BRISBANE’s 2014 Lord Mayor’s Business Awards are open for entries until July 18, with a new award category recognising local companies forging strong links with Asia.

“A new award category – Doing Business in Asia - recognises businesses making an outstanding effort in building trade between Brisbane and Asia in areas such as education, energy and resources, design and property, manufacturing or value-added industries including accountancy and legal services,” Lord Mayor Graham Quirk said. 

“The new category highlights Brisbane’s growing role as a business hub in Asia, a region which we share increasingly close economic, trade and cultural links.”

Blue Sky Alternative Investments Limited was the star of the 2013 Lord Mayor’s Business Awards, winning the supreme Optus Business Platinum Award and the Australia TradeCoast Award for Business Growth.

“When you are driving hard building a business there are very few opportunities to stop, reflect and look back at what has been achieved,” Blue Sky founder Mark Sowerby said.

“Winning two of the Lord Mayor Awards put an exclamation mark on a tough but rewarding seven years.

“Even as a listed company, it is challenging to tell your story to the broader market, but since winning the Lord Mayor’s Platinum and Growth Awards there has been significantly greater interest in Blue Sky.

“Our market capitalisation has more than doubled since we received the Awards, and we were able to go to market for more capital in late 2013. I have no doubt the Lord Mayors Awards played a role in that success.”

Cr Quirk said the other major change to for 2014 sees the Australia TradeCoast Award for Business Growth become exclusively for Small Business Growth, open to small and medium enterprises employing up to 200 people.

“The Lord Mayor’s Business Awards highlight why an increasing number of decision-makers worldwide are choosing Brisbane for business, investment, study and conventions,” he said.

“I encourage all Brisbane businesses to enter this year’s Awardsso we can honour their role in making Brisbane what it is today; a city internationally recognised for its depth of innovative and fresh, original talent.

“The ninth annual Lord Mayor’s Business Awards will celebrate the achievements and contribution made by our business community to Brisbane’s $135 billion economy.  The awards reinforce why Brisbane was chosen to host the G20 Leaders Summit in November.”

The awards, staged by the city’s economic development board, Brisbane Marketing, are the only awards in Brisbane to include businesses and individuals across all sectors.

Brisbane Marketing CEO John Aitken said the winners would be chosen by independent judging panels.

“The award-winning companies along with the finalists are all raising the bar when it comes to innovation, collaboration, research and development. They are also representing Brisbane on the world stage,” Mr Aitken said.

The 2014 winners will be announced at the dinner on October 10.


Brisbane LMBA categories are:

  • Australia TradeCoast Award for Small Business Growth.
  • Brisbane City Council Award for Corporate Citizenship.
  • Energex Award for Sustainability in Business.
  • Award for Business Innovation.
  • Yellow Cab Award for Digital Strategy.
  • ANZ Made in Brisbane Award for High-growth Business Start-Up.
  • Doing Business in Asia Award.
  • Award for New Investment.
  • Young Business Person of the Year Award.
  • Channel 7 Business Person of the Year Award.
  • Optus Business Platinum Award.


The 2013 Lord Mayors Business Awards winners were:

Australia TradeCoast Award for Business Growth and Optus Business Platinum Award:

Blue Sky Alternative Investments

Established in 2006 as a private equity investment manager, Blue Sky Alternative Investments Limited is now an Australian-based diversified alternative asset manager specialising in four asset classes; Private Equity, Private Real Estate, Hedge Funds and Real Assets. The company listed on the Australian Securities Exchange in January 2012 (ASX:BLA).

Blue Sky is headquartered in Brisbane, with offices in Adelaide, Sydney and New York, and the staff collectively own a large part of the business, and invest heavily in its funds.

Since inception, Blue Sky has built a strong investment track record by developing investment themes and finding innovative ways to express those themes. Its primary investment theme has been to find opportunities in "the essentials", which include food, water, housing, energy, resources, infrastructure and health.


ANZ Made in Brisbane Award for High-Growth Business Start-Up:

Liquid State

Liquid State is the quickest and easiest cloud-based, multi-platform digital publishing system.

Use Liquid State to go from a print document to a tablet app in just five clicks. Unlike other systems, pages only have to be laid out once, and they seamlessly adapt to any screen size or orientation.

The system is easy to use and doesn't require any special software or coding experience. Publishers, authors, and corporate communications teams use Liquid State to keep their production costs low and their audience engagement high.

Liquid State - Gutenberg for the digital age.


Nova 106.9 Award for Business Innovation:


Tritium is a specialised engineering and manufacturing company developing solutions for the rapidly growing electric vehicle (EV) market.

A well‐known EV industry brand for more than 10 years, Tritium has been designing and manufacturing state-of-the-art power electronics across a range of applications including

  • electric vehicle charging
  • driving electric motors
  • battery storage systems
  • renewable energy generation

Headquartered in Brisbane, Tritium’s locally manufactured products are largely destined for export markets, and the company has built up a global customer base. Tritium products are now being used on every continent – including Antarctica – which is testament to the quality and reliability of its technology.


Energex Award for Sustainability in Business:

Brisbane Airport Corporation

Brisbane Airport is the front door to Queensland, Australia’s largest airport on land size, Australia’s second-busiest airport on aircraft movements, and Australia’s third-largest airport on passenger numbers. With two major terminals servicing 29 airlines flying to 43 national and 28 international destinations, about 20,000 people work at the airport, which operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. More than 21.6 million passengers (nearly the entire population of Australia) travelled through BNE in FY13.  Brisbane Airport Corporation is committed to an active response to the long-term impacts of climate change and minimising adverse environmental impacts from aviation and property development activities. Its sustainability goals are to maximise energy, water and waste efficiencies, manage noise impacts, balance the built environment and biodiversity values and achieve best practice in urban and built design.


4impact Award for New Investment:

OneHarvest Pty Ltd

From a base in Brisbane, OneHarvest employs up to 1000 people across Australia and supplies a range of fresh produce to supermarkets and greengrocers around the country. These products include pre-packed salads, stir-fry vegetables, prepared deli salads, fresh chilled meals as well as avocados and B74 mangoes (marketed under the Calypso brand), grown on the biggest commercial mango orchards in the country.  In January 2014 it will introduce an innovative range of baby beetroot products.

Inspired by global trends in value-added produce and the opportunity to introduce fresh cut salads to Australia, OneHarvest opened its Brisbane production facility, the company’s first, in 1995. Since that time the company has won many sales, marketing, innovation and workplace awards. In 2012 the company invested $13 million in an expansion of this facility to allow it to increase capacity to cope with growing demand for its products.

At OneHarvest’s core is a passion and determination to change the way Australians eat.


Brisbane City Council Award for Corporate Citizenship:


Aliva is a Brisbane-based, Queensland ICT success story: a strong, agile team delivering excellence in customer service. Aliva (formerly known as TLC iTSolutions) has recently rebranded. With 11 years of growth and achievement, it was time to evolve for the future.

