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Opportunities there for the creating

ONE of the common laments of people wanting to return to Perth is that there aren’t enough good opportunities in the local business sector.

Some enterprising individuals have got around that problem by creating their own opportunities, among them Mark Barnaba, Ken Mildwaters and Gavin Rezos.

Mr Barnaba, a WA Business News 40under40 award winner, spent nearly a decade out of Perth before co-founding corporate advisory firm Poynton and Partners in 1996.

As managing director of the firm, he has played a key role in its success over the past seven years.

Mr Rezos spent 12 years working interstate and overseas, rising to senior investment banking positions with global banking group HSBC.

With a young family, he faced a choice between a highly paid career in international finance and the lifestyle attractions of his home town.

He chose to return to Perth in 2000, and has since established Viaticus Capital, a specialist biotechnology corporate advisory and venture capital company, and arranged the back-door listing of biotech pSivida, of which he is the major shareholder and managing director.

Both businesses draw on Mr Rezos’ fundraising experience and numerous international contacts.

He said he often meets former Perth residents who are struggling to find a way to come back.

“The opportunities are here, you just need to create them,” Mr Rezos said.

He also recognised that the return would come at a price.

“I knew that I was going to take an enormous cut in income to come back here.”

The biotech sector has provided opportunities for a number of other Perth people who have returned home.

Graham Dowland left a senior corporate role in London in 2000 and is now executive chairman of biopharmaceutical company, Imugene.

Anna Kluczewska was a global product manager for Baxter Healthcare, based most recently in Munich.

She returned to Perth earlier this year and now divides her time between consulting roles to Baxter, pSivida and CollTech, an unlisted company developing a collagen extraction and purification plant.

She describes WA as an “undiscovered gem”, both for its lifestyle and the growth prospects of the biotech sector, based on the high quality education and regulatory standards.

Dr Mildwaters returned to Perth early this year, after an absence of 17 years, with a resolve to create new opportunities for himself and his law firm, Jackson McDonald.

During his time away he gained international recognition for his lead role in the planning and execution of Guinness’s merger with Grand Metropolitan.

This transaction, worth about $70 billion, was Europe’s biggest merger and led to the formation of Diageo plc.

Dr Mildwaters also worked for a number of law firms in the UK, including Theodore Goddard and Milbank Tweed Hadley & McCloy, and established and managed law firms in Eastern Europe.

He was attracted back to Perth by the opportunities flowing from the growth of WA’s corporate and resource sectors.

Dr Mildwaters believes Jackson McDonald is uniquely placed as Perth’s only independent, medium-sized commercial law firm.

“To me that is the golden opportunity. I think in four to five years there will be several other firms occupying that middle space,” Dr Mildwaters said.

He suspects the national firms’ Perth offices will struggle because of the mismatch between local billing rates and national cost structures.

“I question how many of the national firms will be here in five years in their current form.”

At the other end of the spectrum, Dr Mildwaters believes boutique firms will need to expand so they can genuinely offer a broad suite of services.

He is encouraged by trends in the UK, where he said mid-sized firms had prospered.

“Some have merged, some have gone, but there is a lot still going strong.”

Dr Mildwaters acknowledges that Jackson McDonald may not get to work on the huge transactions but he sees an opportunity to build a “very good corporate transactions practice”.

“I think there is room here for a firm that focuses on that kind of work,” Dr Mildwaters said.

He was also attracted to Jackson McDonald because its head office is in Perth.

“It is exceedingly difficult to build a practice when management is at a distance,” he said.

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