages long, they are unlikely to be found when people are idly browsing the internet. However, by publishing articles that cover trending topics, provide solutions to both common and specific problems, and offer a unique perspective on important issues, your web presence will be significantly expanded.

This will result in more web pages for search engines to index your website and include it in web searches. Therefore, when your potential customers type a query into Google, the chances of them finding the useful content – and in turn, your website – increases exponentially. Simple? Yes. Effective? Most definitely

2. A great blog can encourage purchasing behaviour

Research has found that B2B companies with a regularly updated blog have an 88% higher monthly lead generation than those without a blog. To discover exactly how this happens, we need to understand how buyers make their purchasing decisions.

The purchasing journey begins with research – usually through online reviews and company blogs. This information helps buyers to decide if they will buy, and if so, which company they will buy from. A helpful and informative blog can help to build trust with buyers, which often leads to higher sales.

3. Blogging can help with your company’s social media marketing

As your current and potential customers regularly use their favourite social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn, these are the ideal places to be sharing your latest blog posts.

Social media serves as an incredible marketing tool for keeping your business in front of your customers – as long as your content is relevant and engaging.

4. A blog can improve your social media engagement

A regularly updated blog provides fresh content for your audience on social media, which leads to more traffic to your website, more qualified leads, and more sales.

5. Blogging helps to improve your website’s SEO

A blog can help tremendously towards your SEO efforts, as search engines rank websites with fresh, quality content higher than those that don’t. The more original and diverse content you publish – such as videos, images, and relevant keywords – the more opportunities you provide search engines to find you. Other website owners will be more likely to backlink to your site, which is another excellent way to improve your SEO.

6. An exciting blog can support your email marketing strategy

If you have a company blog that is kept fresh with interesting, useful, and informative content, your email subscribers will look forward to seeing your emails in their inbox – rather than clicking the unsubscribe button. A blog that provides valuable information is a great way to keep existing and potential customers interested in your business, which in turn leads to more sales.

Vlogging – what is it, and how is it shaping digital media?

Between 2012 and 2016, online video viewers increased by 87% from 372,000,000 to nearly 700,000,000, while viewing time has risen from 26 minutes a day to almost an hour. These incredible increases are mainly due to the popularity of mobile internet browsing, which has overtaken desktop viewing.

Online video is rapidly becoming the media of choice for web users due to its low engagement requirements. A certain type of video proving to be popular with audiences – Vlogs. A vlog, or ‘video log’ is a type of video where ‘vloggers’ share self-recorded videos of their lives.

As these six reasons show, having a blog on your company website and adopting a strategic approach to your blogging efforts can lead to higher website traffic, which results in more qualified leads and an increase in sales. It certainly takes some effort and consistency, but your business bank account will thank you for it.

Senka Pupacic is the founder of Top 10 SEO: www.top10insydney.com.au.

Destination New Orleans: Experience Southern hospitality

A former French colony, New Orleans, often referred to as ‘The Big Easy’, is a truly unique city, not just in the United States but across the world. With a proud cross-cultural and multilingual tradition, this one-of-a-kind city situated alongside the great Mississippi river is a growing tourist destination, welcoming close to 18 million visitors in 2017.

Marketing itself as a state of opportunity, Louisiana offers a business environment built for success, combining an extensive collection of competitive advantages, including customised workforce training, low business operating costs, and robust infrastructure. As a major port, New Orleans is considered an economic and commercial hub for the Gulf Coast region.

Founded in 2004, the New Orleans Chamber of Commerce helps members build mutually beneficial partnerships within the city, and currently boasts around 1,300 members. This focus on business has helped Louisiana rank among the top ten business climates in the nation across three independent sources.

The recently revamped New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center plays a major role in the success of the city’s business events. The centre is the sixth largest convention facility in the United States, boasting over a million square feet of exhibit space, and regularly ranks in the country’s top ten facilities holding the most annual conventions and tradeshows.

In New Orleans, both business and culture are abounding. Steeped in a proud musical tradition, there is never a night in New Orleans where one can’t see the finest jazz and blues musicians lighting up a stage, along with a host of other performances that give a real flavour of the city’s historic music and arts scene.

