The Brisbane Top Companies list welcomes another nationally renowned retailer this year, with Universal Store (ASX: UNI) entering the fold more than two decades on from when its first shop was opened in Carindale in the late 90s when it was founded by brothers Greg and Michael Josephson.
Universal Store is also one of very few female-led, ASX-listed companies based in Brisbane, or anywhere in Australia for that matter. Alice Barbery successfully led the company through a sale to a consortium of private equity investors in 2018 with a value of approximately $100 million, then the pandemic, followed by an IPO in November 2020 with the company now worth $560 million at the time of writing.
Half the companies in this section were in the top 30 last year; perhaps a sign of just how volatile the market has been, although notably Cardno (ASX: CDD) has powered up 13 spots after its shares almost quintupled in value this year, making it undoubtedly one of the star risers in 2021. Cardno is also female led with Susan Reisbord at the helm.
Barbery and Reisbord are the only two female CEOs to feature in this list in 2021.
31. Senex Energy (SXY)
2020 rank: 26
Market Cap: $791m
FY21 revenue: $109.6m
FY21 profit: $65.7m
CEO: Ian Davies
CEO salary: $2.38m
This could be the final curtain for gas producer Senex Energy (ASX: SXY) in the Brisbane Top Companies list as the company’s board is set to recommend shareholders accept an improved $900 million takeover offer from South Korean giant Posco International.
Posco already operates oil and gas projects in Asia, Peru and Oman, so the buyout of Senex will give it a foothold of Australia’s eastern seaboard gas market and into Adelaide.
Adding local interest to the bid, Posco has revealed that Gina Rinehart’s Hancock Prospecting could be party to a potential formal offer. However, the bid is not dependent on Australia’s richest person participating in the acquisition.
While it is not yet a done deal, it is likely to be an off-market takeover offer subject to a 50.1 per cent minimum acceptance condition and Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) approval.
The Senex board says it is in the best interests of shareholders to continue engaging with Posco International and to assess any proposal received on its merits.
Senex’s activities are largely centred on the Surat Basin in central Queensland after the company sold its Cooper Basin business to Beach Energy (ASX: BPT) for $87.5 million earlier this year. This ended a 20-year link with the region for Senex.
The Cooper Basin sale allows Senex to focus on its lower cost, lower carbon reserves in the Surat Basin.
Natural gas production from the Surat Basin more than doubled in the past year for Senex to be the equivalent of about 10 per cent of Queensland’s annual domestic demand. This is the first step in plans to deliver a five-fold increase in annual production from the company’s projects to more than 60 petajoules by the end of FY25.
Senex this year announced a long-term gas supply agreement with cement manufacturer Adbri (ASX: ABC) to feed its Adelaide operations. The seven-year agreement will begin in January 2023.
This adds to the company’s existing high-profile customer base which includes CSR Building Products, Orora (ASX: ORA), Visy Glass, CleanCo Queensland and Southern Oil Refining.
Senex also has ambitions to be carbon net zero by 2040 after releasing its Decarbonisation Action Plan in October. It plans to do so through "transparent and bold near-term emissions intensity reduction targets".
32. GWA Group (GWA)
2020 rank: 23
Market Cap: $687m
FY21 revenue: $405.73m
FY21 profit: $35.05m
CEO: Urs Meyerhans
CEO salary: $1m (plus incentives)
Bathroom and kitchen tap manufacturer GWA Group was stunned early this year by the shock resignation of former CEO Tim Salt, whose six years at the company are credited with a revival of its fortunes.
GWA is accustomed to stability at the top. Prior to Salt’s appointment in 2015, GWA was led by Peter Crowley for 12 years. Crowley left to allow new blood into the company after GWA was delivering relatively soft sales despite a residential boom at the time.
Salt told the GWA board in March that he was retiring for personal reasons. While the announcement followed an improved first-half performance for GWA in FY21, Salt’s departure was described as amicable and there has been no suggestion his resignation was otherwise. He left behind a position that last financial year earned him $1.67 million.
Urs Meyerhans, a former president of Tetra Tech Asia Pacific and a former CEO of Coffey Consulting, has since assumed the role of GWA’s new CEO. His role comes with a $1 million base pay and a much stronger emphasis on long-term incentives starting from next year.
