Training the trainers (2/6)

MRWED Training and Assessment has a number of large company clients and is expecting 20 per cent revenue growth this year, but founder Marc Ratcliffe is certainly not resting on his laurels. The young entrepreneur claims to have a superman complex when it comes to his business of ‘training the trainers’. He tells Brisbane Business News about overseas expansion and improving the workforce at home.

AT a time when most businesses are finding it tough to raise cash, MRWED founder Marc Ratcliffe recently received a call from a private equity firm offering a loan to open new centres.

His company has government accreditation to provide certified training courses and has also executed custom-made courses for a string of companies and organisations including BHP Billiton, Virgin Blue, Flight Centre, St George Bank and Defence.

With companies looking for ways to improve staff, demand for training is strong. Ratcliffe has been working strategically to tap overseas markets as well, but he wants to do so in a way that is debt-free.

“I’m a bit of a control freak and I wouldn’t want to grow too quickly – we’ve seen enough examples of local Australian businesses that have moved rapidly into the dizzying heights and fallen just as quickly,” he says.

“But custom courses are up 25 per cent this year which is crazy — I think particularly with larger companies like Rio Tinto, they recognise that they’ve got a solid business and once the iron ore price goes up again they want their people to be at their absolute peak.”

On a journey
At 34, Ratcliffe expects more than $2.2 million in revenue this year and while he could make a large profit from staying put, the company is expanding. A number of overseas markets are on the radar, including India, China, Singapore, Indonesia and the African nations of Tanzania and Mali, with US plans down the track.

“I was in San Diego earlier this year hearing about how everyone was pulling back on their training budgets and pulling out of countries in Asia because of the downturn. But I’m saying, well it makes more sense to go in now, because there’s less competition in those areas,” he says.

“I had tremendous personal growth from the work we did in Tanzania working for a Western Australian company called Resolute in 07/08. It was great to be a part of that, not only from our expansion perspective but also helping local populations get those qualifications.

“The Swahili word for journey is safari and that’s what I was on. It was probably the toughest professional experience of my life, because you can’t plan for something you really don’t understand.”

In Australia MRWED is certified and while abroad it is entering unknown territory, Ratcliffe has a reputation overseas as a quality trainer with a recent top 10 ranking in US-based Training Magazine’s Top Young Trainers list.
He was one of only two Australians to feature in the top 40.

“I seriously didn’t think that was going to happen and I would have been just happy to be on the list, but to be in the top 10 was pretty magic – it’s the leading training magazine in the world,” he says.

“Again, that opens doors too in North America, which might be a place for us to review in the future at some point.”

But Ratcliffe has been apprehensive about making fortunes in ‘the promised land’ of the USA and is opening up opportunities elsewhere. Whether it be for the Corruption Eradication Commission in Indonesia, the Indian construction company Kalpataru, or pushing into mainland China through a Singapore partnership, he believes anything is possible if you give it a fair go.

‘Don’t base your business on government money’
In 1999 when Ratcliffe was working for a company with a government contract worth $25 million that fell through, but the rejection of his business plan for the company was to be a blessing in disguise. Four months after he left they went into receivership, but he feels no ill feelings looking back.

“I put a plan together, the whole box and dice and ultimately when we took that to the divisional manager’s meeting nobody liked the idea,” he says.

It was from there that Ratcliffe decided to take on the business plan himself, working a transitional job to raise capital whilst training himself to get the license as a registered training organisation (RTO).

“We started MRWED in 2002 but we really started to move ahead in 04/05, when we opened up five of our own centres, in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Newcastle,” he says.

“That was a tremendously ambitious decision and I must admit at the end of 2005 it was Christmas time and no money was coming in ­— we had six to eight weeks of no revenue and here I was racking up debt basically setting up all these centres, so that was a difficult time as I really had to back myself there.”

But nowadays MRWED is steering clear of debt and is expanding it’s operations in many directions, because one thing its founder learned from the downfall of his previous employer is that you can’t rely on one customer too much, particularly the government.

“It’s dangerous to see them as your primary income stream. If there’s access to government money that’s fantastic but you’ve got to have a solid business there of fee paying students,” he says.

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