40under40 Winners

05/03/2008 - 22:00


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Take a closer look at the nominees for the 40under40 Awards.

40under40 Winners

First Amongst Equals

Dr Michelle Ammerer

Top 3

Mark Blayney

Timothy Marney

Suzannah Vaughan

Ahmad Abas

Company: Gresley Abas Architects

Title: Director

Business: Architects

Total employees: 13

Reporting directly: 13


Ahmad Abas rates his decision to establish an architectural practice with business partner Philip Gresley in 2004 as his most significant business achievement.

The decision was made after working in the profession for 10 years and was timed to take maximum advantage of the emergent economic conditions at the time.

The company’s three-year goal was achieved within the first year, during which it managed construction projects valued at $4.5 million.

At the start of this year, the business had 13 employees and oversaw and managed architectural commissions with a combined construction value of $72.5 million.

It has received recognition through design competitions and its clients include the City of Perth, UWA and Department of Housing and Works.

Career guides

* No short cuts; know everything.

* No compromises (but be fair).

* Know what it takes and be clear on the challenges.


Mr Abas graduated from UWA with a bachelor of architecture (honours) degree in 1993 followed by a master in architecture – design. In 1997, as a junior architect, he won the national design competition for the Australian Prospectors’ and Miners’ Hall of Fame in Kalgoorlie. He is chairman of the Artrage Festival Fringe Society of WA, is a corporate member of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects and a member of the Architects Board of WA.

Top tips

Listen. Believe in yourself. The more it seems everyone else doesn’t see something the way you do, the more you should strive to ensure they do.


Daniel Ashton

Company: Gravity Entertainment, Boost Mobeel

Title: Director

Business: Mobile DJ business, mobile Boost Juice

Total employees: 15-35

Reporting directly: 15-35


At just 15, aspiring DJ Daniel Ashton knew where he wanted to go in life, but obtaining finance at such an early age was near impossible. So he worked up to 14 hours a day during the school holidays over the next three years, and by the time he was 17 he had his first DJ rig, valued at $15,000. With a $6,000 loan guaranteed by his parents and working full-time with Boost Juice, he soon had three rigs valued at more than $65,000. Since 2001, Gravity Entertainment has grown by more than 250 per cent a year.

While working at Boost Juice, another passion developed – to own his own franchise. Capital was again the problem, so he came up with the idea of a mobile version to take to schools. After negotiating with the company for eight months, Mr Ashton became the first Boost Mobeel operator and, subsequently, the youngest Boost Juice franchisee.           

Career guides

 * Obtain and maintain a positive attitude. Set your short-term and long-term goals.

 * Know your product and customer.

 * Utilise the resources available.


Between 1998 and 2002, Mr Ashton was a volunteer member and treasurer of the City of Cockburn Youth Advisory Council and a youth representative on the Transperth Customer Committee.

As a young DJ, he so impressed an interstate client that he was flown to Melbourne to DJ a wedding.   

Top tips

Pay attention to your competitors, but pay more attention to what you are doing.

Daniel Avila

Company: ATA Construction Pty Ltd 

Title: Co-managing director

Business: Property development and construction

Total employees: 40

Reporting directly: 12


The successful shift from being a contractor providing services to property developers to a property owner and developer in his own right is considered by Daniel Avila to be his most significant business achievement. Since pre-teens, he has worked in the family construction business on weekends and holidays, learning much about civil construction – and hard work.

After university, Mr Avila worked as a business manager in London for two years before returning home to manage the family business. Noting contractors did the hard work creating property estates, he bought or syndicated a number of significant properties within two years. The portfolio now includes concepts for non-urban retirement villages, absolute beachfront estates, town site expansion programs, cluster farms and proposed marina developments.    

Career guides

* Hard work and diligence.

* Education and associating with people you can learn from.


ATA Constructions has employed some core staff since 1976 and provides equipment and earthmoving machinery to FESA and local fire brigades at call. The business has also modified its liquid fertiliser production processes to suit specific manual production and will shortly start an ongoing relationship with Activ Foundation for the bottling and labelling of these products.

A committed initiative for 2008 is to dedicate resources and to make available its significant coastal properties for special needs children’s education and adventure programs.

Top tips

Be in a business or enterprise that inspires you and that you love.'


