Broad background gives administrator the edge

A WORK history including driving haulpak trucks and pulling beers in outback pubs may seem an unusual grounding for a corporate insolvency specialist.

But Norgard Clohessy managing partner Bryan Hughes believes that previous experience has been crucial.

“When you’re an administrator of a company you take total control of the business, so having a wide background helps,” he said.

Mr Hughes turned to accounting relatively late in life, graduating from the University of WA’s Bachelor of Commerce pro-gram at 28.

“I was offered a job at Arthur Andersen and given the choice of going into insolvency or audit. At the time – it was the late 1980s – there was a lot of insolvency work around and I preferred to be going into a busy area,” he said.

“I used to joke I was a truck driver with an accounting degree. Now I believe I’m an accountant with a truck driver’s licence.”

Mr Hughes is currently administering WA’s latest high-profile business collapse, Kingstream – a bold proposal to set up a gas-fired steel mill near Geraldton.

However, it is not the biggest administration he has been involved with.

He believes Consolidated Gold and Oceanfast were much bigger jobs, given the size of the workforces and assets involved.

“Kingstream, despite the perception and its profile, is a fairly small administration. There are only about five staff involved,” Mr Hughes said.

“What is exceptional about Kingstream is that all of the raw materials to make it work are in the one spot and all of the major emerging markets for its products are on its doorstep.”

What has helped make the Kingstream administration high profile is the involvement of former WA Premier Richard Court’s brother, Ken, as chairman of the company.

Mr Hughes believes leadership is important to companies.

“I believe an organisation will need more than one leader throughout its lifetime,” he said.

“Most organisations tend to start off with what I call the ‘mad inventor’. Then comes the time when that leader has to take on advice or become counterproductive to the organisation.

“Leaders need to be able to take on good advice. They can’t keep believing they’re always right.

“Often these people have surrounded themselves with good teams of advisers. Those that make use of the right advice usually go on to bigger and better things.”

But should those leaders who make mistakes be discounted?

“There is no substitute for absolute persistence in business. Business is about taking one hard knock after another then getting up and going on,” Mr Hughes said.

“But it also depends on the cause of their failure. If the failure is due to their leadership then there is a big problem. It also depends on their mindset. It’s hard for people to change who they are.

“But in other cases it can be just part of the learning curve and can help them to refocus.

“Business people who are not making mistakes are usually not making decisions.

“They need to do a risk-return analysis on their decisions. If they want to go for a big return then they are going to be facing a big risk.

“But a good leader will not bet it all on a roll of the dice.”

Mr Hughes said Norgard Clohessy had become involved with Business News’ 40 Under 40 because it wanted to get itself in front of the leaders of the next decade.

“Business transactions flow from networking and this is a good way to get close to these people,” he said.

Mr Hughes said the firm was in a position to see leadership in all facets of its business.

“We cover booming business, struggling business and businesses needing tax advice. It’s surprising the number of skills that are interchangeable between what we do,” he said.

“Even though a large chunk of our business is insolvency, we love times of economic prosperity.

“It’s true we get a lot of insolvency work during a recession, but a lot more transactions are done during good times.”

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