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Opportunity for turnarounds

AS timing goes, right now might well be an appropriate time to launch an industry body for corporate doctors.

The Turnaround Management Association plans to launch a chapter in Perth to bring together those in the professional, corporate and investment sectors who specialise in rejuvenating companies before they fail outright.

One of the instigators, Clayton Utz partner Cameron Belyea, admits the national body tried to launch a WA division in 2007 but was thwarted by the boom conditions which meant there was little interest in this niche field.

But things have changed markedly and Mr Belyea believes a growing number of businesses will be speaking to specialists in the turnaround field.

He believes there is a strong window for turnaround opportunities, especially ahead of a rise in business failures, which he expects as 2009 progresses.

Australian Securities and Investments Commission figures appear to confirm that. The number of companies entering external administration is climbing faster in WA, up almost four-fold in January compared to the same month in 2008, than the rest of the country, where it rose more than 38 per cent in the same period.

The story for insolvency appointments is similar, with WA's numbers in January jumping to 64 compared to 29 in the previous corresponding month, while the national figure rose 31 per cent in the same period.

Mr Belyea said although the inaugural WA committee of the TMA was dominated by lawyers and accountants, it did not want to be a body representing the views of the professional sector alone.

He noted the presence on the committee of Ben Bartholomaeus, chief operating officer of Wyllie Group, the Wyllie family company which has its own investment fund, Viburnum Funds.

The late Bill Wyllie was considered one of Asia's best corporate doctors, achieving significant success in Hong Kong before returning to Perth a wealthy man.

The TMA wants to encourage businesses to seek early intervention from professionals across the spectrum to avoid company failure. It also wants to highlight the need to restructure appropriately given the market conditions.

"We are trying to create the message that boards realise we are in different market conditions and they have to change their approach," Mr Belyea said.

There are several offshore companies already investing in WA, including international funds Harmony and Stark that first invested in the state in Brandrill and are now attempting to turn around Harvey Beef.

Others on the founding committee are KPMG partner Adrian Arundell, Merrill Lynch vice-president investment banking Australia Gordon Morrison, and Freehills senior associate Phil Blaxill.

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