If one is lucky enough to visit the city in carnival season, then the Mardi Gras celebrations across New Orleans are less of a ‘must see’ and more of a ‘cannot miss’. For two weeks in February/ March, the city is transformed into a cornucopia of celebration, hosting parades, balls and many more vibrant community events that get the streets dancing and singing.

New Orleans has earned a reputation as one of the world’s most culturally rich destinations
New Orleans has earned a reputation as one of the world’s most culturally rich destinations

Those visiting outside carnival season are still in for a treat. The French Quarter is the city’s historic heart, famous for its vibrant, around-the-clock nightlife, and colourful buildings resplendent with cast-iron balconies. The centre of activity is famous Bourbon Street, packed with such crowd-pleasers as jazz clubs, Cajun restaurants and rowdy cocktail bars.

Head down to the Toulouse Street Wharf and one can see the city differently by taking a ride on New Orleans’ only steamboat, the Steamboat Natchez. This two-hour cruise from the heart of the French Quarter will take you around the beautiful crescent of the lower Mississippi River, with food, cocktails and wine available on board to help you float in style.

A short walk further south, in the CBD, is the National WWII Museum. Designated by the U.S. Congress as the nation’s official National WWII Museum in 2003, it offers a range of fascinating special exhibits and events, as well as museum tours across its six-acre campus, interactive features, oral histories, and personal vignettes.

A visit to Louisiana wouldn’t be complete without exploring the New Orleans plantations, which provide insight into some of America’s most interesting and tragic stories. The history of slavery in the state, and the nation, is not always comfortable to learn about, but these tours give a fascinating glimpse into both the opulence and exploitation of plantation life.

New Orleans has earned a reputation as one of the world’s most culturally rich destinations, and the sense of excitement and joy that permeates this great city is infectious.

Stay Alfred New Orleans

Our accommodation provider of choice when staying in New Orleans is Stay Alfred, offering short or long-term stays right in the downtown core. Find out more at www.stayalfred.com.


Destination San Francisco: Golden Gate City

The jewel in the crown of the San Francisco Bay Area on America’s west coast, San Francisco has a reputation for progressive living and technological innovation, and was the highest ranked American city for liveability in 2018. To those living in the area, San Francisco is normally referred to as ‘The City’.

The cultural, commercial and financial centre of Northern California, San Francisco is the thirteenth-most populous city in the US, and the fourth-most populous in California. Nearby San Francisco International Airport offers non-stop flights to more than 39 international cities on 33 international carriers, averaging over 55 million passengers per year.

Two of the Bay Area’s major cities, San Francisco and San Jose, have the strongest economies in the US. In 2017, the Bay Area alone generated a GDP of $748m, with an annual growth rate nearly double that of the entire nation. If the Bay Area were a country, it would be in the top 20 largest economies in the world.

Much of the region’s prosperity is generated by its proximity to Silicon Valley, the epicentre of the tech world, which has become one of the biggest contributors to the national economy in the past few decades. A host of tech giants call San Francisco home, including Twitter, Pinterest, Dropbox and Reddit.

The city’s tourism industry is another of its key strengths. In 2016, San Francisco welcomed around 25.1 million visitors to the city, helping to generate over $9.5 billion for the city’s economy. In addition to being a favourite for international visitors, the city remains in the top ten US cities for domestic vacations.

San Francisco is the cultural, commercial and financial centre of Northern California
San Francisco is the cultural, commercial and financial centre of Northern California

There is plenty to do and see around the city. Those who are already a little familiar with the area will be keen to visit the Golden Gate Bridge, a spectacular sight that can be viewed from a variety of awe-inspiring spots. Those wishing to get a little closer can walk or bike across the bridge, or even take a guided tour.

While in close proximity to the Bay, the next stop is likely to be the former island prison at Alcatraz, the top tourist attraction in San Francisco, and just a short ferry ride from Fisherman’s Wharf. Make sure your trip is organised beforehand, as there is just one ferry company, Alcatraz Cruises, which takes people to and from the island.

