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Winners follow their fortunes

AS the year winds to an end and the summer break beckons, the thoughts of many turn to family and friends and the festive season. Many people also will look back at the year just past and think of their work colleagues, particularly those who are suitable for nomination to the 2004 WA Business News 40under40 awards.

First awarded in 2002 to showcase the abundance of young talent in the State, the 40under40 program has grown in stature and reputation. And the 2004 event launched this week promises to be bigger and better. 

WA Business News is calling on the local business community to nominate businessmen and women aged under 40 who are considered the leading lights in their profession.

Since the inception of 40under40 a wealth of talent has come to the fore and many winners have gone on to bigger and greater things. Some have gone through a period of consolidation, while others still have needed every ounce of business savvy to survive a tough few years.

After her win in the 2003 40under40 awards, Geraldton dentist Dr Fiona Kelly has hit the ground running.  Taking advantage of the one-hour flight time between Perth and Geraldton, Dr Kelly has recently purchased a second dental clinic in Subiaco and will run it in conjunction with her successful practice in Geraldton.

Dr Kelly said she was currently recruiting two other dentists to assist her run the two clinics. She expects the Centro Avenue dental clinic to be open by November. 

Dr Kelly – who has also received a Telstra Business Women’s Westpac Business owner award and the Prime Minister’s Centenary Medal for contribution to Business Leadership – has forged her way to front of the field, through her dentristy skills and commitment to providing patients with a different style of dentistry. 

Dr Kelly’s integrated dental practice offers aromatherapy, foot massage and even coffee, a level of service she says is prevalent throughout London and the US.

“Patients can come in for their normal preventative care but before they can arrange to have their feet or neck massaged,” she said.

“Making it a bit different is the reason people come to my clinic rather than another. You can’t really tell how good a filling is but you can tell how good the service is that is provided.”

Dr Kelly said her challenge for the next couple of years was to build up the Subiaco clinic from its current small patient base of about 400 to between 2,000 and 4,000 patients.

Another 2003 40under40 winner, Russel Blaikie, has continued his run of success this year, winning a Gold Plate award for best new restaurant for his popular Highgate bistro/bar restaurant, Must Wine Bar.

In the face of stiff east coast competition, Must Wine Bar also came third in this year’s national Australia Bartender magazine awards for best wine bar of the year.

Mr Blaikie said 2003 had been a successful year in terms of achieving the goals he had set for the business – raising its profile and increasing trade.

Established in 2001 when the winebar concept was relatively new to Perth, the restaurant now sports more than 400 wines in its cellar and has 38 wines by the glass.

“Perth people are becoming increasingly wine savvy but there is still a degree of the market that is intimidated by the wine experience,” Mr Blaikie said.

“We have worked really hard to make the experience one that is about building knowledge, not snootiness. Wine is not for the elite, it is for the masses.”

He said the key to success in hospitality was focusing on people, both customers and staff.

“Everything revolves around people in our business. You are only as good as the team – the team you select and work with.”

Marketing has also played a part in the restaurants success. Must Wine Bar has a customer email database, which are used to update customers about regular wine tasting and gourmet events, as well as offering a monthly prize of a magnum of wine.

Operating in a vastly different industry is Dr Paul Watt. Dr Watt is a director on a number of biotechnology companies and is a senior research fellow at the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research.

He has made successful inroads in the process towards the practical application of his patents in the community.

As a director of biomedical devices group Xcell Diagnostics Ltd, Dr Watt is soon to see the Australian launch of his patented invention, the Funhaler – an asthma medication device for children. The Funhaler will be launched in collaboration with asthma foundations around Australia and Visiomed plans an international market release in 2004.

“I think the Funhaler will save lives because asthma attacks have been linked to poor adherence to asthma medications,” Dr Watt said.

 “I love being in the biotech space because I am practical by nature and enjoy the process of taking an idea, protecting an idea and building a product and delivering it to the marketplace.”

The group, which earlier in the year changed its name from Xcel Diagnostics when it acquired German medical technology company Visiomed AG, has gone from strength to strength, with its shares increasing from 3 cents to around 10 cents in the last quarter. Through its acquisition of Visiomed AG, with its revolutionary skin cancer detection device, Microderm, the group has been able to fast track its growth into a mature medical device company that is rolling out medical equipment to the community.

Rather than its success in the biomedial industry, it was Visomed’s generous distribution of share options that recently brought it to attention. In September shareholders voted to distribute share options that were ‘already in the money’, meaning that directors who received the shares could exercise them immediately and make profit.

In defence of the company, Dr Watt said none of the Visiomed Group directors who received options under the scheme package had been paid director’s fees for over one year’s worth of board meetings.

“Even if you convert the options in cash terms for director remuneration it is not unreasonable,” he said.

In regards to chief executive Saliba Sassine’s generous package of 4.5 million share options, Dr Watt said the options were included in the overall chief executive package to secure Mr Sassine’s expertises.

When the scheme package was drawn up earlier in the year, the share price was closer to 3 cents. By the time the shareholders’ meeting was held in September it was around 13 cents.

“The shareholders voted strongly for the package, noting that the directors should not be penalised for their success so far in moving the company forward and trebling the share price,” Dr Watt said.

As recently as last year Bell Potter Securities probably would not have been considered one of the major brokers on St Georges Terrace. How that has changed.

Bell Potter Securities is now estimated to be Perth’s third largest stockbroking firm and has established a strong presence in the State.

While State manager and 2003 40under40 winner Andrew Coppin attributes much of the firm’s success to the upturn in the global stock market and WA’s strengthening resource sector, his management style has been vital in steering the west coast firm to a position where it out performs its national counterparts.

Mr Coppin said while the stock market was performing about 20 per cent better than March last year, the Perth firm’s performance was up 150 per cent on 18 months ago and was significantly outperforming its peers in other States.

“We’ve got the product, we’ve got the people and we have been able to leverage off that,” he said.

Mr Coppin said the firm’s business had grown through the recruitment of new dealers, advisers and analysts.

“We’ve got a great team happening here and we are getting the Bell Potter name out in WA,” he said.

But it hasn’t been positive news for all 40under40 winners; for some depressed business conditions have taken their toll.

For 2002 winner Manny Papadoulis, who heads up one of WA’s most established coach touring and transport companies, Feature Tours, the past couple of weeks have been traumatic due to the recent decision to place the 30-year-old family business into voluntary administration.

Mr Papadoulis said the past two years had been a struggle with the collapse of Ansett Airlines, international acts of terrorism and the SARS health epidemic all taking its toll on Feature Tours.

In the past month it had become clear that action was needed and the company entered into voluntary administration, Mr Papadoulis said.

The company’s situation is not expected to affect any scheduled departures, clients would not lose money already paid for future bookings, and no staff will become redundant, he said.

Determined to see his family business continue to operate, Mr Papadoulis remains positive about the future of the company.

“We plan to trade our way out of the current difficulties, it is business as usual,” he said.

“I expect it will take us about 12 to 18 months to trade out of the current situation.”

Mr Papadoulis said the company was currently very busy with fully booked tours thanks to the bumper wildflower season and the Rugby World Cup.

“In fact we have around $400,000 in forward bookings over the next two months,” he said.

Mr Papadoulis said he would retain his position as president of Tourism Council Western Australia after he received a unanimous vote of confidence from the board.

The combined effect of the recent blows to the tourism sector had made the industry vulnerable, he said, and if disaster was to strike again there would be  a massive fall-out for many businesses.

“The tourism industry has proven in the past 20 years to be a very resilient industry, but there is a point when the elastic band breaks,” Mr Papadoulis said.

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