Adam Barnard

Company: ADAMS Coachlines

Title: Managing director

Business: Bus and coach operator

Total employees: 64

Reporting directly: 9


Adam Barnard regards his greatest achievement as the acquisition of Swan Gold Tours, two-and-a-half years after starting ADAMS Coachlines with just one bus.

His interest in the coach industry was ignited when working as a tour guide in WA’s north west. He later became operations manager for Nightcruiser party buses and helped expand the operation from two buses to 18 and increase annual turnover by more than 700 per cent over two years.

Foreseeing opportunities in the industry, he started buying buses from retiring local owner-operators, the rationale being to reduce competitors’ ability to buy local vehicles and increase market share by not “flooding” the market with coaches from interstate. In December 2005, Mr Barnard bought Atkinson Coachlines and several coaches. Nightcruiser and several coaches were acquired in January this year. The fleet now comprises 11 coaches and 19 buses and turns over more than $5 million a year.

Career guides

 * Hard work with a determination to succeed.

 * Honesty and integrity.

 * Ability to embrace change and technology.

 * Look for ways to improve and do better.


Mr Barnard has devoted much time to helping develop employees’ skills, believing that if they can feel better about themselves and more secure, they are likely to build better relationships with family and friends.

Top tips

Nurture your staff for without their dedication to achieve, you will go nowhere; you cannot do it all by yourself.


Angel Barrio

Company: PricewaterhouseCoopers

Title: Partner and head of Mergers and Acquisitions Perth

Business: Advisory division of global accounting firm

Total employees: Up to 200

Reporting directly: 5


Setting up of one of Perth’s most successful private company mergers and acquisitions practices is considered by Mr Barrio to be his most successful business achievement. Prior to 2001, PricewaterhouseCoopers in Perth had acted as lead adviser on the occasional M&A transaction through referrals from other divisions, and while 80 per cent of Mr Barrio’s time was spent managing these projects, they were undertaken on an ad hoc basis.

This changed in early 2002 when, with two staff members, he put together a strategy to establish a full-time M&A group. Within 12 months, it had completed its first major deal involving two multi-national companies. After becoming part of the national M&A group, the Perth team has completed deals averaging $50 million to $100 million in size. Mr Barrio has now transacted $1.2 billion in WA businessses.

Career guides

* Integrity, honesty and fairness.

 * What you see is what you get, warts and all.

* Treat others as you would like to be treated.


Mr Barrio has significant involvement in community events. He is a director of the Film and Television Institute of WA, mentor for the Australian Business and Community Network’s GOALS program, and sits of the finance committees of the WA Art Gallery and the Nulsen Haven Association. He holds a master of finance degree from UWA.   

Top tips

Never, ever give up. As long as you keep trying, you can never be accused of having failed.

Gavin Bassett

Company: Business Success Excelerators Pty Ltd 

Title: Managing director

Business: Business coaching services provider

Total employees: 14

Reporting directly: 5


Gavin Bassett believes starting BSE as an innovative franchise model within the ActionCOACH franchise just over three years ago was his most significant business achievement. ActionCOACH was established in Brisbane in 1993 and now has 1,400 franchises in 24 countries. It has been recognised as the most successful business coaching company in the world over the past five years. In 2006, BSE was recognised as the “top performing firm” globally.

“Our philosophy is to divide and multiply -- to groom up great leaders from within our group and then partner up with them to assist them grow our business,” Mr Bassett said.

Career guides

* Be clear about your own value and ensure others you go into business with have values to match.

* Get what you are working on right first before branching out.

* Focus on one thing and do it well.

* Never let your impatience get in the way of your success.


Mr Bassett gained a bachelor of busines degree with a double major in finance and management at Edith Cowan University in 1999.

His involvement in the community includes being an elder and treasurer at Baldivis Church, treasurer and board member of the South Coast Regional Chamber of Commerce, as a platinum sponsor of Local Chambers and setting up “100 millionaires in 1,000 days” to get Perth business owners to focus on the bigger game.

Top tips

The values that guide the direction of both individuals and businesses are excellence, integrity, persistence and congruence.