Why Aliva? Because technology should never be a burden.

Its new name is light, active, alive and communicates its mission to lighten customers’ loads through smart use of technology and digital tools. Its promise is to make technology an active part of each customer’s business.

As a mature business operation with an honest and genuine commitment to doing the right thing, Aliva actively seeks opportunities to support the greater community, and provide assistance past its immediate sphere of influence. Aliva provides this support through a structured program of gifting, staff engagement and extended community support programs.


ACPET Award for Excellence in International Education Delivery:

The University of Queensland

The University of Queensland (UQ) is one of Australia's premier learning and research institutions. It is Queensland’s oldest university and has produced almost 200,000 graduates since opening in 1911. Its graduates have gone on to become leaders in all areas of society and industry.

UQ is one of the three Australian members of the global Universitas 21 alliance. The university is also a founding member of the national Group of Eight (Go8), an alliance of research-strong universities committed to ensuring Australia has higher education institutions that are genuinely world class.

Its eight internationally significant research institutes are drawcards for an ever-expanding community of scientists, researchers and commercialisation experts. UQ offers study programs informed by the latest research, and its teachers have won more Australian Awards for University Teaching than any other Australian university.

Today, more than 45,000 students study across UQ’s four main campuses in South-East Queensland: St Lucia, Ipswich, Gatton and Herston.  Since its inception, UQ has graduated more than 200,000 alumni with half of all living alumni based in Queensland. UQ currently has graduates living in more than 150 countries. 


Yellow Cab Award for Digital Champion:

Domino’s Pizza Enterprises

DPE (Domino's) is the largest pizza chain in Australia in terms of both network store numbers and network sales. It’s also the largest franchisee for the Domino's Pizza brand in the world. DPE has more than 1200 stores across six countries, including 570 in Australia and New Zealand. DPE employs more than 21,000 full-time and casual staff across five countries, including 16,500 in Australia and New Zealand. It operates a "hybrid" model based on a combination of approximately 20 per cent corporate stores and 80 per cent franchised stores. Each year DPE sells more than 60 million pizzas.

In Australia and New Zealand, it is focusing on ensuring DPE offers the best value in the "quick service restaurant" arena. Intensive time and planning has already gone into product development for the next 12 months and DPE will continue to undertake significant development to further enhance its competitive advantage, remain at the forefront of technology and maintain its position as the leader in the digital space. Young Business Person of the Year:

Anthony Yap – Good Price Pharmacy Warehouse

Anthony is the managing director and founder of Good Price Pharmacy Warehouse. 

Anthony’s business career began with the purchase of his first pharmacy in Brisbane’s northern suburbs in 2001 at the age of 23.  By 2003, he created the Good Price Pharmacy Warehouse brand, a “big box” concept based on a larger product range and an everyday low price strategy.  Over the next 10 years Anthony has grown the business to more than 40 stores, across six states, with more than 700 employees. In the process he has made Good Price Pharmacy Warehouse one of the largest “big box” brands in Australia.    

Anthony, and his wife, Hanh Luu, own and operate numerous pharmacies nationally under the Good Price Pharmacy and Good Price Pharmacy Warehouse brands. 

Ian Davies – Senex Energy

Ian Davies has worked hard to establish Brisbane as a new power base for Australia’s oil and gas sector. Drawing on his international experience in investment banking, he played a critical role in the development of Queensland’s LNG industry and has subsequently brought Senex – a predominantly South Australian oil and gas operation – to Brisbane where the business has grown to become one of Australia’s largest independent onshore oil producers. Under Ian’s leadership, Senex has articulated a clear growth strategy based on aggressive exploration, appraisal and development of the company’s oil and gas assets in the South Australian Cooper Basin and Queensland’s Surat Basin.


Lifetime Achievement Award

Stefan Ackerie – Stefan Hair Fashions

Stefan moved to Australia from Lebanon with his family when he was 17. His father and grandfather were both hairdressers, and Stefan decided to continue on with the family trade. In 1964, Stefan opened his first salon in Longreach, and over a span of 47 years has grown his business to include 41 salons in Queensland and one in New South Wales.

Stefan has worked tirelessly over his very successful career to further the integrity and reputation of the hairdressing industry, provide opportunities for young Queenslanders, and support the homeless and needy through his continuous generosity and charity work.

Stefan’s greatest contribution to Australia, predominantly Brisbane, would have to be the employment, education and training of thousands of people. Not just in hairdressing, hospitality, and boats – but in the game of life and doing the right thing. Stefan has achieved this by being the inspirational man he is, and always carrying himself with dignity in or out of the public eye.

Stefan is the first and only hairdresser to build a joint alliance with a hair and beauty training school (Southbank Tafe) in which all his apprentices are trained at the Stefan Head Office in conjunction with Southbank Tafe. Stefan takes on 60 new apprentices each year from high schools all over Queensland and provides these young and driven youths with an opportunity of a lifetime. They have the choice of being trained in hair, make-up and beauty, and – better still – they get to apply these skills in the workplace each day.

Stefan has recently turned his second passion into a new business concept: Stefan Boating World, which produces affordable, unsinkable – and, of course, stylish – boats.

Today, Stefan has an extensive range of products: shampoos, conditioners, styling products, jewellery, bags, make-up, electronics and hair extensions – and this is only the beginning of exciting new journeys for the amazing Mr Ackerie.


POSTED JUNE 10, 2014


‘The life of a startup is all about depression and agony and failure and then incredible happiness and joy and accomplishment. We can’t live life in a straight line, we need the rollercoaster of expression.’ – Stephen Phillips

WHEN Stephen Phillips walked onto the Creative3 stage for a question and answer session with Creative Enterprise Australia chairman Michael Smellie, there was a brief and revealing exchange.

In an effort to explain how influential Mr Phillips had become in the music world since selling music discovery platform We Are Hunted to Twitter in November 2012, Mr Smellie – himself a music industry expert with leadership roles at Sony BMG, Bertelsmann and the Australian Film Television and Radio School – used the analogy that Mr Phillips would soon be “walking the red carpets of the world”.

“No, I don’t walk the red carpet,” Mr Phillips assured delegates. 

As the Q&A on the evolution of entrepreneurship unfolded over the next 30 minutes, it became increasingly clear that Stephen Phillips is not motivated by the trappings of success that must follow when a start-up is sold to one of the world’s biggest social media empires.

Twitter’s debut on the New York Stock Exchange on November 7 last year valued the company at more than $25 billion.

Twitter’s acquisition of We Are Hunted – which provides the foundation technology for Twitter #music – means that Mr Phillips and his co-founders Richard Slatter and Michael Doherty are now part of that sphere of influence.

As with many start-up success stories, its new-found influence has come off the back of a long journey of failure, stagnation, hard-won gains and a single-minded determination that has seen Stephen Phillips evolve through inevitable highs and lows.