GWA’s shares have pulled back this year from a high of just under $4 in February, ahead of the first-half profit announcement. They have struggled to breach $3 since then.
The company, which owns the Caroma, Dorf, Clark and Methven brands, was helped by a pick-up in construction activity across Australia this year. Revenue was higher but underlying earnings were lower, leading to a fall in net profit.
GWA is aiming to capitalise on a lift in new residential construction activity expected this financial year, along with a marginal increase in renovation activity.
The company’s commercial order bank is sitting pretty at 14 per cent above the prior year, although GWA says completions are expected to remain subdued in FY22.
It is a mixed outlook, with the company also revealing that growth in education and health construction activity will be offset by declines in offices and retail.
But Meyerhans is taking up the challenge to earn his long-term incentives. He says GWA is working on a five-year strategy that aims to position the company as "the trusted and integrated solutions partner in the delivery of sustainable water solutions for bathrooms, kitchens and laundries".
33. Alliance Aviation Services (AQZ)
2020 rank: 25
Market Cap: $667m
FY21 revenue: $306.68m
FY21 profit: $33.67m
CEO: Scott McMillan
CEO salary: $701,749
As a provider of fly-in-fly-out (FIFO) charter flights, Alliance Aviation Services has come through the past year in relatively good shape.
The company, which operates a fleet of 48 Fokker and Embraer aircraft, is planning to grow its base as demand picks up across regional routes.
Alliance had 42 aircraft at the end of FY20. The fleet was recently bolstered with an agreement to add two more Embraer E190 which will take the total committed fleet from Embraer to 32. Alliance currently has seven E190s in Australia with the remaining 25 to enter revenue service by the middle of next year.
Charter and contract revenue both increased during the year, offsetting diminished revenue from wet-lease agreements with Qantas and Virgin whose operations were largely grounded. This led to a record pre-tax profit of $48.3 million for FY21.
The company’s investment in the E190 fleet has been driven by earlier-than-expected capacity demand for services.
“We have and continue to recruit pilots, cabin crew, engineers, and other operational and corporate staff to support the earlier deployment of the fleet,” CEO Scott McMillan said when announcing the company’s full-year result in August.
Despite the initial challenges it faced early in the pandemic, Alliance Aviation Services has gone against the air transport industry trend by increasing total flight hours in FY21, albeit marginally, and increasing its average number of staff from 551 to 601.
Alliance is confident it can capitalise on its key business segments over the next year, particularly the resources sector which will be serviced by an additional five Fokker aircraft.
Earlier this year, Alliance announced an extension of its agreement with Santos (ASX: STO) to service the company’s oil and gas reserves operations in the Cooper Basin for the next five years. It is also introducing intra-field services between the Santos-owned Moomba and Ballera airports.
The company also recently announced that Qantas has exercised wet-lease agreement options over eight of its aircraft as Australia’s flagship carrier begins to expand its air service offering.
34. Cardno (CDD)
Commercial & Professional Services
2020 rank: 47
Market Cap: $627m
FY21 revenue: $890.4m
FY21 profit: $32.7m
CEO: Susan Reisbord
CEO salary: $1.34m
Engineering and consulting group Cardno (ASX: CDD) is poised to reap the rewards of selling its US and Asia Pacific divisions this year, giving shareholders a US$500 million ($667 million) payday.
And now it appears the company’s remaining key pillar of business may also be on the auction block.
Cardno revealed in November that it had received a number of unsolicited approaches to buy its International Development business and that a sale would be considered as part of a strategic review. However, Cardno says a sale is not yet a certainty.
The International Development business is Cardno’s last key pillar of group operations following the sale of the Americas Consulting Division and the Asia Pacific Consulting Division to global professional services provider Stantec Inc. (NYSE: STN) for US$500 million (AUD$667 million).
That sale was the result of a strategic review initiated by Cardno earlier this year following a number of unsolicited enquires received from prospective buyers of the business arms.
Settlement of the deal will reap shareholders a tidy sum with a distribution of between $1.40 and $1.49 per share, representing proceeds of between $567 million and $600 million based on a US75c exchange rate. This payout will comprise a mix of capital return and unfranked dividend.
However, the value of these businesses also represents a significant percentage of the Cardno share price which hit a high of more than $1.60 this month.
Once the sale to Stantec is completed, it is likely that Cardno will slip from the Brisbane Top Companies list next year.