Kellie Benda

Company: Royal Automobile Club of WA

Title: General manager – assets and strategy

Business: Provider of motoring, insurance, finance, travel and security services

Total employees: 12

Reporting directly: 5


Kellie Benda is proud of her senior executive role at the RAC. In fact, she believes successfully and passionately managing a full-time senior executive role while orchestrating major change and innovation at a 102-year-old company is her most significant business achievement. She also contributes to four other important organisations at board level, is raising three young children and finds time to support her husband, who is managing director of his own start-up business.

In the first six months after joining the RAC, Ms Benda oversaw increased returns for a business unit by an average of $10 million a year. She was the youngest and only female member of the senior executive team and was appointed to her first paid board position at the age of 36.

Career guides

* Intregrity, authenticity, trust and honesty.

* Loyalty and respect.

* A little humility goes a long way.

* Commitment to hard work.


Ms Benda graduated in arts (industrial relations) and laws at the University of WA in 1991 and went on to gain a masters degree in applied finance at Macquarie University (NSW). She is a director of the Art Gallery of WA, Youth Focus Charity and Methodist Ladies’ College and is now working on establishing a charity for “work challenged” women in WA (Fitted for Work).

Top tips

Givers get. What you give comes back 10-fold.

Your success and happiness lies in you.


Jason Berard

Company: On Hold Magic (Magicorp Pty Ltd)

Title: National sales manager

Business: Sound studios with recording suites

Total employees: 17

Reporting directly: 3


The completion of new offices and state-of-the-art vocal recording suites in West Perth was a pivotal step in the business growth of On Hold Magic. Jason Berard says the equipment now available is a far cry from only four years ago, when the company had no equipment, staff, computers, brochures or income. It also had no rental clients and only one voice-over artist. The initial sound studios were in a converted Morley warehouse.

A telemarketing team was developed and started setting appointments for Mr Berard to meet business owners in person to develop relationships.

Rental growth allowed reinvestment to grow new sales teams. On Hold Magic now services more than 1,200 rental clients and 12 celebrity voice talents and has clients throughout Australia and in New Zealand, Singapore and Indonesia.

Career guides

*  The customer is always right – do not stop until the customer is completely happy.

*  You reap what you sow. Hard work is everything.

*  Build relationships, not just sales.


Nearly 10 years of employment in five-star hotels provided Mr Berard with a strong customer service and sales mentality. He believes it gave him the tools to evolve from a shy teenager to having the ability to develop strong relationships. Teaching employees how to grow and develop has become the foun-dation of his management style.

Top tip

Transparency is the key to discovery. Measure everything – it will show you your strengths and weaknesses.


Mark Braddock

Company: Block Branding Pty Ltd

Title: Director

Business: Boutique consultancy

Total employees: 10

Reporting directly: 4


Mark Braddock took a gamble when he decided in late 2000 to leave the US and a dream job at one of the world’s premier creative advertising agencies to return to Perth to set up Block Branding with his partner. But it paid off, with the success of the business giving him his most significant achievement in a macro sense.

The individual highlight of the past five years was winning the “best small or medium sized business” category at last year’s WA Business and Arts Partnership Awards.

He said this award stood out because its wasn’t just another ad award, rather recognition that his efforts had made a significant difference to the four arts projects Block supported.

Career guides

* There is no difference between my personal and business ethics.

* My career is a means to an end, not the end in itself.

* Embrace chaos. It isn’t going away, so enjoy and capitalise on the unexpected.


Mr Braddock, who gained a BA (design, creative advertising) at Curtin University in 1993, supports several community organisations financially and through time and resources. These include the Revelation Film Festival, The Totally Huge New Music Festival, Artopia, and working with photographer Bohdan Worchomij in designing and producing his book of photos of the Ukraine’s ‘orange revolution’.

Top tips

Seek solutions that are surprising, but inevitable.

It is a marathon – not a sprint.


Karen Briffa-Skewes

Company: Le Beau Day Spa

Title: Managing director & owner

Business: Beauty salon offering luxury spa facilities

Total employees: 25

Reporting directly: 25


Growing Le Beau Day Spa from one employee to 25, and from a backroom shop to what it is today, with a third outlet about to open, is considered Karen Briffa-Skewes’ most significant measurable achievement. The business, which started in 1996 with capital of just $5,000, is expected to achieve turnover of $1.8 million this year.

