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Opportunity knocking on Castle Gates

FOR someone whose work involves so many secrets, former financial journalist turned self-styled financial intelligence operative John McGlue is not one to hide in the shadows.

Take for example the night of August 15 this year at the Hyatt Hotel Golden Ballroom, where Perth’s business elite had gathered to celebrate Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year Awards.

In 2001, in his weekly column in The Australian newspaper, Mr McGlue had panned Ernst & Young for its choice of E&Y winners, hoping they had suffered a “momentary lapse of reason” when they chose “a group of men of advancing years running mostly traditional-style businesses that would fail to register on the international radar”.

A year later he was comfortably immersed among the Ernst & Young crowd.

At this year’s event Mr McGlue shared a table with E&Y candidate Steven Goh and others connected with his online stockbroking firm, Sanford Securities.

Sanford, a keen player in the trans-action technology game, had emerged earlier in the year with a stake in adversary and struggling WA stockbroker Hartleys. Perhaps coincidently, during the past 12 months, Mr McGlue had been asking tough questions at Hartleys meetings and writing questioning letters to its management as a shareholder through his company, Castle Gates Australia.

Against the backdrop of his public agitation for change at Hartleys it was an unusual choice of dinner partners, not to mention occasion, as neighbouring tables were littered with advisers to Hartleys.

Were they parties with a common cause, allies, or adviser and client? Mr McGlue will not say whom he has been working for during that campaign and neither will Mr Goh comment on their relationship.

Such intrigue is all in a day’s work for the Irishman, who headed the business pages of The West Australian for the best part of the 1990s.

Regarded as one of Perth’s best journalists, Mr McGlue cracked some of the State’s top stories during his reign in business and, for a while, on the political round.

Many would say he cracked a few heads too, with his no holds barred style that sought to find weaknesses in many a chief executive’s script.

Mr McGlue said that, upon seeing the economic cycle start again for the third time in his career in 1997, he realised it was time to launch an idea that had been forming for some time – bridging the gap between financial analysis and public relations

“As editor I was spotting a business opportunity,” he said.

“Some of the best cases were not being prosecuted in the informal fashion.”

The best example, he cites, is the UK-based Tiny Rowland’s defence of the Lonrho empire from an assault by Alan Bond in the 1980s.

Lonrho put together and released a report that exposed how debt ridden Bond Corporation was, arguably starting the collapse of the WA-based juggernaut.

“I remember how effective the Lonrho report was against Bond,” Mr McGlue said.

After being “side-tracked” by his friend John Poynton, who asked him to run Australian Discount Stockbroking, Mr McGlue finally committed to his new venture about four years ago, starting full-time under his own Castle Gates flagship.

Steering away from the gumshoe concept of private investigation, Mr McGlue claims his work is a cross between financial journalism and stockbroking.

“It is getting information and using it effectively,” he said.

Castle Gates has three broad streams: transaction strategies for both defence (hence the Castle Gates) and attack in takeovers, mergers and acquisitions; litigation services outside the courts; and corporate and marketing positioning, which he likens to investor relations with a management consulting philosophy.

As examples he offers cases where his work has become public.

In corporate and marketing positioning he refers to Sydney-based firm ICS Global, an e-health exchange where he is involved in shareholder value work.

As for the transaction field, Mr McGlue cites his work for Aquila, when it needed local knowledge during its bid for the cornerstone stake in AlintaGas (whom he now works for), and a role in Ranger’s defence of Revesco’s bid.

And then there are litigation services, such as a role with the Davisons in their fight with Joyce Corp over the state of the assets originally bought by the latter from the former.

It is understood a confidential settlement was determined in that battle (said to have centred around responsibility for environmental problems on rural land) at a time when Joyce faced severe corporate problems on a number of fronts.

“Trade practices issues are particularly fertile ground for us,” Mr McGlue said.

His work has placed him somewhere at the scene of almost every major corporate stoush in WA during the past year or more, sometimes quite publicly, such as a role with Skywest in its fight against former chief Bill Meeke. Others have been more secretive, such as with Danny Hill, who funded Gad Raveh’s litigation over the ownership of dairy group Peters & Brownes when it was independent.

Joyce Corp chairman Dan Smetana, Australian Heritage Group chairman Tony Barton, Revesco chief Ian Traher, Peters & Brownes head Graham Laitt and Hartleys boss Tim Moore are among those who appear to have had a blue with clients of Mr McGlue’s during the past year or so. In some cases Castle Gates has appeared on the register at the minimum legal shareholding and Mr McGlue has started making inquiries to the executives involved regarding disclosure or details in the financial statements.

Like his style as an editor, such a role has left a few players along St Georges Terrace with less-than-endearing things to say about him. None of those approached by WA Business News wished to be quoted for this article.

Mr McGlue doesn’t see it as personal, however.

“I liken it to acting like a lawyer,” he said. “Everyone is entitled to advocacy and representation.”

Unlike a typical lawyer, though, Mr McGlue has significant media experience – a rare commodity when corporate battles are joined.

Until July, when Castle Gates was merged with more mainstream PR outfit Turnbull Porter Novelli, Mr McGlue had a regular column in The Australian newspaper and a half-hour spot on Liam Bartlett’s ABC radio program.

Mr McGlue said he had always avoided conflicts between his work as part of the media and his role in communications and advice.

“I was scrupulous about that,” he said.

Mr McGlue said he decided to quit these media roles because managing potential conflicts was becoming too difficult once he had joined forces with a bigger organisation.

At Castle Gates, Mr McGlue said, there was just he and lawyer Rob Connell (the son of former Rothwells boss Laurie) and a corporate history he was intimately familiar.

The merger, though, has created at least one potential conflict – his work for AlintaGas and TPN’s role with the WA coal industry – an issue Mr McGlue said he would simply work around by avoiding work for the coal industry.

Stepping away from direct media contributions has by no means ended Mr McGlue’s in-fluence in the sector.

Many of the senior finance reporters in WA rely on him for information, which is not surpris-ing given most have worked for him during their careers.

His contact goes right to the top of national media, perhaps due to the fact that many senior players dealt with Mr McGlue on a daily basis during his days as finance editor of The West Australian, particularly through the links between that paper and some Fairfax newspapers.

“I have been around,” Mr McGlue said.

“A lot of people I have worked with are my friends. I am not sure if that is an advantage or a disadvantage.”

p See Editorial, Page 8

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