In the city’s Financial District, the 48-story futurist building known as the Transamerica Pyramid is the second-tallest skyscraper in the San Francisco skyline. When completed in 1972, the Pyramid was the eighth-tallest building in the world. Stop in to the tower’s visitor centre for live-feed views from the top, and to explore the history of the Pyramid.

Those interested in the city’s role in the 1960s counterculture movement will be keen to visit the Haight-Ashbury area, just east of the Golden Gate Park. Head down Haight Street to soak up the hippie vibe and sample a mix of vintage clothing boutiques, record shops, bookstores, dive bars and casual, eclectic restaurants.

A few blocks north is the famous historical landmark of the Painted Ladies, an iconic row of Victorian homes well-known for appearances on movies, TV shows and postcards. Further north again, near Pier 39, is the city’s Chinatown area, the oldest community of its kind in North America.

Best known for year-round fog, cable cars and Victorian houses, San Francisco is one of the United States’ most unique and iconic cities.

Stay Alfred San Francisco

Our accommodation provider of choice when staying in San Francisco is Zeus, offering a home of your own for business travel. Find out more by visiting www.zeusliving.com.

Destination Dallas: Everything’s bigger in Texas

There’s a well-known saying in the United States regarding the nation’s second largest state, declaring that ‘everything is bigger in Texas.’ Located in the huge Dallas–Fort Worth metroplex, the city of Dallas is the most populous city in the fourth-largest metropolitan area in the country. It’s fair to say that big is what Dallas does best.

The city’s location in the middle of the United States makes it ideally placed for travel to and from other US cities, coast to coast, as well as offering significant global appeal, with nearby Dallas Fort-Worth being one of only a dozen or so airports in the world offering service to over 200 international locations.

Over the years, the region has hosted headquarters and major company operations from a diverse range of firms, with household names such as ExxonMobil, American Airlines, Toyota, and Dr Pepper all calling the region home. The Dallas Fort-Worth area boasts 22 Fortune 500 company headquarters and 42 headquarters from Fortune 1000 companies.

Global business is welcomed in Dallas. Situated in the heart of downtown, the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center Dallas is one of the nation’s largest convention centres, with over a million people passing through its doors each year to attend major national and international conventions, meetings, concerts, and much more.

In nearby Fort Worth, north of the CBD, are the historic Fort Worth Stockyards. These 98-acres of land contain a former livestock market and celebrate the area’s long tradition as part of the cattle industry. The Stockyards are now used primarily for shopping and entertainment, promoting the image of Fort Worth as America’s Cowtown.

Dallas Fort-Worth is one of only a dozen or so airports in the world offering service to over 200 international locations
Dallas Fort-Worth is one of only a dozen or so airports in the world offering service to over 200 international locations

When visiting Dallas, you won’t to miss out on sampling the region’s famous cuisine. The taste for great BBQ permeates the city, with restaurants such as the Lockhart Smokehouse on West Davis Street offering an authentic Texan BBQ experience. Equally sought after are the city’s unique Tex-Mex dishes, which can be sampled at Herrera’s Cafe on Sylvan Ave.

Heading into the Dallas Arts District will quickly quench any thirst for the city’s artistic culture. The Dallas Museum of Art, the Nasher Sculpture Garden and the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center are all located here, in an area offering music, performances, exhibits and tours, along with a wide selection of dining and shopping venues.

As far as sports are concerned, Dallas doesn’t disappoint. Home of the world famous Dallas Cowboys, the AT&T stadium in Arlington is the fourth largest in the NFL, offering an exciting matchday experience. If soccer is your thing, then MLS team Dallas FC is located in nearby Frisco, at the Toyota Stadium.

Dallas is most famous for the mystery surrounding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963. In downtown Dealey Plaza, the Sixth Floor Museum is extremely popular, hosting special exhibits that explore the impact of this historic event. Whether or not you believe in the conspiracy theories, the museum is a fascinating place to spend an hour or two.