Ms Briffa-Skewes’ positivity and resilience were tested in 1997 when she was diagnosed with a brain haemorrhage and tumour. But it created a determination to stay focused and succeed, both from personal and business survival aspects.

“I have realised we must always live in the moment and do everything we can today,” she said.

Career guides

 * Believe in yourself and never compromise your beliefs or values.

 * Why do tomorrow what you can do today?

 * Think with your head and not your heart.

 * Let nothing stand in the way to fulfilling dreams and desires.


Last year, Ms Briffa-Skewes was a finalist in the Telstra Businesswoman of the Year Award and a nominee for the State Telstra Young Businesswoman of the Year. Le Beau has been national winner of a premier salon competition every year since 2001 and won national awards for ‘spa establishment of the year’ and ‘most innovative marketing’.

Top tips

I don’t believe anything is unrealistic; there are no boundaries to what we can accomplish.

Dreaming is everything. Never be a follower of trends, but set them.


Brendan Carlin

Company: Prestige Lock Services 

Title: Master locksmith and co-founder

Business: Locksmith

Total employees: 7

Reporting directly: 7


Brendan Carling rates the opening of his Port Kennedy locksmith workshop and retail premises three years ago as his most significant business achievement. It was to be a risky step, with his wife going back to work full-time and a new baby daughter to care for. Mr Carlin developed his business ideas in his lounge room and worked out of his shed, doing as many locksmith jobs as he could at night.

The client base increased as Mr Carlin worked from a van and workshop and Mrs Carlin rejoined the business. She now manages the workshop office. The new workshop, office and retail shop front opened a floodgate and today Prestige has the latest machinery and five vans on the road.

Career guides

* Relationships outlast price and first impressions.

* Think the best of people and not jump to conclusions until you have the full story.


Mr Carlin has won many awards, including SCRCC Business of the Year in 2003. He is keenly interested in Rotary, firmly believing in its motto of “service above self”. He sponsors a local U12 basketball team and St Bernadette’s Catholic Primary School.

Top tips

Break major tasks and projects down to little pieces to prevent being overwhelmed. It will enable you to perfect each step, thus producing a better overall result.


Megan Clarke

Company: Hyundai Motor Co. Australia Pty Ltd

Title: General manager western region

Business: Automotive distributor

Total employees: 130 nationally

Reporting directly: 7


Megan Clarke’s appointment as Hyundai’s western regional general manager is considered the pinnacle of her career to date. Her role requires management of a business with an annual turnover of $200 million in the highly competitive automotive market. She is the only female regional general manager in the automotive industry in WA and the only female general manager in Hyundai Motor Company Australia.

Her rise through the ranks of Hyundai is a testament to her dedication and hard work in a male-dominated industry. She started as a receptionist and personal assistant to the general manager in 1998 and after three years was promoted regional sales manager. Five years later, in December, 2006, she was appointed regional general manager. Under her guidance, the western region has achieved double the national market share and contributes more than 20 per cent to Hyundai sales in Australia.         

Career guides

* Good time management creates good habits.

* Include and consider everyone’s ideas.

* Encourage innovation and ideas.


Ms Clarke, who holds a bachelor of applied science degree from the University of SA, has won the National Sales Manager’s Incentive Award twice. She received an Employee National Recognition Award in 2001.

A keen basketball player, she has represented SA (1991-95) and Perth Breakers in the Women’s National Basketball League (1996-2001).

Top tips

Learn until it is understood.

Be creative -- innovate and improve processes and ideas.


Simon Creek

Company: HHG Legal Group

Title: Managing director

Business: Legal practice

Total employees: 30

Reporting directly: 20 

In December 2003, Mr Creek, with partner Murray Thornhill, bought the long-established Albany legal firm of Hudson Henning and Goodman, and he now views his involvement in the “overwhelmingly successful development and growth of HHG” as his most successful business achievement. A Perth office was opened in June 2006, and seven months later the firm attracted a voluntary takeover offer from Wheatleys Legal. HHG Legal Group is now the largest two-director law firm in WA.

In 1994, when 21 and still at uni, Mr Creek started making, marketing and distributing Fortress Plus, a car cleaning and protectant liquid. It is now sold through Technacreek Enterprises Pty Ltd, of which he is managing director.

