28/11/2006 - 21:00

ThinkSmart, Mine Services on top

28/11/2006 - 21:00


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This year’s Rising Stars awards attracted 52 entries from a wide range of business sectors, all committed to innovation and growth.

ThinkSmart, Mine Services on top

Two very different Western Australian companies, Australian Mine Services and financial services firm ThinkSmart, are the joint winners of the 2006 Rising Stars award.

The award showcases private and unlisted WA companies that have achieved rapid growth over the past three years.

The only common link between the winners, and indeed all of this year’s finalists, is a commitment to innovation and a constant striving to grow their business.

Otherwise, there is enormous diversity, with the finalists ranging from start-ups to mature businesses, from specialist niche players to large employers.

This should give encouragement to all budding entrepreneurs because it illustrates that rapid growth can be achieved in almost any industry.

The 2006 winners add to the diverse group of companies that have won the award since its inception.

The inaugural winner in 2003 was advertising agency Gatecrasher, which was established by a group of people that broke away from industry heavyweight Marketforce.

The 2004 winner was software and IT services company Empired, while engineering services firm Calibre Projects won in 2005.

The 10 finalists in the 2006 awards were selected from 52 entries, after being judged on a mix of quantitative measures – growth in turnover, staffing and profit during the past three years – and a qualitative assessment of their growth strategy.

Deloitte partner and chairman of judges, Luke Martino, said innovation was one of the greatest drivers of sustainable growth and competitive advantage for this year’s Rising Stars.

“It is not the supply of creative and innovative ideas that is at question,” Mr Martino said.

“As a nation of early adopters and technology integrators, this is a given. The challenge, however, is to ensure a repeatable and rapid means of converting ideas into value.”

Joint 2006 winner ThinkSmart, established by Ned Montarello in 1996, is widely regarded as the pioneer of a new industry.

ThinkSmart does what banks and traditional financiers have been unable to do – process high volumes of low value transactions quickly and profitably. The business operates in Australia through the RentSmart brand and since 2003 has expanded to Europe, where it operates through the SmartPlan brand.

Australian Mine Services was established in 2003 by welding engineer Ian Massara and his partner, Julie Smith-Massara.

It operates in a traditional and very competitive industry sector – maintenance services to the mining industry – but the founders used their industry experience and market research to identify a specialist niche.

The company focuses on the fabrication and maintenance of heavy earthmoving equipment and fixed plant and is poised to expand into the east coast market.

The resources boom has been a dominating factor in WA business in recent years but had little direct relevance for most of the 2006 finalists.

AMS and industrial coatings and maintenance company TCC Group were the only finalists focused primarily on the resources sector.

The finalists included several start-up businesses. IT services firms L7 Solutions was established by chief executive Matt Sullivan just two-and-a-half years ago but already has 44 staff and expects its turnover to reach $11.9 million.

Another recent start-up, also in the IT services sector, was ZettaServe, which was established in 2003, while fashion retailer Morrison was formed in 2002.

As well as being start-ups, a common link between these firms was their ability to identify a specialist niche in an established industry.

L7 specialises in core infrastructure IT and advisory services rather than trying to be a jack-of-all-trades, while ZettaServe founder Nathan Harman describes his firm as specialising in niche areas of desktop management, software packaging and wide area networking.

Some of the Rising Stars finalists have based their success on developing a completely new product or service.

A prime example is ThinkSmart, which used a mix of financial savvy and new technology to re-engineer the credit approval process for small loans.

Another example is National Lifestyle Villages, which was established in 1999 after company founder John Wood developed a new concept in ‘retirement’ living.

The popularity of NLV’s residential communities is based on their ability to offer affordable, secure accommodation combined with many of the lifestyle attractions of a holiday resort.

The 2006 finalists include companies that operate in what are often regarded as ‘sunset’ industries with little growth potential.

Landsdale company Designtec is a manufacturer of freestanding office furniture, while Malaga company Steel Blue manufactures industrial footwear.

In both cases, their success is based on the development of quality products; they consciously decided they would not try to compete on price.

The 2006 finalists include two large and mature family businesses.

TCC Group was established in 1982 by Terry Iannello, Sam Cinalli and Tony Iannello. It has experienced ups and downs since being founded but in recent years has been able to maintain rapid growth.

DVG Automotive Group has grown to become one of Perth’s larger car retailers, with dealerships in five major locations.

Founded in 1994, DVG is owned and managed by seven brothers, with the oldest brother Lou DiVirgilio being the group managing director.

Mr Martino said the leaders of fast-growing businesses must be prepared to change as their companies expand.

“For growing businesses like our Rising Stars to succeed, they need leaders who can embrace change, set direction and inspire others. Finding the right kind of leader is critical for growth,” he said.

Mr Martino said fast-growing companies also needed to maintain a steady focus on some of the basics of running their business.

“One of the real challenges for fast growing companies is to maintain back-office stability and efficiency, while ensuring they also maintain the benefits they have as a small to medium size organisation with close customer contact and in many cases, an extremely innovative, fast thinking and fast moving culture,” he said.


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