“The life of a start-up is all about depression and agony and failure and then incredible happiness and joy and accomplishment,” Mr Phillips said. “We can’t live life in a straight line, we need the rollercoaster of expression.

“As creative people we have to go and look on the very edges of what’s legal and what people condone and then go there. That’s where we live. Ignore rules, read them and then throw them away.

“Whatever the convention is, that’s what everybody else is doing and that’s not creative and that’s not original. If you’re not original and not taking risks then people won’t notice what you do, and to me, that’s what it’s all about,” he said.

Mr Phillips’ style is authentic and no-nonsense and the story of his journey to the heart of the tech world in Silicon Valley went down well with the mix of Creative3 delegates who witnessed the Q&A session. Many told organisers of Creative3 his session was a highlight of their experience.

 “I’m a bit of a believer in the predestination of these things, in that people arrive where they’re supposed to be at the time they’re supposed to be there. I don’t believe the friendships and connections I made in the last five years are by accident,” he said.

“We didn’t invent the idea [for We Are Hunted], it happened from a collaboration where peers and friends came together and created this thing and then the world said ‘we love this’, so I knew that it was real. Once we found that thing, I knew that it was enormously valuable because the world told me that it was. 

“It’s a massive relief to find a purpose when you’re a small company. When you find that, it then becomes an execution thing where your responsibility is to make sure you can capitalise on it,” Mr Phillips said.

Having achieved an exit for We Are Hunted Mr Phillips said he was happy to take stock and watch Twitter evolve from the inside.

“I’m genuinely curious about what happens to Twitter as a cultural phenomenon,” he said.

“The coolest part of Twitter is that its audience is addicted to it.  All those celebrities you see come and visit there, it’s not staged, they’re not inviting them, they just want to come and be part of that once-in-a-generation feeling. And it is a special feeling.

“I appreciate that I’m incredibly lucky to see it from the inside and as a creative person, I desire an audience for what I do. Twitter gives me an incredible audience.

“You’re never left without knowing what’s going down as you have the chance to launch things to half a billion people and I love it! I’m addicted to shipping and launching things,” Mr Phillips said. 

An addiction which will surely keep Phillips riding that rollercoaster of expression with every new product he develops and launches.

Stephen Phillips returned to his home city of Brisbane in November where took part in a Creative3 pop-up event with 20 residents at QUT Creative Enterprise Australia. The pop-up events are designed to connect local start-ups with global creative entrepreneurs who’ve found success in scaling their businesses.

Creative Enterprise Australia will roll out more ‘Entrepreneur in Residence’ pop-up events for the growing Brisbane start-up community in 2014.



This article has been adapted from a report by Jess Daly who was at Creative3 as a media advisor to QUT Creative Enterprise Australia. The author compiled the report from Stephen Phillips’s remarks on stage and during a one-on-one interview ‘on an outside stairwell where we chat in the sunshine about the perfect storm that led to the creation of We Are Hunted’. The original article appeared in the QUT Creative Enterprise e-newsletter.


ACCENTURE has reinvented its service offering in Australia to help client companies take a lead and gain new economies in project development, such as gas plants, mines and manufacturing facilities.

Accenture Australia managing director, Jack Percy said for the organisation it was all about going where their clients needed them to go. Much of the momentum behind the formation of the Accenture Australia Operational Efficiency Centre of Excellence has been driven by the experience of the Global Recession, where new efficiencies and getting to market faster were priorities for survival, let alone profitability.

So far, the main call for the new Accenture service has been from resources organisations, but Mr Percy said the new Accenture system can drive savings for “any client that has a capital project”. 

The new Accenture Australia Operational Efficiency Centre of Excellence is located in Brisbane and began operations in late 2013. Mr Percy said the centre offers business services and industrialised delivery capabilities to help organisations operating in Australia achieve measurable improvements in cost control, productivity and compliance.

“We found many of clients involved in capital programs needed start-up capability,” Mr Percy said. “This is speed driven.

“Today’s challenging global economic climate is driving all Australian organisations, and particularly those in the resources sector, to look for new service models that deliver improved effectiveness, predictability, efficiency and productivity.

“The Accenture Australia Operational Efficiency Centre of Excellence allows clients to quickly access skilled resources and industrialised solutions that can deliver real business value. Our experience shows we can help clients reduce the cost to run some of these services by 20-30 percent,” Mr Percy said.

Mr Percy said the Accenture Australia Operational Efficiency Centre of Excellence was scalable with a long term plan to recruit 200 people. The centre provides local clients with services including capital project management, sourcing and procurement, supply chain management, talent management and other business support services.

Arrow Energy, an integrated coal seam gas company, was the first client to utilise the Accenture Australia Delivery Centre for sourcing, procurement and supply chain services.

“Our contract with Accenture quickly expanded our transactional contracting and procurement capability,” Arrow Energy vice president for corporate services, Paul D’Arcy said.

“They were able to efficiently mobilise resources to support our SAP business system rollout – three months from when we developed the concept to when we had people on the floor doing the work.

“Accenture now works with our Contracts and Procurements team, handling the transactional activities of SAP requests from across the business, and managing our material replenishment planning function.

“Their procurement support allows us to focus on our core strategic activities.”

Accenture is distinctive in the way it incorporates consulting and business services, Mr Percy said, so progress is made more rapidly by allocating resources to tasks more rapidly. It usually starts with Accenture adding specialised back office services to support capital programs, using experienced people and implementing financial management systems tailored to that project.

Accenture aims for the centre to be fully integrated with each client’s system, so teams are connected to client systems and data in a secure arrangement, based on specific client needs and security requirements.

Mr Percy said Contact between the client and the Centre of Excellence is based on client and project needs.

“We have the facilities to host onsite meetings, collaborate via video conference or other digital means as required,” he said.

Mr Percy said examples of processes being managed out of the centre include Requisition to Purchase (RTP) order processing and Spot Buy processing.

“RTP involves generating purchase orders from customers requisitions,” Mr Percy said. “Spot Buying involves buying one-off materials and services on a client’s behalf, leveraging specific Accenture buying expertise.

“The benefit is in (clients) getting high value and low value transactions off their plate so they can be focused on driving the project and being strategic,” Mr Percy said. “It’s about speed and low cost and accountability. Cost is important and we need to prove a cost benefit.”

Mr Percy said for a start-up venture, the ability to immediately bring in Accenture’s global networks and IP was a significant advantage.

“So you do not have to design processes from scratch and there would be benefits for global (development),” Mr Percy said.

Ventures are systematised with the benefit of Accenture’s Global Knowledge Exchange, the company’s online information resource which has now been augmented with wikis and blogs, providing a daily live global information exchange for Accenture operations. About 4500 Accenture employees use Knowledge Exchange every day, downloading close to 9,000 documents daily, and drawing on the knowledge generated by Accenture’s 281,000 staff globally.