“This is what I do for fun,” he said.       

Career guides

 * There’s no substitute for old fashioned blood, sweat and tears.

* Integrity. I could have trebled my net worth by now if I was prepared to sacrifice integrity.

* Turn a negative into a positive.


Mr Creek graduated from UWA with a bachelor of laws and bachelor of arts (political science).

He was recently re-elected vice-president of Albany Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Top tips

Money itself should never be the end game. It is a means to more important ends.

When you wake up in the morning you should see the bank manager’s face in the mirror. If you can’t, you don’t have enough debt.

Miles Cue

Company: Mediserve Nursing Agency

Title: Executive director

Business: Nursing employment agency

Total employees: 2,650

Reporting directly: 20


Miles Cue regards the establishment of Mediserve Nursing Agency in 1996 and its growth to a $25 million business with 2,500 staff as his most significant business achievement.

At the time of the company’s inception, Mr Cue was a registered nurse on shift work. He and his partner recruited seven nurses in the first three months, making phone calls during hospital shift breaks, arranging meetings with nurses at hospital coffee shops and borrowing office space for business meetings.

Experts were hired in to prepare government tenders, resulting in the company winning the WA, Northern Territory and Queensland health department tenders, in addition to private health tenders. Mediserve now has offices in Perth, Darwin, Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne.

Career guides

* Honesty and the effective ability to build long-lasting relationships with clients.

* Commitment to exceptional service.


After the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, Mr Cue used his business contacts to assist in providing supplies, funds and medical staff to victims in Sri Lanka.

Mediserve also provides a training scholarship for an indigenous person to complete nursing studies at Curtin Uni.

Mr Cue has an interest in a wide variety of sports, including soccer, cricket, football, dancing, fishing, rollerblading, snowboarding, archery and rock climbing.

Top tips

There are two keys to success – determination to succeed and having a personal interest and passion for your business.


Shaun Driscoll

Company: WA Assett, The Bathroom Renovators

Title: Managing director and co-founder

Business: Bathroom renovation service

Total employees: 62

Reporting directly: 2


In 1992, WA Assett was a small multi-level marketing business installing one bathroom a week. It also offered reticulation, plumbing and landscaping services. Today, it installs up to 12 bathrooms a week valued between $15,000 and $50,000 and is on target for a $10 million turnover this financial year. Creating a successful self-sufficient business rather than a vehicle for self-employment is viewed by Shaun Driscoll as his most significant business achievement.

Mr Driscoll and partner Dean Porter identified the niche market after listenting to customer complaints about problems pulling together the various tradespeople required to renovate a bathroom. Their subsequernt complete renovation package has been well-received by Perth’s public and corporate sectors.

Career guides

* Always have a strong work ethic.

* Refuse to give in and accept failure.

* Readily embrace change.


WA Assett has been acknowledged by its peers in the Housing Industry Association (HIA) excellence awards. Last year, the company won the categories for renovated bathroom project ($30,001 and over) and most accessible bathroom, and also received an excellence award for showroom design. In 2006, it won the renovated bathroom project of the year (up to $20,000) category. 

Top tips

The little things generally turn out to be the big things.

Knowing what to do is not enough ....you must act on your knowledge.


Ronnie Elhaj

Company: Australian Property Alliance

Title: Founder and sales and marketing director

Business: Property development and project management company

Total employees: 12

Reporting directly: 3


In 1997, aged just 20, Ronnie Elhaj established a business importing and exporting boutique beers, wine and spirits. Within two years, the company had gained sole distribution rights for various product lines, built a national distribution network and was granted an export licence.

In 2000, he turned his focus to real estate, working with three prominent agencies before establishing APA in 2003. Within four years, APA had created more than a dozen developments in Perth, Mandurah, Rockingham and Busselton and achieved over $150 million in project sales. He then created ‘The Niche’ housing concept, a suite of residential estates targeting first home buyers. Two Niche commuinities have been completed – at Bentley and Armadale – and a third was launched in Kelmscott in late January.   

Career guides

* Gain some practical experience before starting your own business.

* Ensure you have sufficient capital to fund your new business.

* Choose a business which has growth potential.

* If you lack certain skills, seek advice or assistance from someone who has them.

* Invest back into the business as you reap rewards.