Before leaving Dallas, you simply must take a closer look at its incredible skyline. The historic Reunion Tower is one of the city’s most recognisable landmarks, and its 470-foot-high GeO-Deck offers 360-degree panoramic views that will take your breath away. With a selection of dining, cocktails and private parties also on offer, the view is just the start.

Whether you are staying for a day, or a week, or even a month, Dallas promises to provide you with plenty of big experiences.

Stay Alfred - Dallas

Our accommodation provider of choice when staying in Dallas is Stay Alfred, offering short or long-term stays right in the downtown core. Find out more at www.stayalfred.com.

Destination Chicago: Winter in the Windy City

As the third most populous city in the United States, Chicago is an international hub for finance, culture, commerce, industry, technology, telecommunications, and transportation. Known around the world as The Windy City, Chicago is located on the shores of Lake Michigan, one of the area’s five Great Lakes.

Chicago’s O’Hare airport is one of the busiest in the world, offering non-stop flights to 218 destinations in North and South America, Europe, Africa, Asia and Oceania. The Windy City is also known as the railroad capital of the US, with more than 1,300 trains carrying freight and passengers going in and out of the city each day.

Chicago boasts one of the world’s largest and most diversified economies, and is a key national player in a variety of sectors. Employing in excess of four million people, and generating an annual Gross Regional Product of over $609 billion, the city is home to more than 400 major corporate headquarters, 36 of which are in the Fortune 500.

The city’s McCormick Place Convention Center on the shores of Lake Michigan is the biggest of its kind in the United States. Comprised of four state-of-the-art buildings, the centre offers 2.6 million square feet of exhibit halls, as well as two four-star hotels, the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place and the Marriott Marquis Chicago.

In 2012, the city’s Mayor launched a new tourism organisation called Choose Chicago, with the aim of restructuring all tourism sales and marketing activities under a single agency with clear objectives. In 2018, Chicago tourism saw an all-time high of over 57 million visitors, making it second only to New York City as the most-visited city in the nation.

Chicago is well known for the architectural boom that rose out of the Great Chicago Fire in 1871, helping usher in the skyscraper era. The city’s Willis Tower, formerly Sears Tower, is the second tallest building in the Western Hemisphere. The tower’s skydeck on the 103rd floor is open to the public, providing spectacular views that span four states.

The Chicago Blackhawks, one of the original six NHL teams, play at Chicago’s United Center

A highlight of any Chicago visit is a boat tour down the river. Wendella boats is Chicago’s original architecture tour, offering a range of distinctive narrated tours, all focused on the city’s rich architectural heritage and history, including a lake and river tour, sunset cruise, and summer fireworks tour.

The range of exciting tours around Chicago doesn’t stop there. Head to East Pearson Street in the city’s Magnificent Mile district and board the Chicago Crime Tours bus to escape into Chicago’s underworld on a crime and mob tour, exploring the lives of criminals such as Al Capone and John Dillinger, and visiting historic landmarks like the Biograph Theatre.

Sports are something of a big deal in Chicago. In the North Side community area of Lakeview is world-famous Wrigley Field, home to the Chicago Cubs and the second oldest baseball park in the Major Leagues. The city also homes the Cubs’ fierce rivals, Chicago White Sox, who play in southern area of Park Boulevard at Guaranteed Rate Field.

Equally important in the city’s sporting calendar is ice hockey, which sees the Chicago Blackhawks, one of the original six NHL teams, play at nearby United Center. The arena is also home to basketball team Chicago Bulls, which enjoyed a period of sustained success in the 1990s with world-famous players such as Hall of Famer Michael Jordan.

Chicago has long been at the forefront of American economic, cultural and political history, with a standing as one of the most dominant Midwest metropolises.

Stay Alfred

Our accommodation provider of choice when staying in Chicago is Stay Alfred, offering short or long-term stays right in the downtown core. Find out more at www.stayalfred.com.

Charting a course through political and economic headwinds

Feature-Nexus- -APAC-Group-Chair-Nick-Campbell-The-Australian-Business-Executive

Companies are now operating in an environment of increased uncertainty on the global, domestic and political stage.  Now, more than ever, companies have to be exceptionally engaged to plot a steady course and manage their political and economic risk.  