 “We are seeking to do more … and we’ve found ourselves on fertile ground,” Mr Percy said.






AT A TIME when so many Australian retailers are struggling – and many failing – one company stands out as an industry innovator which has not only manoeuvred its way to success but has judiciously expanded its collection of brands. Super Retail Group – the umbrella group for SuperCheap Auto, BCF, Rebel Sport, Amart Sport and Ray’s Outdoors – is a retailer with a lot going on. Super Retail Group CEO and managing director, Peter Birtles, tells Business Acumen editor Mike Sullivan how teamwork and a culture of innovation keeps driving the group through continual organic growth, growth by careful acquisition and the development of new brands and products that even sell beyond the group’s own stores.


BUYING Rebel Sport and Amart Sport was widely seen as a risky move, in industry circles, by Super Retail Group in 2011. After all, weren’t those private equity-owned businesses failing? How would they fit into a group whose expertise was predominantly in automotive and outdoors retailing?

Where was the pedigree? It wasn’t like the creation of BCF (and purchase of Ray’s Outdoors), where outdoors products could be tested as part of the SuperCheap Auto offering until the group was comfortable with the sector. Could Super Retail Group’s accomplished motor racetrack and off-the-beaten-track retailing achievements be applied to the running tracks and sports pitches of Australia?

Super Retail Group CEO and managing director, Peter Birtles asked these kinds of questions and many, many more when his group made a bid for Rebel Sport and what had once been Amart All Sports with then-owner Archer Capital. The private equity firm had bought Amart in 2004 and Rebel Sport in 2006, hoping to do what they usually do: build the businesses and sell at a huge profit.

“They ran the business and they were potentially looking to IPO the business and, of course, with the Global Financial Crisis it all fell away,” Mr Birtles reflected. The key factor was the buying price, as the group had long identified the right kind of sports offering as being a good area for expansion. 

“It wasn’t so much an opportunistic thing,” Mr Birtles said. “Sports was always identified as a category that we thought would fit into the model that we have and we had been talking to Archer Capital, who were the owners of the business, for a number of years and we said, look if you are interested in selling, we’d like to have a look.

“That conversation developed and there was always a point in time in which expectations of value get closer. Initially a bit too far apart, but it all came together so we were able to strike a deal.

“I give Archer Capital credit for the way they ran the business for their own objectives. They are a financial owner looking for financial outcomes and that’s their key objective. We are a retail organisation and, while we have to contemplate and plan a return for shareholders, we are also very much focused on running the organisation for the long term – for long term success and long term growth.”

The DNA of Super Retail Group kicked in very quickly after the sports brands came under its umbrella.

“There is a difference in philosophy in that if you are running a business for the long term you have got to drive and grow the top line of the business,” Mr Birtles said. “But if you are in it for the short term then maybe you can just look after the bottom line and not worry so much about the top line. That really was a different perspective.

“When we took on the business we really said to the whole team, right, we want you to really go for sales.”

As the group had found in the past, this was a breath of fresh air for the staff – who found out quickly that Super Retail Group had the management smarts as well as the financial power to lift the businesses.

“If you think about it, retail businesses are really people businesses,” Mr Birtles said. “We employ a lot of people for the turnover that we generate. We employ 12,000 people across the group and about 4500-5000 of those are in the sports businesses.

“One of the key things is that you send a message to people who work in retail. They work in retail because retail is about sales. So, if you start saying to people, hey, we are focusing on sales, they get up and start going, right, great, because this is what I want. This is what my job is. That job is to sell stuff.

“So if you have got the management saying we are going to support you and help you sell, that’s a very different business to work for. Different to one that is saying it is about cost and it is about margin. It creates a different message and, for most of our team, they want a clear set of objectives and it really should be about sales.”


Where Super Retail Group takes its support to a new level is in the way it tracks not only its financial progress but also how its people are coping with change.

“We use an external company called Aon Hewitt who work with us on benchmarking engagement scores in the organisation,” Mr Birtles said. “At the time of the acquisition, the engagement score across the sporting businesses was about 33 percent. The retail industry average is about 55 percent. Best practice starts to get you about the 60-65 percent type average.

“So in the sports businesses, nearly 60 percent of the team were saying ‘we don’t believe in this company’. ‘We are not engaged’. ‘We are not passionate when we come to work’.

“So it was a big issue. We have worked on that and in 18 months we have shifted that now to 60 percent (of staff) saying they were engaged. Aon Hewitt are saying to us that is an incredible change and they don’t see many organisations that can deliver such a significant change in such a short period of time. So that’s great.”

Super Retail Group’s retail smarts came to the fore right away when they cleared inventory that had been hampering the sports stores.

“One of the key things was that, as part of the (former) focus on profit, there wasn’t a commitment to turning the old inventory out … because generally when you have to clear you have to discount to clear,” Mr Birtles said. “Around 18 percent of the inventory was old.

“It wasn’t current versions of the stock. The stores were full of stuff that was out of date. It was actually clogging up the store. So it creates an environment in which the team say, hey, we have got all this stuff that is actually hard for us to sell, at full price. The only way we can sell it is to discount it.

“So we came in and said, right, we want you to get rid of all this stuff. Move it out, so we can then regenerate the stores, get newer merchandise in, newer ranges, newer product, get the stores looking a bit more exciting. The team, of course, thought that was fantastic.”

The other message Super Retail Group imparted was that they wanted to grow the business.

“There were 126 stores, I think, at the time of acquisition, and we said our plan over the next five or six years is to grow that to 185 stores – and we are going to start spending money on the existing stores as well, start refurbishing them,” Mr Birtles said.

“The team is suddenly saying there is somebody who wants to help us and invest in us and support us. That’s all been key (to the rapid turnaround).”


So many ‘sales’ organisations focus on structuring incentives for sales success – but Super Retail Group plays a different game altogether.

“It’s interesting in these things in that our philosophy is that incentive schemes play a role – but in the end it is the culture,” Mr Birtles said. “And it’s the leadership that is absolutely critical in changing culture.

“If you make cultural change all about reward, then it actually doesn’t imbed in the organisation. It also changes the philosophy.

“In our organisation, what we are trying to do is create a passion for what we do and a passion for our products and the activities that we support,” he said.

“We would rather try to build that emotional engagement in what we are doing rather than just saying, hey, you do actually get a reward – because it doesn’t create that same sense.

“We haven’t really changed the incentive schemes. We are moving gradually towards more of a team-based approach, which is something that we have in the rest of the organisation. We want to reward the team.

“Whilst the selling part of the role is important, the team member that keeps the store looking clean and keeps the products on the shelves looking good, sells hello to the customer as they are walking around the store … all of those things all contribute to the customer experience as well as that final person who contributes to the sale. So, that’s all part of what we try and do.