Mr Elhaj graduated with a business degree majoring in marketing from Notre Dame University.

A keen vocalist, he has recorded two songs on an Egyptian label, hopes to record a solo album later this year and also film his secoind video clip.

Top tips

Do something you love and do it exceptionally well. Pursue your dreams passionately, honestly and persistently and the financial rewards will follow.


Angela Hartnett

Company: Enhance Equity Pty Ltd

Title: Managing director

Business: Accredited WA member of the Small Scale Offerings Board

Total employees: 4

Reporting directly: 3


Angela Hartnett says her decision to leave secure employment in late 2005 and get a new business up and running by the following Easter has been her most significant business achievement. She left her job as a business improvement specialist with Rio Tinto to help WA small businesses raise capital through the origination, aggregation and sale of their securities. She believed many small-scale enterprises did not have adequate access to investment funds for growth and expansion.

Enhance Equity assists small businesses to utilise techniques used by big business and, through the Australian Small Scale Offerings Board, provides a simpler and cheaper system for raising capital than an ASX listing.

Career guides

* Respect for people, property and the environment.

* Integrity, honesty, commitment, reliability and trust.


Last year, Enhance Equity received ASSOB’s highest annual award of ‘top capital raiser’.

While with Rio Tinto, Ms Hartnett received an EarthWatch Environmental Fellowship for her volunteer work in devising, developing and managing a community-based volunteer group to monitor the nesting habits of flat-back turtles.

In October last year, with five others from an investment group, she organised a charity auction that raised more than $80,000 for Princess Margaret Hospital.

Top tip

“Sometimes you just have to take the leap and build your wings on the way down.” (Kobi Yamada)

Adam Harry

Company: John Holland Group

Title: General manager western region

Business: Specialist contracting company

Total employees: 140

Reporting directly: 10


Adam Harry became general manager WA for John Holland in 2007 and is responsible for planning, directing and managing the complete civil, marine and building activities of one of Australia’s largest and most diverse specialist contracting businesses.

He led the roll-out of industrial reform throughout the company, including ongoing management of staff and sub-contractors.

He has also led a culture change, with the company in WA set on a path which should result in a 36 per cent growth over the next 12 months.

He believes communication with staff in sharing the company’s vision and goals is the key to this major challenge.
Career guides

* Explain the need for change.

* Instill in staff a team approach and mentality -- if the company wins, you win.


In 2007, Mr Harry received the Ric New Medal for Excellence, awarded to a high achiever under 35 who had demonstrated outstanding potential, innovation, creativity and entrepreneural flair in WA’s building and construction industry.

He has won many other awards and has also been involved in numerous award-winning construction and engineering projects.

John Holland is a sponsor of the West Australian Symphony Orchestra and the Black Swan Theatre Company. 

Top tips

Always search for a strategic advantage over your competitors.

When in war, plan for peace and when in peace, plan for war.


Mitch Hayhow

Company: Castle Rock Logistics Pty Ltd

Title: Director and co-founder

Business: Specialist design and project management services

Total employees: 11

Reporting directly: 8


Success came quickly for Mitch Hayhow after he formed Castle Rock, in partnership with Sean McGarry, in 2001 to provide a complete design and management package for the wine industry.

The company’s growing reputation soon caught the attention of legendary pop singer Sir Cliff Richard, who engaged it in 2002 to design and project manage his new winery in southern Portugal. This led to further European projects in Portugal, Italy, Sicily, Malta and Bulgaria with a new prestigious project secured in South Africa.

The company has expanded into tourism and hospitality design projects, the first being a cellar door and restaurant in Margaret River.

This won a Master Builders’ Association award for best commercial building in the South West under $500,000. Several other projects have been completed and a new $7 million boutique hotel/day spa is nearing completion at Injidup, WA.

Career guides

* See the positive in all circumstances.

* Remain tireless and committed to your goals.

* Live and work with sincerity and integrity.

* Encourage and compliment staff and colleagues.


Mr Hayhow has co-authored two articles on winery design and equipment and has lectured at Curtin University. He is a member of the Winery Engineers’ Association of WA, Dunsborough Yallingup Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Wilderness Society.

Top tips

If you make a mistake, accept it, correct it and learn from it.

Two heads are better than one – involve and consult widely.



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