As 2019 gathers pace, the outlook is for greater uncertainty as state and federal political leaders grapple with volatile and impatient voters. Understanding these changes and addressing the impacts that they have will be a business imperative over the medium term for many businesses in Australia.

National political disquiet

Currently, the Australian electorate, like the business community, is restless, yearning for a return to stability but also change for the future.  This climate has concerns about state and federal governments of any political colour. Voters have recently demonstrated their preparedness to use the ballot box to punish and even change governments, especially where they believe their elected representatives are not meeting expectations. Dissatisfied with the lack of listening to or acting on concerns, the failure to demonstrate competence and the failure to implement their mandate – voters are making their views heard through the ballot box. The rise of micro parties and independents has also provided a vehicle for voters to demonstrate their dissatisfaction. The current Coalition Government was elected in 2013, in part, on the promise of a return to stable government after the tumult of the Rudd and Gillard governments. Voters were assured that “the adults would once again be in charge”.  However, in 2019, leadership changes and repeated public displays of disunity have created increased public dissatisfaction for the government and opinion polling shows public displeasure with the leadership in Canberra. While the Coalition can claim success on implementing its key long-term election commitments on the Economy, Tax Reform, Debt Reduction and National Security, polling would suggest that many voters believe the Government is not listening to their current concerns and they are looking at voting for a change.

Budget challenges

Contributing to the Government’s troubles has been its struggle to find a rhythm in its economic narrative during its two terms. Traditionally, first budgets for new governments can be tough and used to set a solid economic foundation. However, a hostile Senate to many of the Government’s changes stalled some budget reform measures and there were questions about a true mandate for many measures from the Coalition. In addition, the public vented its anger at unpopular measures, the Government not able to effectively bank any of the economic dividends and suffered much from the polling and credibility fallout. As we move into 2019, we have had a total of three Coalition Prime Ministers (Abbott, Turnbull, Morrison) but have also had three different Treasurers with each change (Hockey, Morrison and Frydenberg). These changes meant that the Coalition lost focus and ground in the area of its core Economic narrative and focus. The Government now faces a very difficult task: does it continue driving economic reform, deliver the long-promised surplus or does it pivot to a more popular budget to improve its standing with voters? It is a challenge to achieve all three in an election year. Many commentators are unsure that the electorate will reward the government for its economic management.  A predicted Labor win, will likely see another mini Shorten/Bowen Federal Budget before the end of the year. A new Labor government would then bring in the usual May 2 budget in 2020. This would equate to three Federal Budgets in 14 months. This uncertainty about the overall future economic direction of the country is also impacting business and consumer confidence.

State lessons

It is not just instability at the federal level that is feeding voter discontent and business uncertainty. At a state and territory level, voters have changed a number of governments over the past few years while others have internal challenges and look unstable. Both Victoria and Queensland have had one term governments. In the Northern Territory there have been attempted and sometimes successful leadership coups, frequent ministry reshuffles and members switching political allegiances from one party to another. Tasmania has also faced resignations and instability.

The recent re-election of the Berejiklian Coalition government in NSW does appear to go against this trend. On a first and optimistic glance, the electorate appears to have rewarded a stable and unified administration with a strong policy and economic track record. A deeper look, however, reveals that New South Wales has also overcome a change in Premier, Deputy Premier and Treasurer three times each in the current Coalition government. Despite its success, it has only just won the election and govern.  It will need the support of a number of cross benchers in both the lower house and the upper house to ensure stability over their next term. The sheer volume of micro parties and independents in the new NSW Parliament, mostly at the expense of the National Party, foreshadows challenges ahead.

Mitigating the risk for business

So what does this mean for business? CEOs depend on stability, both within their organisation, the sectors they operate in and the wider economic and political environments in which they operate.  Many are facing difficult challenges of their own and the uncertain political climate is adding to their concerns.