As it is, Cardno’s International Development business accounts for about a third of group revenue, grossing about $313 million last financial year, so the sale of the US and Asia Pacific businesses would account for a sharp drop in revenue and lead to a significantly scaled-down operation next year.
The sale to Stantec is still subject to shareholder approval, which is scheduled for an extraordinary general meeting on 6 December.
35. Superloop (SLC)
2020 rank: 31
Market Cap: $578m
FY21 revenue: $110.51m
FY21 loss: $31.96m
CEO: Paul Tyler
CEO salary: $762,062
Superloop’s (ASX: SLC) founder Bevan Slattery stepped down as chairman in a major changing of the guard for the telecommunications provider this year.
Slattery had been in the role since March last year following the retirement of Michael Malone. The job is now in the hands of Amaysim co-founder Peter O'Connell, who assumed the role following the Superloop AGM in October.
In his last address as chairman, Slattery described FY21 as a transformational year for the company following a series of strategic achievements, culminating in the completion in August of the Exetel acquisition. Exetel is Australia’s largest independent internet service provider, and the deal brings an additional 110,000 household and business customers to the group’s network.
Superloop this year also disposed of its Hong Kong assets and some assets in Singapore for $140 million to Columbia Capital and DigitalBridge Investment Management – a move that Slattery says simplifies the group.
As for O'Connell, Slattery believes he will play a pivotal role in guiding Superloop’s next phase of growth. O’Connell left as CEO of Amaysim following the $250 million acquisition of the mobile phone business by Optus earlier this year.
Slattery says O’Connell will bring to Superloop his experience in the consumer telco space, balancing the board's existing experience in the business and wholesale markets.
Despite his departure from the board, Slattery remains a major shareholder with more than 64 million shares in Superloop, a company that operates a fixed wireless network in Australia and is building and operating telecommunications infrastructure throughout the Asia-Pacific region.
Superloop owns and operates more than 1,000 kilometres of carrier-grade metropolitan fibre networks in Australia, Singapore and Hong Kong.
The company continues to grow its underlying revenue and underlying profit, at 14 per cent and 108 per cent respectively in FY21.
Superloop is targeting underlying EBITDA of between $23 million and $25 million in FY22. Its reported EBITDA is expected to surge to between $48 million and $50 million after booking a gross profit of about $32 million on the sale of its Hong Kong and Singapore assets.
36. Universal Store (UNI)
2020 rank: N/A
Market Cap: $560m
FY21 revenue: $210.8m
FY21 profit: $24.4m
CEO: Alice Barbery
Like most retailers, Universal Store (ASX: UNI) has been adapting to the ebbs and flows of the trading environment caused by the pandemic. Despite store closures causing grief, the company has performed strongly as it continues to cater to the online shopping boom whilst rolling out physical stores.
Universal’s core customer base of millennials and Gen Z came ready to spend as personal budgets were re-allocated away from travel, experiences and out-of-home entertainment.
Although an 84-day lockdown in Victoria resulted in a $6.2 million revenue impact (compared to physical store sales in FY20), Universal Store saw its sales increase by 36.1 per cent to $210.8 million in FY21.
Meanwhile, the rate of growth for gross profit was faster still at 41.4 per cent to reach $123.9 million, mostly driven by strong customer demand for private brands – a segment that accounts for around two fifths of sales.
Off a lower base, online sales experienced the fastest growth, increasing by 90.3 per cent and representing 12.2 per cent of the total. Universal states that “a significant investment” in online capabilities such as “ship-from-store” and “click & collect” options has led to the increase.
Business disruptions arising from government mandated store closures made the first 20 weeks of FY22 a slightly rocky trek. Total group sales were 14.1 per cent lower than FY21, but remained 3.3 per cent above FY20. Due to the closures, approximately 36 per cent of potential store trading days were lost.
Closures in NSW, Victoria and the ACT resulted in a loss of 3,192 trading days up to 14 November. Management estimates the total value of sales forgone from mandated shutdowns over July-October to be between $20 million and $23 million, net of incremental sales growth captured online.
But the retailer is forging ahead as it sets itself up for a successful Christmas trading period by bringing forward inventory purchases and accelerating new store openings. Nine new locations have opened up and began trading since 25 November, taking total store numbers to 76.
