08/10/2020 - 09:00

New chapter for Cooper & Oxley

08/10/2020 - 09:00


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Once facing collapse, building company Cooper & Oxley has emerged with a restructured business and a new leadership team.

New chapter for Cooper & Oxley
Cooper & Oxley is led by directors, Phil Durston (left), Nathan Hampel and Adrian Hackett. Photo: Gabriel Oliveira

Few businesses survive voluntary administration, but the team behind Cooper & Oxley Builders has beaten the odds, bouncing back with a new entity and $20 million of completed construction revenue this past year.

The builder was placed into voluntary administration in February 2018, following the suspension of all work on what was one of its largest projects: the mixed-use precinct, then known as SubiXO, at 500 Hay Street, Subiaco.

At the time, the business employed about 70 people and had delivered $2 billion worth of projects in the preceding decade, positioning Cooper & Oxley as one of the state’s 10 largest construction companies.

Work stopped on 500 Hay Street after (then) long-serving managing director George Hampel sent a memo to contractors stating the business was no longer in a position to pay its accounts.

He later told the media that was due to a combination of factors, including bank loans and non-payment by a client.

Shortly after, Hall Chadwick WA was appointed as the administrator and began the process of winding-down the company, while navigating the six other projects that were on Cooper & Oxley’s books.

But by mid-2018, the builder was fighting to get back on its feet, following agreements it could complete work on projects under contract (bar SubiXO), including two aged-care centres and a David Jones fitout at Mandurah Forum.

Cooper & Oxley set up project bank accounts in order to create transparency and regain trust from subcontractors and suppliers.

The builder’s future was additionally boosted by a Supreme Court of WA ruling that approved an amendment to a company restructure, with Mr Hampel proposing a deed of company arrangement (DOCA).

That DOCA included part proceeds from the sales of Mr Hampel’s two privately held properties: a significant win considering liquidation or receivership is the eventual fate of most in voluntary administration, with few able to convince creditors, let alone the court, to vote in favour of executing a DOCA that would enable a director to regain control of the company from administrators.

Cooper & Oxley re-emerged as Cooper & Oxley Group, in September 2019, backed by a new leadership team, with Mr Hampel remaining as an executive adviser.

The group now has three directors, all long-term employees.

Nathan Hampel, son of George, who returned in 2019, after leaving in 2016 to run his own business, holding various roles with the company on and off since 1999, Adrian Hackett, who joined the business in 1996, and Phil Durston (2007).

Mr Hampel said giving up was not an option for Cooper & Oxley’s long-standing employees (nine of whom are now shareholders in the new entity) given the company’s substantial history and achievements, including the delivery of more than 1,200 projects since it was founded in 1952.

“There’s that line: ‘What brings you down makes you stronger’,” Mr Hampel told Business News.

“As hard as it has been, the company is stronger as a result. We have certainly overcome adversity and achieved so much in a very short time - all with the ongoing support of our subcontractors, clients and industry relationships that have been forged over the years."

When the company fell into administration, Business News reported it owed unsecured creditors about $27 million.

And while it had repaid most of that debt, Mr Durston said there were still some parties that lost out.

“We were all very disappointed it had got to that stage, all of the employees and subcontractors were very loyal,” Mr Durston said.

“Subcontractors and suppliers did lose out, which was extremely unfortunate.

But a lot of those people, we’re now working with them again and rebuilding those relationships.

“I think we’re the second building company in Australia to get through voluntary administration, it’s us and St Hilliers, and that has to be because of the support we got from subcontractors and clients.”

Those supporters include Selected Plumbing general manager Damon Martin and Wayne Williams, the manager of property development and property services at Ramsay Health Care.

Looking to the future, Mr Hampel said the company would continue to target a mix of projects while building on its strength of delivering regional and remote projects, which historically accounted for 80 per cent of its pipeline.

Active projects include the Southern Cross Swimming Pool with the Shire of Yilgarn, in the Wheatbelt.

In the past 12 months, Mr Hampel said completed construction revenue was almost $20 million, with a further $50 million worth of contracts under negotiation.

The group has since moved from its Jolimont premises to a new headquarters in South Perth.

“We’re looking to re-establish ourselves as the leaders in the commercial construction sector and we continue to partner with our long-term subcontractors,” Mr Hampel said.

“There’s a lot of exciting years ahead.”


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