“To be fair, there are some unique elements to the sports business and as we have gotten a better understanding of the particular aspects of merchandising and range management of apparel and footwear, we have been able to bring some of that understanding back into our leisure businesses, our BCF and Ray’s Outdoors businesses. So they have benefitted from some of the knowledge.”


The transfer of knowledge is a great strength of Super Retail Group businesses, Mr Birtles said, and it has always been part of the culture for ideas and experiences to flow between the businesses. He said staff and management were always learning from other parts of the business.

“Apparel and footwear represent around two-thirds of the sales in the sports businesses,” Mr Birtles said, as an example.

“How do you manage that, whereas in our leisure businesses apparel and footwear was around, let’s say, 15 to 20 percent of the business. So it was always a small part and therefore the focus in those businesses was all on the hard goods and the consumable type products, but not necessarily the soft goods.

“And so we didn’t necessarily do soft goods that well and now, I think, the leisure business is starting to benefit. We are doing soft goods much better in the leisure businesses because of what we have learned from the sports businesses.”

He said benefits flowed through as well to range selection and in-store presentation.

“The way in which we present the apparel now in the leisure businesses is a lot better now than it used to be,” he said. “That’s where the store team can bring their own personalities and their own creativity to the fore. It’s fantastic to see.

“One of the things (I see) when I travel around the stores is that the store teams are always very proud of what they have done. I was recently in a store in Newcastle, one of our Rebel stores down there, and there was a young girl, maybe about 20-21, who was running the ladies’ apparel section and her displays were just incredible. The creativity. She is putting all these mannequin displays together and so on ... it was just fantastic. You could see the real pride in what was being achieved – and not just for her as an individual but the whole team. It was amazing.”

Mr Birtles said it was vital to highlight those individuals and performances as they were inspirational for others in the organisation.

The dialogue throughout Super Retail Group is ongoing, fluid and nowhere near as formal as its ‘IP transfer’ tag suggests.

“While we have separate businesses, we do try to create an environment in which we can share ideas and that’s part of the philosophy of the whole organisation,” Mr Birtles said. “We have a saying of ‘we don’t know what we don’t know’. That is, we should always be open to a different perspective or a different experience.

“On a formal level we have the management team that gets together but we particularly encourage the general managers of merchandise and retail operations to spend time together so that they are sharing ideas and experiences,” he said. That usually takes place every three months.

“We do that to be sure we get that crossover. They spend time in store and talk about experiences and so on.”


While Mr Birtles admitted some parts of the business had proven challenging, such as the integration of Goldcross Cycles, the group was happy to see the sports businesses trending ahead of expectations.

“Certainly in relation to sports, absolutely,” he said. “We invested $610 million in buying the (sports) business, so it is a big investment. We’ve got a 10-year business case that we put together, to ensure that we get the returns, therefore you’ve got your targets as part of that. The year that’s just finished (FY2012-13) we ended up with a profit that was about 10 percent ahead of where we thought we’d be. So that’s all very pleasing. That’s all part of getting us to a very healthy return on investment.”

How the group as a whole has managed to win where other Australian and even international retailers have floundered is a much bigger question that Mr Birtles and his team have thought about long and hard – and continue to examine on a daily basis.

“I think if you look across retail I would say that at a high level you have got three different groups,” he said. “You have got your food businesses like Woolworths and Coles that take a big chunk of the retail spend. Those businesses are pretty steady. They are going pretty solidly.

“Then you have got businesses that are skewed towards selling stuff that is aimed at replacing things that people already have. By that I mean, we’ve already got clothes, we’ve already got furniture, we’ve already got TVs – all of that sort of stuff we’ve already got.

“So we (as consumers) make a choice as to whether we have to replace it today, tomorrow, three months, six months time.  I think that what’s happened with consumer confidence being low is that those decisions are more, ‘okay, I’m not going to do it this week, I’ll postpone it’.

“Then there are businesses that are about selling products that are consumed or taken as part of a leisure type experience. I think if you look around and you look at businesses like Flight Centre, or Bunnings, businesses involved in gyms and so on, consumers are still spending money on doing their thing on the weekends and in their spare time in the evenings and so on.”

Mr Birtles called them ‘quality of life’ choices and counted once unheard of businesses – such as beauty salons, nail bars and health massage salons – as being successful in that niche, and growing. “I think that’s where people are going,” he said.

“If you look at our businesses, we are generally selling product that is consumed as part of a leisure experience,” Mr Birtles said. “I think we keep that positivity and that focus.

“Having said that, I think we are also gaining market share in the markets that we are in. I think we are able to do that through the capabilities that we have got, in terms of how we run stores, how we present product, how we select product, how we market. I think we generally do lead our categories in terms of those things. We are winning our share or we are growing our share of customers.

“Retail had a really good time, from 2005-2010. What’s been happening is that the world has been moving on. Because some people were having such a good time that they did not necessarily invest in or change their business, now things have gotten a bit tougher and they are now having to change their business model. So you are seeing some of the businesses like David Jones and Myer having to put through a lot of change in their businesses, to try and respond to the changing customer conditions.

“I think it would be fair to say that particularly David Jones was managed in a way that, again, was all about cost for a period of time and not about ‘how do we position ourselves for the future?’. I think the current CEO is trying to redress that but of course he has got the challenges and the impacts of what happened before him.”

He said Myer had also flirted with private equity and the approach had moved to building and selling the business.


Mr Birtles agrees that the internet and e-commerce is disrupting many retail business models, but in Super Retail Group’s case it has become more about how the staff and systems adapt to increasingly online-savvy customers.

He said online sales were an early part of the mix for Super Retail Group, but were not yet large.

“At this point, to be frank, it is relatively small in terms of impact,” Mr Birtles said. “If you look at the nature of a lot of our product, there is an immediacy factor and there is obviously not a high value, either, in that the average transaction value in a Super Cheap Auto is $35. The average item value is about $15.

“In BCF the average item value is about $25 to $30. And it’s similar in sports. What we are finding is that a lot of customers still don’t think ahead for that type of product. It’s ‘I need to get such-and-such a product and I want to go and get it now’.  So there is that element.

“But what we do find is that customers are definitely more knowledgeable about their choices than they were historically. They are coming into store with a much greater level of knowledge.  You’ll see (for example at a Super Cheap Auto store) where we are testing a lot more technology in the store. It’s not only for the customer but it is also for the team member.”

There has already been a shift in how staff members engage with customers because of digital technologies.

“What we are saying to our team is that, historically, we have felt that we have had to be in a situation where we needed to know more than the customer. That kind of mindset: the customer comes in and they want to ask questions and therefore we have got to demonstrate that we have a high level of knowledge.

“But the reality is that if you have got customers that are focused on a particular area, then they can quite often have more knowledge than the team member. What the team member can do is use the technology that is in the store, and the availability of information, to work with the customer to confirm the customer’s choices and opinions – as opposed to having to be this oracle that provides all the information.

