The way Adrian Fini and Ben Lisle got to know each other says a lot about how they plan to work together after merging their businesses.
They met through their not-for-profit activities, including work with charity group The Hunger Project.
Azure advised Little Creatures on its stockmarket float, setting up one of the most outstanding deals of the 2000s.
Under the name Little World Beverages, the craft brewer listed on the ASX in 2005 after raising $21 million; seven years later, brewing giant Lion bought it for a whopping $381 million.
A mix of commercial and civic activities has continued to characterise their relationship.
The Northlink Industrial Park at Wangara proves there is far more to land development than first meets the eye.
“It was an extremely complex project,” Mr Lisle told Business News.
“It had a huge number of constraints.
“It was on the site of an old indigenous community, it had an indigenous cemetery, heritage items, environmental issues, some wetlands, contamination.
“Adrian helped with some of the more political aspects of that project.
“His relationships really helped when we got bogged down.” Mr Lisle said the industrial estate achieved a lot more than most projects.
“It delivered a lot of really interesting social outcomes,” he said.
“We delivered over $30 million into a charitable trust for the indigenous people, we set up the community with housing, we’ve supported them in terms of their governance, and had an ongoing role in assisting some of the more disadvantaged families with services they needed.”
And, presumably, the project achieved a good commercial return to the investors. These outcomes illustrate the approach Mr Fini has adopted for all his projects.
“We have a cultural objective and we have a civic objective in our business model, in whatever we deliver, we have always had that attitude,” he said.
“And its well instilled in our teams.
“We see that as part of our equation in all of our projects.”
Mr Fini said the blending of commercial and social objectives kept him motivated.
“It’s harder because there are more things to balance, and you need to give back more,” he said.
“But it gives me a reason to work a little bit harder.”
This approach is shared by Mr Lisle, who describes the mix of commercial and civic goals as a virtuous circle.
“We both spend one day a week on not for profits,” he said.
The two men are also directors of the Perth Festival.
To underline their conviction, the company they have jointly established, Hesperia, is going through the process of gaining BCorp accreditation.
Hesperia aims to join more than 3,000 companies globally that are formally accredited for the way in which they balance profit and purpose.
Some of the steps they are taking on that path include installing solar power on their offices and industrial estates and increasing their use of recycled materials.
A new start
The new entity – with a name that means ‘western land’ – has nearly $1 billion of projects under development and a busy pipeline of future opportunities.
Current projects include the Murdoch Health and Knowledge Precinct, redevelopment of the Leederville Hotel, the Roe Highway Logistics Park and Tonkin Highway Industrial Park.
A recent addition to the group’s portfolio is a 17-hectare industrial site on Abernethy Road, acquired from Aurizon.
With a team of 25 people and broad experience, the group plans to operate across most property classes, including commercial, industrial, residential, retail and hospitality.
“We’ve got a strong pipeline of opportunities that we are actively working on that will almost double what we presently have,” Mr Fini said.
The pair has been investing in each other’s projects for the past 15 years and keep ownership of their projects tightly held.
“It’s either ourselves or one other partner, generally, that’s the model,” Mr Fini said.
He said they had never had an issue obtaining debt funding from the major banks.
“We’ve always been conservative, we’re quite targeted in what we do,” he said.
“It’s either land holdings we own already and add value to, or new acquisitions we are targeting.”
Mr Lisle said a key part of their business model was speed of delivery, which allowed them to de-risk projects and reinvest their capital.
“I still have my investment assets in FJM and also what I call my Little Creatures team, Nic, Howard and David, where we own multiple businesses together,” he said.
Mr Lisle said the merged business would draw on the strengths of the two founders.
“Where we (Linc) have particular strength is around land planning and approvals,” Mr Lisle said.
“We’ve been able to drive through complex land rezonings in very short periods of time and dealt with environmental and contamination issues.
“We’ve done brownfields developments on sites that have had heavy industrial uses and were contaminated.
“Adrian’s team have been extremely strong on place making and built form but there are people on his team who have done a lot of residential sub-divisions.
“We play best in things that are complex, where we can add value.”
Explaining the group’s focus, Mr Lisle said it was taking advantage of several major trends. Industrial and logistics parks were catering to the growth in online retail and ecommerce while the investment in medical precincts was underpinned by the ageing society,” he said.
Another opportunity was ‘build to rent’ projects for the residential market. “When you look at affordability pressures and the wealth shift that’s occurred, millennials are going to struggle with the traditional home ownership models,” Mr Lisle said.
Mr Fini said global institutions were investing in ‘build to rent’.
“It’s definitely a model that’s growing but its lacked depth in Western Australia,” he said.
“I’ve tested it already at Stirling where I kept 50 dwellings out of about 150 as rentals to see how it performs in this market, to see what happens in a crisis.”
He said the result was fantastic, encouraging him to look closer at the opportunities.
With experience in heritage projects, social housing, land development and tourism, Mr Fini saw no shortage of opportunities.