This year at the annual World Economic Forum in Davos Switzerland, PwC’s 2018 Annual Global CEO survey results were released (www.pwc.com/gx/en/ceo-agenda/ceosurvey/2019).  This survey is carried out each year by PwC and gives a useful indicator of CEO thinking around the globe.  The results both on a global level and also on the Australia sub-set are quite interesting, especially looking at the variations and trends year to year.

Concerns on growth: The PwC results the previous year saw a record jump in optimism regarding global growth prospects in 2018, and this exuberance translated across most of the regions. However, this year, there was a sharp adjustment and a big jump in pessimism for 2019, with nearly 30% of all CEOs projecting a decline in global economic growth, up from a small 5% last year. This is a record shift. CEOs also reported a significant decrease in confidence in their own organisations’ revenue prospects over the short (12-month) and medium (three-year) term. If CEOs’ confidence continues to be a leading indicator, which it has previously, global economic growth will likely slowdown in 2019.

Political & policy uncertainty: Across the global survey results there was a consistent theme of bunkering down as CEOs adapt to the government responses to the strong nationalist and populist sentiment across the globe. The threats the CEOs view as most concerning are less existential (e.g. terrorism, climate change) and more related to the ease of doing business in the markets where they operate (e.g. overregulation, policy uncertainty, availability of key skills, trade conflicts etc).

In the 2019 survey business leaders considered that Over-regulation (35%) and Policy Uncertainty (35%) were the greatest threats to business growth prospects.  Also rating highly were Geopolitical uncertainty (30%), Protectionism (30%) and Populism (28%). Issues like Terrorism (13%) and Climate Change (19%) have decreased considerably in the minds of the CEOs.

Not surprising for many is that the Australian CEOs are more concerned than their global counterparts on the same issues especially Protectionism (62%) and Populism (63%). They also consider the main threats to growth in Australia to be: Policy Uncertainty (89%) and Over-reregulation (84%) and Geopolitical uncertainty (73%).  These are differences of more than 30% in some cases.

A number of companies’ have tried to adapt to this tide of change. Back in 2015, PwC’s Annual Global CEO survey highlighted that 85 percent of CEOs agreed that government and regulators have some or a significant influence their business, with only 14 percent saying that they had little or no influence. Unsurprisingly, 67 percent of CEOs said they are making some or major changes to strengthen their engagement with government and regulators.

Mitigating the downturn

Clearly, the current economic and political climate requires a renewed focus, increased communication and stronger engagement. So, with the current political and economic instability in Australia, what should smart businesses be looking to do in 2019 to mitigate their political and policy risks?

1) Firstly, business needs to closely monitor what both state and federal governments are doing, especially with reforms and budget changes. Tracking potential changes is crucial to being able to engage in a timely and pre-emptive manner and mitigate any changes. In turbulent political times, government tends to make decisions in a shorter time frame; early warning and detection systems are critical.

2) Secondly, despite the uncertainty, business should strengthen their direct engagement with the politicians and their advisers, especially around important areas of interest and concern. This should include the cross-bench parities where appropriate. Educating key political leaders on business and the impacts of policy change is the best way to protect policy stability for business.

3) Thirdly, in order to further mitigate risk of sudden political changes, companies should also spend more time with its regulators and the key departments that impact its external environment.  In times of turbulent political leadership, the bureaucracy plays an even more important role. Especially in areas where there is limited consultation with business, the public service can advise elected decision makers of some of the implications and downstream effects of policy change.

4) Finally, and probably most importantly, what is needed internally within businesses is a change in mindset, increased resourcing, and senior leadership focus to ensure success.  To many companies, government is one of their most important shapers of their business environment. They need to be treated as such.  While companies can rely some practical steps through industry associations, chambers of commerce, forward thinking companies also need direct advocacy and engagement on key policy areas or issues.

Now more than ever, business needs to be vigilant and engaged as it charts its course through the current political and economic headwinds.

Nick Campbell is the Chair of the Nexus APAC Group. He has worked across the private sector and government on Strategy and Public Affairs. Find out more by visiting www.nexusapac.com.au