“That’s a change in philosophy and a change in mindset. We are in the very early stages of that, but that’s something that I see as really important. So it’s, kind of, go on the journey with the customer and on a bit of a voyage of discovery.

“We’ve got things like kiosks in store so the team member can say to the customer, let’s go and have a look here. Let’s go on screen and get the information.

“In a business like ours, where there are lots and lots of products, it is actually very difficult for a team member to have detailed knowledge of every single part of the business. So using technology to help the team member is as important as helping the customer.”

Mr Birtles said where digital communication technologies were coming into their own was in the training and product knowledge areas.

“That’s what we see, very much so,” he said. “The teams already say that if things are a little quieter in the store, they will spend time watching those videos and picking up tidbits and so on. I think that’s really important.

“We have a formal training night in the stores once a month. As part of that they get sent a DVD from the office which has a variety of videos on there. So we would have the category managers talking about products or some of our key suppliers talking about products and so on.”


While Super Retail Group’s results usually garner the headlines – and with good reason, in 2012/13 the group had a 22 percent increase in group sales to $2.02 billion; a 22 percent increase in EBIT to $172.3 million; and a 13 percent increase in earnings per share to 52.3 cents – the innovation coming through is where headlines are being created for the next five years.

Take, for instance, the development of stand-alone products and brands that have come from the group’s knowledge of what customers will be looking for in the future. Today, some of  those products are designed to sell beyond the group’s own stores.

Then there are the collaborative kiosk arrangements in which the auto, sports and leisure brands are placed within other retail environments.

A case in point is the SuperCheap Auto arrangement with BP service stations.

“Within the BP service station, there will be a gondola of auto parts and accessories they have bought through Super Retail Group,” Mr Birtles said. “That will be interesting.”

The group is also moving into wholesaling and having BCF points in regional stores.

“We are talking about all the local small town fishing and tackle stores, where those towns themselves would never be big enough to support a BCF store, but there is still a local tourist and local community fishing business,” he said.

“That’s an opportunity. We can say to those guys, we can actually give you the benefit of our buying power. So those are things that we are certainly exploring as well.”

Super Retail Group has a strategic planning process in the organisation that generates and tests such ideas, most of which come from the leadership team, Mr Birtles said.

Although SuperCheap Auto has realised, from testing, that mechanical servicing and accessories fitment is too far off the beam, there are other innovations coming through for the organisation’s core brand.

“We are actually challenging ourselves at the moment,” Mr Birtles said. “We’ve got a little trial going on with sales of auto products to mechanics, which is a different type of customer base (Auto Trade Direct).

“And I suppose we’re debating long and hard in terms of, does that really fit the organisational model. Is that something that we should be doing? Is that something essential or should we have a laser-like focus on retail customers? 

“You play with it. But it’s an interesting one and sometimes organisations can make mistakes by trying to go into areas in which they are not really set up to do and they don’t really have the expertise. They think they do, but they kind of get there and find they don’t.  There have been plenty of examples of retailers that have gone into other areas and struggled.”


Although Super Retail Group is not a manufacturer in its own right, it certainly manufactures goods.

It started with the SCA brand of auto components and tools, then graduated up the line into the Calibre auto products group. Now the group is having strong success with its outdoor and leisure brands Wanderer, Blueline and Ridgerider.

Super Retail Group has much of its branded product designed and manufactured in Australia, but a lot is also managed offshore, mostly in China.

“For example, our Calibre brake pads would be manufactured for us by Bendix (in Australia),” Mr Birtles said. “Our Calibre oil is manufactured by Caltex. So we have got local manufacturing going on.

“The SCA batteries are done by Century Batteries. So absolutely there is a local element to that.

“Own brand sales are about 38 percent of the overall sales of the business. And of the own brand sales I would say about 60 percent would be sourced internationally, 30 percent sourced locally,” he said.

“I use the term own brand, but if my management team heard me do that they would give me a bit of a slapping,” Mr Birtles laughed. “Because we are not trying to manage them as what we call own brands we are trying to manage them as what we call ‘private brands’. 

“Which is that they are actually stand-alone brands – and you are going to see a bit of an evolution coming through.

“The SCA brand takes a bit of a lesser role. It will still be there in the organisation and it has been very successful, but we want to take it to the next level and have brands that are more category-specific to generate a greater level of authority.

“So, this is a brand that is all about outdoors and four-wheel driving and travel and camping and you will see that in the business now with the Ridgerider brand drive across all our 4WD and trailer type areas – because that is the brand that we are developing there.

“We have got a brand called Tool Pro which is coming into the tools section. That type of stuff.

“We have done that a little bit more with BCF where you have got the Wanderer brand, which is a camping brand, and Blueline which is our baiting product brand.

“Wanderer is coming up in general customer surveys as to naming brands of camping. You have got your Coleman and Black Wolf, Austrail-type names, but Wanderer is starting to be mentioned in there with the top five brands in camping.

“That’s good and that’s where we want to be: actually seeing our own brands on the rise. That is also linked in to wholesale,” he said.

“It is actually easier for a third party reseller to sell Wanderer than it is, for example, to sell say, BCF. Or to sell Ridgerider rather than something that says SCA.

“From our point of view, if we have those brands out there and they are in other businesses as well, that’s building the credibility of the brands. 

“The philosophy is, we want the world’s best brands. We want the Bosch and the Ryco and the Stanley and the Castrol. We want the Coleman and the Columbia and the Black Wolf and the North Face and we want the Nike and Adidas and Asics and so on,” Mr Birtles said.

“We want those guys in all of our businesses but we also want to give the customer a choice in terms of some of our products as well that we have developed.”

The big advantage Super Retail Group is beginning to exploit is its customer knowledge and anticipation of what they need. Managers play a big role in communicating those opportunities.

“Generally the concepts come from the category manager,” Mr Birtles said. “We don’t have design capability, but the category manager will say I think there is an opportunity to develop this type of a product and they will either then go to a local manufacturer and say, this is what I’m thinking, can you design something for me?; or they will turn to an international manufacturer and ask them to do that, through our sourcing team in China.

“They are looking all the time in terms of where they get customer feedback. They are looking at what they are seeing happening in other markets, in Europe and in the States, so they are pulling their ideas together all the time.”

Mr Birtles said local manufacturers also came up with ideas all the time.

“It’s tough and because we are a big distribution channel for a lot of manufacturers,” Mr Birtles said. “So, the guys get a lot of things that they have to deal with and sometimes it’s quite hard for somebody from outside to get a product listed because it is just so much going on and the teams are so busy.”


Investment bankers come to Super Retail Group with a constant stream of ‘opportunity’.

“We get presented with a lot of ideas which, on the face of it are interesting ideas, but they just don’t fit the organisation,” Mr Birtles said.

“What fits naturally into the organisation so we get a cultural alignment is really key. Different businesses use different languages. What we want to be able to do is use one language which everyone is comfortable with and understands.

