Outward looking, export focused

28/03/2019 - 13:36


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Over the years, WA business has finessed its offering, from commodities to services, the arts and sophisticated technologies.

Outward looking, export focused
The WA Symphony Orchestra is a regular visitor to Asia.

Over the years, WA business has finessed its offering, from commodities to services, the arts and sophisticated technologies.

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Henderson-based shipbuilder Austal is often mispronounced as Austral.

As chance would have it there is an Austral working out of Perth, Austral Fisheries and, like Austal, a maritime business.

But the similarities do not end there.

These two companies are incredible champions of their own products on the international stage, where no market is too hard or too far away for them to consider.

As Austal founder and executive chairman John Rothwell told an audience of 550 people at the Business News 25th anniversary event, his business now has operations in five countries and is the fourth biggest shipbuilder in the US, where its largest workforce is stationed making navy vessels.

Austral Fisheries also highlights its achievements in the US as a symbol of its success. Austral chief executive David Carter is proud of his business’s long fight to ensure the sustainability of its Patagonian toothfish operation off Heard Island deep in the Southern Indian Ocean.

Austral’s Glacier 51 Toothfish brand is now being supplied to high-end US venues such as top-class establishment Nobu Fifty Seven in New York, a market that requires not just the provenance of the brand to be assured but also a consistent year-round supply that would push the management and logistics capability of most businesses.

In the annals of Western Australia’s business history these two businesses are not unique in their global outlook. 

It is easy to suggest that a small and isolated population such as WA’s had little choice to be global in its outlook. What alternative did we have when we wanted to sell our goods?

From the very start the success of our primary resources, firstly whaling, timber and agriculture, and later mining and gas, required export to foreign markets, with far too few people to consume the abundance of this vast land.

It would have been easy to settle for that. But the examples above, of complex manufacturing and sophisticated value adding through branded produce, go far beyond the basics of commodities exploitation.

But we should not discount the impact of our resources marketing on the state’s psyche. For nearly two centuries we interacted with the furthest corners of the globe, touting our goods, learning from the best, becoming wealthy from our trade, and investing in ways to do things better here.

Austal may have become a global shipbuilder through its innovations in fast ferries and, later, military vessels, but its success was born from unique skills in aluminium boat making to meet the demands of the rock lobster industry, which needed very fast boats to get live produce to airports in time in order to reach consumers in Hong Kong, Tokyo and Taiwan.

That reach into Asia, which includes decades of iron ore and minerals exports followed later by LNG, is not limited to natural resources.

Perth-based investment brokers and stockbrokers Argonaut opened a branch in Hong Kong in 2011. Value-added dairy products have long penetrated Asia, led by Peters & Brownes in the 1990s, which marketed its high end Connoisseur ice-cream brand to Japan and, more recently, Bannister Downs Dairy has been shipping its boutique label to Singapore.

Let’s not forget more obscure business leaders such as Mike Kenny, who started designing and manufacturing MetroCount boxes almost 30 years ago. Readers will recognise his work when they drive over the little black tubes on roads across the state. MetroCount is a leader in the traffic-monitoring world, with its devices in more than 100 countries across tens of thousands of locations at any one time.

Moodle is a Perth-based software company that has developed an open-source online course management system that has more than 100 million registered users at universities, colleges and businesses globally. 

Moodle didn’t lead the education push overseas. Several of our universities have campuses or joint ventures on foreign soil. ASX-listed Navitas is a world leader in creating education pathways for those aspiring to university education.

An online lecture presentation system developed by the University of Western Australia called Lectopia became a leader in its field globally before it was sold in 2006.

Even in the arts, WA organisations have followed in the footsteps of our corporate leaders,

The WA Symphony Orchestra has toured Asia many times, including visiting China as it opened to the world. In 2006, the orchestra sent 98 musicians to Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Guangzhou and Hangzhou, the capital of WA’s sister-state, the Zhejiang Province, on a tour to recognise the first LNG shipment to the emerging economic powerhouse.

Also on the cultural front it is hard not to notice the plethora of foreign representatives here. More than 90 countries have consulates in Perth, either formally staffed operations or more informal honorary roles. And WA has several trade offices around the world, a role most countries reserve for their nation’s diplomatic services.  


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