Looking ahead, growing market share through superior customer service is the top priority – as is continuing to scale digital and e-commerce capacity and improving delivery options. Noticing trends in its customer spending habits, Universal is also planning a launch of a standalone Perfect Stranger website due to the brand's popularity in the women’s market.
Set on future expansion, Universal Store is chasing its “full potential” and aims to have more than 100 stores across Australia and New Zealand.
“Our culture and the hustle of our team remain the building blocks of our Company, and they have stood up to extreme circumstances,” said CEO Alice Barbery, who holds a 3 per cent share in the company and has been in the role since 2017.
Barbery has been at the company since 2009, but it was shortly after assuming the top role that she oversaw a buyout worth approximately $100 million in 2018 from a consortium of private equity investors, followed by an IPO in November last year.
“The agility and resilience that these fundamental give us has been integral to delivering our results.”
37. Antipodes Global Investment Company (APL)
2020 rank: 27
Market Cap: $551m
FY21 revenue: $113.77m
FY21 profit: $75.11m
Chairman: Jonathan Trollip
Chairman salary: $45,000
The market’s persistent undervaluing of shares in Antipodes Global Investment Company (ASX: APL) has prompted the international equities investor to tackle the issue head on. It is opting out of the listed company structure in favour of an exchange-traded fund.
This follows a concerted campaign by Antipodes to bring its share price closer to the value of its net tangible assets (NTA).
In November last year, the group announced a conditional tender offer that provided some relief. The shortfall in the share price compared to its NTA had been cut from 14.7 per cent at the start of the financial year to 10.3 per cent by the close.
Even an on-market share buyback failed to inspire the share price higher, so in August this year Antipodes announced a scheme of arrangement where shareholders could exchange their shares in the company for units in its listed managed fund, Antipodes Global Shares (ASX: AGX1). AGX1 is a long-only fund, whereas Antipodes holds both long and short positions.
The Antipodes board says the scheme offers the best opportunity for shareholders to exit their holding at close to NTA and to access the group’s investment strategy via an exchange traded fund.
The company’s independent board committee includes legendary Australian funds manager Chris Cuffe, who has no shares in the company. He was among the proponents who recommended the scheme.
With operations in Australia and the UK, Antipodes was established to provide shareholders with exposure to a portfolio of global investments, primarily comprised of long and short positions in international shares.
The group rebounded from a loss last year to record a net profit of $75.11 million in FY21 thanks to a recovery in global share markets. However, the continued frustration over its share performance boiled over this year, leading to the scheme of arrangement.
The company announced in September that the discount to NTA had been cut even further since the scheme was announced, falling to 7.6 per cent. The scheme is expected to be implemented in December.
38. Aurelia Metals (AMI)
2020 rank: 29
Market Cap: $513m
FY21 revenue: $416.47m
FY21 profit: $42.91m
CEO: Dan Clifford
CEO salary: $1.98m
Aurelia Metals (ASX: AMI) has found its stride with the multi-resource miner hitting or exceeding production targets while reaping higher grades from its gold deposits.
The company saw underlying profit grow 125 per cent to $57 million in FY21. Net profit of $42.9 million was up more than 45 per cent.
While the profit performance has been strong, the company’s share price has failed to match it. The shares are trading at less than half their record highs achieved in early 2019. They also shed about 10 per cent this calendar year in a rising market.
CEO Dan Clifford notes his disappointment in the company’s annual report, saying the share price ‘has not reflected our operational and financial performance’.
“That said, I believe we are about to enter an exciting time at Aurelia where we can grow returns to our shareholders and share prosperity with everyone who has a stake in our success,” he says.
Aurelia owns and operates three underground mines and processing facilities in NSW. The company added to its portfolio of copper, gold, lead and zinc assets with the acquisition of the Dargues Mine in December last year. This helped the group to a 63 per cent increase in its mineral resources after growing its asset base from two to three gold and base-metal operations.
Aurelia is ramping up production at its Kairos project and is progressing development of the Great Cobar copper mine within its Peak Mine operations in the central west of NSW.
The company says its nearby Hera-Federation complex is ‘shaping up to be one of the most exciting polymetallic discoveries in recent times and Great Cobar is emerging as a significant near-mine, undeveloped copper resource’.
