31/01/2019 - 15:48

Stafford drives growth at MSWA

31/01/2019 - 15:48

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Neurological services provider MSWA has undergone substantial growth in the past 10 years, working towards reliance on private revenue sources.

Marcus Stafford says he has carefully managed growth. Photo: Gabriel Oliveira

Neurological services provider MSWA has undergone substantial growth in the past 10 years, working towards reliance on private revenue sources.

Diversification and revenue growth were among Marcus Stafford’s top priorities when he took the helm at MSWA 15 years ago.

The chief executive of the not for profit, which supports people living with multiple sclerosis and other neurological conditions, said the two objectives were complementary, with a broader service offering helping to spread the financial risks.

Formerly The Multiple Sclerosis Society of Western Australia, MSWA brought in $58 million during the past financial year, predominantly through private streams.

This is up from around $10 million in 2009, with more than half from grants.

MSWA has also increased its staff from approximately 100 to 755 during Mr Stafford’s tenure.

He said MSWA’s shift towards a profit-for-purpose model was a response to a changing charity environment during the past decade, and the organisation was now the largest funder of multiple sclerosis research in the country, investing $3 million last year.

Mr Stafford told Business News he had worked to stabilise growth at MSWA, despite the rapid expansion of revenue, staff and services.

“The growth has been steady year on year, but rapid by anyone’s definition,” Mr Stafford said.

“That presents a whole range of challenges.

“I used to be the head of retail banking for Bankwest, so would look critically at organisations that grew too quickly because of the risks associated with that.

“But when you’re working in one with important work to do, surrounded by fantastic managers and staff, it’s hard to make it managed growth rather than unduly rapid growth.

“So we understood the risks associated with that, but we’ve really grown it year on year.”

Mr Stafford said his experience in the banking and community sectors held strong commonalities.

“It’s all about people, and it’s all about money,” he said.

“If you get those two things right, you can do amazing things within your organisation, whether your shareholders are people who are looking to increase their investment portfolios, or in our case people with disabilities who are looking to enjoy greater quality of life.”

Mr Stafford said MSWA had a high risk profile when he joined the organisation, given its small scale, as well as the narrow focus of its portfolio.

His biggest goal was to diversify the organisation’s offering, noting that 15 years ago he had viewed the risk of failure as very real, with the potential to have a direct impact on the clients.

Initially catering specifically for people with multiple sclerosis, Mr Stafford has shifted the focus of MSWA to a greater range of neurological conditions.

“Sixty per cent of our customers still have MS, but 40 per cent of our customers now have other neurological conditions – stroke, motor neurone disease, acquired brain injuries, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s,” he said.

“When you’ve got too many eggs in the one basket, you really increase your chances of getting into trouble.”

MSWA now draws income from events and research, and additionally runs the largest call centre in the not-for-profit space, Mr Stafford said.

The biggest chunk of revenue is drawn from raffles and lotteries, in particular the Mega Home Lottery valued at over $5.5 million.

“Eighty per cent of our revenue is private sector revenue,” Mr Stafford said.

“Other organisations will probably have more of a profile where 80 per cent comes from government.”

The breakdown of commercial-type ventures for MSWA is 85 per cent major lotteries, 7 per cent events and minor call centre work, and about 5 per cent other external clients, both in WA and interstate.

Mr Stafford said the risk had been tightly managed, particularly given MSWA invested in its own lottery prizes and did not receive cash or other prizes as external gifts.

“We have managed growth without gearing or lending, and with the overarching framework that although any new venture carries risk, failure of an individual line of business cannot risk the farm,” he said.

“That position has actually become easier year on year as we have spread our activities and risks across broader streams of business and more diversified clients.”

Mr Stafford said that in today’s climate, good intentions were not enough to produce good work.

“You need to be well intentioned, but you need to have a really disciplined view and strong experience of running a business to do that good work,” he said.

“Because the days of donations and grant funding are largely gone.” 

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