“If we got into, say, grocery, it’s a very, very different type of industry, so we just wouldn’t as it just wouldn’t make sense for us to be in that area. Or if we got into selling furniture it just wouldn’t fit what we do as an organisation.

“That’s the great thing with all of our businesses is that you can employ people who actually really relate to what they are doing and they really enjoy what they are doing,” he said.

“The auto business is full of people who have got their car that’s their pride and joy and they work on it at the weekend – that’s what they do.  They sit down and watch every V8 Supercars race and they enjoy the fact that the business is associated with that. They love that.

“And it’s the same with BCF. Half the team, at least, would be spending every spare moment that they can getting out there fishing. With sports it’s the same.

“I think that’s really important. As an organisation we are in a very fortunate position that we’ve got that. It’s a real asset.”

That characteristic of the business makes it easier for management to see where certain opportunities will fit and where others will not, Mr Birtles said.

“Godfrey’s vacuum cleaning business was up for sale and we were asked if we were interested. Who gets excited about vacuum cleaners?” Mr Birtles grinned.

“The guys that run each of the businesses as well, they love their businesses. Steve Doyle (leisure retailing managing director) is a passionate fisherman. Erica Berchtold (sports retailing managing director) loves her sports. David Ajala (auto and commercial managing director), he’s got a car racing licence.

“They actually embody their businesses. So we have got it right from the top of each leg of the organisation and then it permeates its way through.”

Mr Birtles said that philosophy also permeated the way Super Retail Group developed its loyalty programs – not as discount systems but as an experiential club.

“We want a relationship with our customer that – and it’s a bit like what I was talking about with our team members – we want a relationship with our customer where it’s actually trying to help the customer do what they do with our products, not just sell them the products,” Mr Birtles said.

“If I am buying fishing products from you I am actually buying it to go catch a fish. That’s what I’m doing. So, if we can help you catch that fish, if we can engage in a conversation on that level, not (just) here’s a rod and here’s a reel and so on, and then you start to feel that, oh, this is a place that I want to spend some time in and I feel I’m getting some value from it. Not just, they are selling me something for a dollar.

“So the club has to be a facilitator of that. Yes it will offer some special deals and have that element to it, but as a customer it will give me opportunities that I wouldn’t get if I was not a member of the club. Club nights are part of it but, also, a new product that’s coming to market I get advanced notice of that before anyone else.

“With the SuperCheap program we had our best customers invited to Bathurst and they were taken into the pits. They were taken into this area where they were able to put on the headphones and they were in looking at the telemetric displays and hearing what’s going on in terms of the conversations with the drivers and all that sort of stuff. That kind of thing is just a money-can’t-buy experience.  How fantastic is that?

“We are going to be re-launching the sports programs, the Rebel and Amart programs and what we want there is, if it comes through that you are into cricket, you get the opportunity to get into the nets with the Australian cricket team when they are in Brisbane, or something like that.

“That’s where we want to get to, so it isn’t just, ‘oh, this thing gives me some money and who cares, it’s one of many.’ It’s got to actually stand for something else.”


The long-term strategic growth of the company is something Peter Birtles always has top-of-mind. Right now, there is a lot of investment going into building capability, especially in distribution and applying new technology.

“The big piece at the moment is that we are investing a lot of money in the organisation to build both the customer relationship management systems and capabilities for the organisation, the internet-online capabilities and the physical supply chain capabilities,” Mr Birtles said.

“We spent $110 million on capex (capital expenditure) last year and we are going to spend another $100 million on capex in the current year.

“We are building two new distribution centres, one in Brisbane (Brendale) and one in Sydney (Erskine Park). So there is a lot of investment going in which is all about shaping the organisation of the future,” he said.

“We’ve got to make sure that all goes to plan and we start getting the benefits from what we are doing. There is a lot of business change work going on. That is really our key as well as the underlying trading and keeping that strong.

“The underlying focus for us is the investment program and really shaping the business so that we really are a true multi-channel retail business. By 2015 we have a plan to be a really strong multi-channel retail business.”

The new distribution centres and systems will boost all brands, Mr Birtles said.

“We’ve got one in Melbourne that is doing most of our brands today.  Then the plan is to do the same in Sydney and Brisbane. As those come on we can do much more of the sports products than we are able to do today,” he said.

“There are efficiency savings, there are some stock holding savings. But the big thing, I think, is that it allows us to really think about the way in which we source and move product.  Our view is that Australian retailers will increasingly need to buy product at the source of manufacture, whether that’s in Australia or internationally, and not buy the product from the middle (suppliers). We have got to get back to that point of manufacture.

“Then you are going to have to have the supply chain to do that.  In a number of areas we have to do seasonal buys because we have been buying through third parties – and everyone’s trying to buffer their position – whereas if we can buy directly then I think we can get more of an ongoing demand and supply pattern happening.  We can actually supply much more to the demand.”

Even this major capital expenditure has come from consultation with managers and leaders of the business, Mr Birtles said, basically as a desire to control as many variables as possible in the business.

“You’ve had the growth in the third party logistics providers,” Mr Birtles said. “It’s been an area that a number of people (retailers) have said, hey, we’ll outsource this because it is not our position.

“But we’re saying, actually, in terms of our organisation it is an area that we want to control and the dynamics of the organisation are such that it would make it difficult for us to outsource.”

It illustrates the clear thinking of Mr Birtles and his Super Retail Group teams that they’ve decided on a typically Australian foundation for developing a great Australian retail business – some very big sheds.




A WEBSITE aiming to be Australia’s largest and foremost platform for finding trade services,, has secured new investment of $6 million from leading venture capitalists and business investors. 

Right Click Capital drove the capital raising, with blue chip institutional investors including Ellerston Capital, Australian Ethical Investment and KTM Capital taking the majority of the book.

The capital raising saw strong demand across the board, according to the boutique technology-focused advisory firm Right Click Capital. and brought new investors on to the register including Ellerston Capital, Australian Ethical Investment and KTM Capital. Representatives from Ellerston and Right Click Capital are joining the hipages Group board.

The combined investment will propel to its professed goal of becoming ‘the dominant platform for finding tradies in Australia’.

“After 10 years of hard work growing the business this $6 million vote of confidence from some of Australia’s most respected investment funds is validation that we have solved a real problem for consumers,” said hipages Group co-founder and CEO David Vitek.

“Consumers post job requirements with us every 64 seconds and for each one we take them through the process of finding the best tradie for the job among our 40,000 suppliers.” attracts just over one million visitors each month and its network of over 40,000 tradies are connecting with 500,000 consumer members. It has won awards such as BRW’s Best Places to Work and Most Innovative Companies for several years in succession.

Co-founder and COO Robert Sharon-Zipser said, “Our aim is to be a household name across the 8.3 million homes in Australia. We have been growing revenue at an average of 30 percent per annum and this round of funding will allow us to accelerate our growth.”