While the Aurelia Metals share price hasn’t done well this past year, Clifford’s remuneration as CEO has improved markedly. Clifford’s total payout in FY21 was $1.98 million, up from $1.23 million the previous year.
39. RPMGlobal Holdings (RUL)
Software & Services
2020 rank: 37
Market Cap: $464m
FY21 revenue: $66.41m
FY21 loss: $5.46m
CEO: Richard Mathews
CEO salary: $1.33m
The pandemic has been hard on software solutions group RPMGlobal Holdings (ASX: RUL) as it played havoc with the company closing deals with customers during the year.
The company, which specialises in the mining sector, has clients in Australia, Asia, the Americas, Africa, and Europe, with many of these regions still feeling the effects of lockdowns.
However, RPMGlobal says momentum is developing in the mining industry, with more metal miners investing in their operations and strong demand for ESG (environmental, social and governance) services. Companies are also looking to technology for solutions to operate their mines more profitability and remotely.
RPMGlobal stepped up its investment in the ESG sector in September with the acquisition of Perth-based ESG services company Blueprint Environmental Strategies, addressing what it says is increasing demand for ESG services and technology solutions from the mining sector.
The company is also capitalising on the hydrogen energy boom after releasing four new software products along with support for hydrogen vehicles. The company recently announced it was experiencing a significant increase in the number of mining companies looking to quantify the financial and emission benefits of electric, hydrogen or hybrid diesel alternatives to their traditional diesel fleet.
As part of its renewed focus on growth markets, RPMGlobal sold its coal gas testing business GeoGAS in August.
The group also stepped up its transition of its software suite to the cloud. Among the products now available on the cloud is the IMAFS inventory optimisation system which uses artificial intelligence algorithms for inventory management to allow miners to improve the accuracy of parts availability, reduce inventories, decrease stockouts and reduce equipment downtimes.
Although the company posted a net loss of $5.46 million in FY21, shares in RPMGlobal have enjoyed a buoyant 2021, rising more than 60 per cent this calendar year. The gain is credited to the company’s solid growth in recurring software revenue which hit $38.7 million in FY21.
40. Michael Hill International (MHJ)
2019 Rank: 39
Market Cap: $441m
FY20 revenue: $556.6m
FY20 profit: $45.3m
CEO: Daniel Bracken
CEO salary: $1.7m
Coming from humble beginnings, Michael Hill followed in his family’s footsteps and spent 23 years as an apprentice at his uncle’s jewellery store in Whangarei, New Zealand.
When his home was ravaged in a fire, he took the leap to start his own business, which has grown into a family legacy with 285 stores across Australia, New Zealand and Canada.
Passing his knowledge onto his daughter, Emma Hill, she joined the company as director in 2007 and climbed the ranks to become chair in 2015. Retiring from that role at the end of FY21, she’s joined her father as a non-independent director while former Air New Zealand CEO Rob Fyfe steps up in her place.
Fyfe is working alongside former Specialty Fashion Group CEO and Myer exec Daniel Bracken. Bracken also spent 13 years at Burberry where he helped popularise the brand’s staple raincoat.
While the company’s leadership has undergone change, so has the retailer’s revenue, rising 13 per cent to hit $556.5 million.
The digital momentum has continued as website traffic reached 18.6 million users and $34.8 million in sales – a 53 per cent increase compared to FY20.
However, online still only represents 6.3 per cent of the group's total sales – a share that is well below other Australian retailers.
While six of Michael Hill’s Canadian stores were closed due to under-performance, same-store sales growth in Canada spiked by 24 per cent, versus 15 per cent in New Zealand and 9 per cent in Australia. While there were numerous closures, one store was opened in Canada.
Looking ahead, Michael Hill has established a healthy net cash position of $72.4 million by the end of the last financial year, compared to around $500,000 at the end of FY20.
“Our strategic initiatives – driving elevated margins, an intense focus on costs, and strong digital and physical sales, have all combined to lessen the negative impact on earnings from sustained store closures across Australia and New Zealand,” said Bracken in an October trading update.
"Upon reopening, our Canadian business has been flying, delivering impressive sales and margin growth every week.
“We are looking forward to the progressive reopening of our NSW, VIC and Auckland stores, in readiness for the all-important trading period.”
Market caps are based on the close of trade, 29 November 2021. This list was prepared with information provided by the ASX.
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