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Published 30 August 2012 04:47, Updated 30 August 2012 05:37
Business success comes in many guises and this year’s winners of the BRW Private Business Awards could not be more diverse. What they do share, however, is a passion and drive that defines the entrepreneurial spirit.
SWISSE VITAMINS: MOST SUCCESSFUL BUSINESS OF THE YEAR (TURNOVER OVER $100M)
Swisse CEO Radek Sali.Photo: Arsineh Houspian
Pick the odd word out: glitz, glamour and vitamin pills. Actually, they’re a perfect match. They are at Swisse Vitamins anyway, where part-owner and chief executive Radek Sali has pursued an aggressive marketing strategy involving a galaxy of stars, sporting celebrities and top-shelf sponsorships.
“Why shouldn’t vitamin pills be fashionable and fun?” says Sali of the company started in the 1950s by the Saba family and still majority-owned by Michael Saba .
Sali was an executive with Village Roadshow when he joined Swisse in 2005 as operations manager. He applied the pizzazz of the movie business to selling vitamins and the result has been spectacular. Since becoming chief executive in 2009, annual sales have grown from $15 million to $182.6 million this financial year.
In the past two years, Swisse has spent $44.5 million on marketing, including sponsorship of the London Olympic Games, the Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix and Melbourne’s Spring Racing Carnival as well as a stable of “ambassadors” including sporting legend Ricky Ponting, TV star Sonia Kruger and songstress Delta Goodrem.
“It’s about getting our product into many more hands and educating consumers about the benefits of using our products,” he says. “We’re very disciplined about return on investment.” Swisse plans to expand to the US in 2013.
JOB CAPITAL: MOST SUCCESSFUL PRIVATE BUSINESS OF THE YEAR (TURNOVER LESS THAN $100M)
Jo Burston is Job Capital managing director Jo Burston.Photo: Tamara Voninski
Jo Burston is proud of Job Capital , the payroll outsourcing business she started in Sydney in 2006. “We have grown from a zero base to over 200 clients and over 1000 individual contractors,” she says.
Job Capital offers employment services such as payroll management, salary packaging, back office and migration services and has grown from first-year revenue of $505,000 to $38 million this year. Burston, the managing director and sole owner of Job Capital, is gearing up for the next growth phase, which includes expansion to New Zealand and Asia.
The business offers scope for growth without having to stretch resources, Burston says, thanks to a cloud computing-based business model which ensures real-time online processing for clients and “marginal cost growth for us”.
New distribution alliances with legal and accounting firms will spearhead new growth, which Burston hopes will increase Job Capital’s share of the Australian SME market from 5 per cent to 20 per cent by 2016. Although domestic growth is her priority, Burston believes she is well placed to expand internationally.
“Being cloud-based we don’t need to have branches all over the world.” The most critical element of Job Capital’s success, Burston says, is her staff. Just 12 people drive the business. “I have the utmost respect for my team.”
BUNNIK TOURS: EXCELLENCE IN CUSTOMER SERVICE
Bunnik Tours’ Dennis Bunnick with brother Sacha and mother Marion at their tour centre, Adelaide.Photo: David Mariuz
As an example of unstinting customer service, it’s hard to go past Adelaide tour operator Dennis Bunnik flying to Egypt during the uprising in Cairo in January 2011 to ensure the safety of 60 clients.
“When I left Adelaide the revolution was not a revolution, it was just a protest. It became a revolution when I was in the air,” the managing director of Bunnik Tours recalls. Dennis runs the business with his mother, Marion, left, and brother Sacha.
At the first sign of trouble in Egypt – which pre-revolution accounted for 40 per cent of the company’s business – Bunnik wanted someone on the ground. “Being a family company, the emphasis was on doing the right thing by our clients rather than protecting short-term results,” he says.
Once he got to Cairo, Bunnik co-ordinated the evacuation of tour parties within 48 hours. All Bunnik tours to Egypt were cancelled and 700 customers with bookings over the next six months were allowed to rebook or be refunded. Bunnik Tours restarted tours to Egypt within weeks of the revolution, with Marion on hand to travel with tour parties.
While revenue has fallen to $17.9 million this year from $23 million in 2010-11 and it has had to close its Melbourne branch, Bunnik remains upbeat.
“Once Egypt stabilises we expect to see a dramatic increase in business,” he says. In the meantime, demand for tours to South America, Sri Lanka and Vietnam is “well up” on previous years.
AUSSIE FARMERS DIRECT: EXCELLENCE IN COMMUNITY SERVICE
Aussie Farmers direct co-founder William Scott.Photo: Luis Enrique Ascui
When William Scott and three partners started Aussie Farmers Direct in 2005 they had a simple business proposition: that busy consumers would welcome home deliveries of bread, milk, meat and fresh fruit and vegetables.
But there was more to the venture. Underpinning the business plan was the belief that consumers wanted to support local farmers and their communities. Aussie Farmers Direct sells only Australian-grown and locally made products.
“Our customers are looking for quality, affordability and convenience but they also have a genuine respect for Australian farmers,” says Scott, the company’s chairman. “They care about where their food comes from.”
From just 30 customers in its first year, it now has a national customer base of 130,000 households, a 200-strong range of products and 2012 revenue of $154 million. In 2010, Aussie Farmers became a producer in its own right when it established Aussie Farmers Dairy in Camperdown in Victoria.
The company expects to create 100 jobs by 2015. As well as supporting communities by selling their produce, the Aussie Farmers Foundation backs various programs aimed at improving health and wellbeing in rural and regional communities.
The foundation donated $250,000 in 2011. One program sends volunteer retired teachers to remote farms to help children with their education. Customers can also nominate 2 per cent of their weekly grocery bill with Aussie Farmers Direct to go to local schools, sporting clubs and community groups of their choice.
KEECH AUSTRALIA: SUCCESSFUL PRIVATE BUSINESS IN REGIONAL AUSTRALIA
Keech Australia CEO Herbert Hermens.Photo: Arsineh Houspian
Steel castings manufacturer Keech Australia is defying the malaise in the manufacturing sector with 60 per cent growth in the past three years. It is also establishing itself as a global competitor with markets in Canada, Indonesia, Japan and Russia.
Last year Keech established a South American subsidiary in Chile. All this activity is from its headquarters in Bendigo, 150 kilometres north-west of Melbourne. Keech began in Sydney in 1934 and relocated to the former gold rush city in 1994. It designs and manufactures cast steel products for mining, earthmoving, dredging, agricultural and construction equipment.
Owned and operated by the Keech family, in 2008 the family appointed Herbert Hermens , pictured, as chief executive. He has pursued an aggressive strategy of innovation, global growth and investment, spending $10 million to redevelop Keech’s principal foundry and $3 million to construct a second foundry.
“We have substantially transformed ourselves from a foundry producing products to order to a global provider of innovation, services and products,” Hermens says.
Keech has annual revenue of $50 million, employs 165 people and is growing but attracting engineers and technical staff to Bendigo is difficult. Hermens has had to recruit staff from as far afield as South Africa, India and Ireland. He is determined to attract and retain skills in Bendigo.
“This is such a vibrant city,” he says, Keech has opened a research and innovation centre and has partnered Bendigo TAFE to introduce engineering traineeships for year 12 graduates.