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Published 14 July 2010 13:57, Updated 05 August 2010 04:18
COMPANY: NetComm (formerly Banksia Technology)
CHIEF EXECUTIVE: David Stewart
REVENUE 2008-09: $78.5 million (305 per cent annual growth)
TRACK RECORD: Fast 100: 1995 (ranked 24); 1996 (17); 1997 (5); 1998 (28)
Few chief executives, after 22 years in business, can point to a 300 per cent increase in annual revenue in 2008-09. But David Stewart, whose company NetComm appeared on the BRW Fast 100 list four times in the late 1990s, simply takes rapid expansion in his stride.
The company’s spike in revenue during 2008-09 was the result of a distribution deal with Telstra, which meant NetComm wireless data communications products were distributed in a business-in-a-box solution to business customers throughout the country.
The challenge now, Stewart says, is to use this growth to buoy NetComm’s own expansion into the emerging economies. The company has a direct or reseller presence in 18 countries in Asia and the Middle East, and is looking at Latin America with a Spanish translation of the product.
“We’ve modest growth plans, we’re looking at maybe eight countries a year over the next couple of years,” Stewart says. “Demand for wireless broadband technology is expanding very rapidly in the developing world, so we’re translating the software interfaces as well as the marketing team to sell into those markets.”
NetComm’s foray into wireless broadband technology harks back to 2007 when Stewart and his team began developing products for a market they were sure would grow rapidly. But it’s not the first time Stewart has spied then caught a technology wave.
Twenty-two years ago he founded a company to manufacture and distribute modems, for what was then a highly specialised and niche area of data transfer between computers. With the capability of transferring data at 2400 bits a second, these modems were roughly 9000 times slower than NetComm’s current wireless 3G21W modems. (The latter takes about 2 seconds to download a song from the internet; the old 1200 baud modems would have taken more than five hours for the same amount of data.)
After a bull run through the 1990s, during which Stewart’s former company, Banksia, featured regularly on the Fast 100, demand slowed and Stewart opted to move manufacturing overseas in order to stay competitive. The slowdown and subsequent market consolidation presented strong competitors, and Stewart took the opportunity to conduct a reverse takeover of the his Australian Securities Exchange-listed competitor NetComm.
“We’d been through a period of consolidation, and we ended up with about five different brands,” Stewart says. “Then we made a big mistake. We tried to rebrand all the different products under an entirely new title, calling ourselves Sirius Technology, but suddenly no one knew who we were any more.
“[In] those days, there was quite a strong ‘buy Australian’ feeling in the market, and people recognised our name,” he says. “I had to go back to the board and tell them it was a mistake.”
Despite the upheaval caused by the rebrand reversal, NetComm continued to perform solidly, keeping up with the rapidly evolving market. The dotcom bust came and went, and NetComm stayed focused on developing and manufacturing peripheral communication devices and keeping apace with the incremental data speeds.
“We’re lucky in the sense that we’re not tied to any fixed technology. We just continue to develop new products as internet speeds and global demand change,” Stewart says. “Wireless is our main focus now because it’s no longer practical for many countries around the world to put fibre in the ground.”
Stewart says demand for wireless broadband products has raced ahead over the past 18 months despite the global financial crisis, and that NetComm’s close relationship with Telstra has given the company a firm lead in global markets.
At the same time, NetComm has developed a range of rugged communication devices designed to communicate solely with other machines – technology that is currently deployed in the Tsunami early warning system in the Pacific Ocean, on traffic control systems and in a border security system deployed in Saudi Arabia.
“There are now more than 100 countries committed to rolling out a 3G network, while in Australia we’re already looking at the next generation of wireless technology called LTE,” Stewart says.
“The next generation of wireless internet won’t just be about people to people, it will also be about transferring data [from] machine to machine.”
NetComm (formerly Banksia Technology)
$78.5 million (305 per cent annual growth)
Fast 100: 1995 (ranked 24); 1996 (17); 1997 (5); 1998 (28)