Right Click Capital partner Ari Klinger said was taking the Yellow Pages concept into the 21st century with great early success.

“Hipages is an outstanding company that has reinvented the Yellow Pages into a trusted service network that solves one of the perennial issues for consumers – finding a good tradie,” Mr Klinger said.

“The significant demand for the deal including from some of Australia’s premier institutional investors is a strong validation of the management team, strategy and investment potential of the business.” connects consumers with tradesmen across 1,100 categories. It claims to have a growth rate of 1,000 users a day and place 30,000 jobs every month.

Hipages claims to ensure the quality of services by vetting every tradie on the site. continually collects customer feedback “to ensure the service offers only reliable and efficient tradies”.

Hipages was named in the Deloitte Technology Fast 50 Australia from 2008-2010 and the BRW Fast Starters in 2007-2009.

POSTED MAY 12, 2014.


INTERNATIONAL Brisbane-based jewel retailer Michael Hill has won accolades at an international technology conference for its innovative online development. The sites enticed visitors to engage in novel experiences online, such as creating virtual charm bracelets.

Michael Hill has been acclaimed for achieving an 85 percent lift in website visitors and 220 percent lift in conversion rates since its latest round of online upgrades, engineered by cloud commerce solutions provider Demandware. 

The jeweller was recognised at the 2014 XChange Conference in the first annual Commerce Pacesetter award. One of three finalists, Michael Hill was voted first by almost 1000 conference attendees, who were asked to choose the winner based on factors such as online customer experience, visitation and conversions.

Since launching four e-commerce sites via Demandware in November last year, Michael Hill has seen the extraordinary lift in website visitors and conversion rates.

The jewellery specialist attributes part of this success to its development partner Amblique, which assisted Michael Hill in developing an interactive user experience including a feature that encourages customers to build their own charm bracelets.

Michael Hill group digital manager James Johnson presented his brand’s successes to the conference attendees, highlighting its 97 percent growth in mobile traffic since launching on Demandware.

“It’s our mission to deliver a quality, deeply engaging retail experience for each of our customers, regardless of where or how they choose to shop,” Mr Johnson said. “The growth of digital shopping channels encouraged us to pursue a digital experience that would rival that of the in-store experience.

“Demandware is a powerful foundation for our digital commerce initiatives, allowing us to develop some truly innovative consumer experiences. And our local partner, Amblique, was instrumental in this initiative.

“Their vast knowledge of the Demandware platform helped turn our vision into reality. We’re honoured to receive this year’s Commerce Pacesetter Award and congratulate the other finalists for their incredible work over the past year, as well.”

The other finalists included international lifestyle brand Crocs, and Amsterdam-based fashion brand Scotch & Soda.


POSTED MAY 17, 2014.


COMMERCIAL real estate and property companies are failing to meet even modest sustainability benchmarks, according to new research by progressive policy network Catalyst Australia.

The top performers in environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) were found to be Stockland, GPT Group, Dexus Property Group and Mirvac Group, but even they rated modestly on the index, the top two reaching just 13 of a possible 24 points.

Beyond these leaders, the overall sustainability performance of the sector was found to be poor, according to Catalyst Australia, especially when compared with large companies in other Australian industries.

Catalyst Australia examined the 19 property sector companies listed on the ASX 200, which have a combined market capitalisation of $97.5 billion, rating their reporting standards and outcomes in the areas of environmental performance, gender equality, labour standards, supply chains, sustainability engagement and community investment.

Catalyst Australia executive director Jo-anne Schofield said the report, Building sustainability: A review of company performance in the commercial real estate and property sector, found a clear distinction between the various companies, with four clear leaders in the sector and others lagging far behind.

“The leaders, Stockland, GPT Group, Dexus Property Group and Mirvac Group, scored comparatively well against most indicators across the range of different topics and appear to have integrated environmental and social issues into their business performance and evaluation,” Ms Schofield said.

“However, even among this group there was room for improvement – with two reaching a score of 13 of a possible 24 in the index. Unfortunately, the stronger attention to environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) by this group was dwarfed by the poor performance of the sector overall.

“The analysis by Catalyst Australia found that while larger players tend to lead on sustainability in other sectors of the economy, this wasn’t the case in the property sector, with the largest companies — Westfield Group and Westfield Retail Trust — performing well under-par. With a market capitalisation of $33.3 billion, making up 34.2 percent of the market capitalisation of the sector, these poor results impacted significantly on the performance of the sector as a whole.”

The report summarised the key areas in which most commercial property companies were falling down.

Environmental reporting very patchy: The report recommended the introduction of a standardised environmental reporting framework which includes disclosures about absolute as well per square metre averages for carbon emission, energy consumption, water usage and waste production.

Serious blind-spot in reporting by subsidiaries: Many subsidiaries simply relied on disclosures by parent companies, despite subsidiaries being ASX listed companies in their own right. Catalyst Australia recommended that the reporting lines between parent and subsidiary companies should be clarified.

Greater scrutiny needed by investors: Given the growing wealth of the sector and its interest to investors, the report argues that investors should consider mandating minimum reporting guidelines. In the interim, benchmarking against mature reporters within the sector and in other sectors should occur.

Greater transparency needed on labour and supply chain issues: Reporting about labour standards and supply chains was largely overlooked by all companies. Given the heavy reliance on external contractors across all stages of property construction, maintenance and servicing, Catalyst Australia recommended these areas be considered essential.

Worker health and safety ratings are an area of potential risk: More than two thirds of the companies provided minimal or no information on worker health and safety. Only two companies rated strongly in this area: Stockland and Mirvac. The lack of attention to worker health and safety disclosures is in stark contrast to reporting in other sectors of the economy. The poor result in the property sector underlines the need for a much more pro-active and transparent approach and clearer guidance, made more urgent by an expanded duty of care under national legislation introduced progressively from 2011.

Engagement with community and stakeholders: The importance of the built environment and its footprint on where people work, live and shop warrants much greater attention to reporting about community initiatives and measures to consult and engage stakeholders such as workers, unions, tenants and community groups.

Gender equality: The sector reported and performed relatively well on gender equality, with the proportion of women on company boards above the ASX 200 average. Unfortunately Catalyst Australia found this did not translate to a critical mass of women in management positions or greater attention to diversity and equal remuneration policies. Six companies have introduced numerical targets to increase the number of female employees.

The rating scale that underpins the research was developed by Catalyst Australia in 2012/13, based on authoritative information and academic research. It captures benchmarks and policies set by governments, intergovernmental organisations, non-government organisations, regulatory agencies and industry groups.

The approach Catalyst Australia took was to review public disclosures to raise awareness about the importance of transparency by companies about their social and environmental activities and impact. The report noted there may be instances where companies have policies in place, but if they are not publicly disclosed, they would not be captured.

A visual representation of the results is available on the Catalyst Australia CSR Dashboard:




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