From Heytesbury to BGC to Hancock

24/04/2018 - 09:26

Business News has been tracking WA’s largest private companies for more than 20 years and found most have experienced big changes over that time.

From Heytesbury to  BGC to Hancock
Gina Rinehart’s business topped the 2018 rankings.

Business News has been tracking WA’s largest private companies for more than 20 years and found most have experienced big changes over that time.

Janet Holmes a Court’s Heytesbury was the largest private company in Western Australia in 1998, with revenue of $1.3 billion.

It was a large and diverse business with interests in construction (John Holland), cattle stations, horse studs, trucking (Key Transport), wine (Vasse Felix) and Stoll Moss Theatres in the UK.

Mrs Holmes à Court inherited the business in 1990 upon the death of her husband, the renowned share market raider Robert Holmes à Court.

She spent many years restructuring and selling assets to cut its large debts; that was followed by a carve-up among her children, with Paul Holmes a Court taking full ownership of the residual business in 2008.

Heytesbury is now a fraction of its former size, with operations limited to the Vasse Felix winery and pastoral stations.

However, it continues in family hands and has aspirations befitting the family name, with Mr Holmes à Court telling Business News last year he had a long-term goal to make Vasse Felix a leading global wine brand.

Most other businesses at the top of the private companies list 20 years ago are no longer in family hands.

Number two on the list was Vern Wheatley and Bob Branchi’s Automotive Holdings Group, which listed on the ASX in 2005 and has proceeded to become a major national player.

Both families have retained a connection, as landlords for many of AHG’s Perth car yards.

Meanwhile, construction giant Multiplex has lost its family connection.

Its founder, the late John Roberts, raised $900 million in one of the state’s largest stock market floats in 2003; since his passing, the business has come under the ownership of Canadian investment group Brookfield.

Kerry Stokes’ Australian Capital Equity was fourth on the list in 1998.

While ACE continues as a private entity, its major operating business – the Westrac Caterpillar dealership – is now part of listed company Seven Group Holdings.

It was followed on the 1998 list by engineering group Clough, which operated for most of its life under the ownership of the Clough family.

It has been through several ownership changes, with an ASX listing followed by a takeover by South Africa’s Murray & Roberts.

In contrast, Stan Perron’s investment group and John Hughes’ automotive group have been mainstays on the private companies list.

Perron Group holds an extensive portfolio of shopping centres, office towers and other assets, and has a governance structure to ensure its long-term continuity.

In contrast to Mr Perron, who leaves others to run his business, Mr Hughes shows no sign of stepping back.

He considered a stock market float of John Hughes Group several years ago but could not attract a suitable price.

Number eight on the list 20 years ago was Ric Stowe’s coal mining, energy and pastoral company Griffin Holdings, which later became Griffin Group.

Griffin hit the wall in 2010, when the business was unable to service its large debts, leading to the sale of its expansive holdings.

Malcolm Steinberg’s Leisure & Allied Industries was also listed as one of the state’s largest private companies in 1998.

LAI is no longer in that league but continues as a major business.

After launching Timezone entertainment centres in Perth in 1978, it now has 220 centres across six countries and annual sales of more than $120 million.

Ownership of the business changed last year, when Quadrant Private Equity and the Steinberg family established The Entertainment and Education Group and acquired Timezone for an undisclosed sum.

Other notable private businesses to have changed hands include department store operator Aherns, financial services group Sealcorp, food services firm Sealanes, and JR Engineering.

The state’s largest house builders were well down the list in 1998, with BGC Australia at number 11 with estimated turnover of $272 million, and Alcock Brown-Neaves at number 21.

Under the guidance of the late Len Buckeridge, BGC grew to become at one stage Australia’s largest house builder and a diversified manufacturer of building materials.

Its revenue peaked at an estimated $3 billion in 2014 and it was ranked as the state’s biggest private company for more than a decade.

Dale Alcock’s ABN Group has also expanded, to be one of the state’s largest businesses with annual turnover of more than $1 billion.

Gina Rinehart’s Hancock Prospecting and its subsidiary, Roy Hill Holdings, moved to the top in Business News’s latest ranking of private companies.

Hancock Prospecting’s total revenue more than doubled last financial year to $4.4 billion, mainly a result of the Roy Hill iron ore mine ramping up production and exports.

Its other big revenue earner is the Hope Downs iron ore project, jointly owned by Rio Tinto.

In addition, Hancock has extensive pastoral interests.

Roy Hill Holdings, which is 70 per cent owned by Hancock but operates separately, earned total revenue of $2.3 billion last year, and that is likely to be much higher in the current financial year as it sustains production at its nameplate capacity of 55 million tonnes per year.

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