STRAIGHT TALK: THE 'GROWTH GUY'

Written on the 1 March 2016 by Jenna Rathbone

STRAIGHT TALK: THE 'GROWTH GUY'

ROBIN Levison is best known for growing former ASX-listed mining services company Industrea from a $3 million minnow to a $750 million major ahead of a takeover by GE Mining in 2012.

Now the seasoned turnaround specialist foresees the same sort of growth for the Gold Coast company he has headed for the past two years. The company is already on track with a market capitalisation of $120 million.

Varsity Lakes-based Eureka Group Holdings (ASX:EGH) grew profit for the first half of FY16 by 404 per cent to $3.65 million.

However, Levison, who chairs the retirement village company, says this growth is just the beginning.

Business News Australia sat down with Levison to talk about the vision and strategy for Eureka Group, along with his top tips for growing a business.

Who are your biggest influences in business?

I don't think any one person or entity.  However, one of the biggest influences was doing my MBA at UQ - that really helped me take my working experiences and give them a framework to understand what was working and what wasn't working.

Describe your leadership style

I'm a growth guy.  So, I am best in the area where we are growing and we are acquiring.  The thing I think I am best at is expanding something and being able to find the capital for it and being able to convince people that it is the right thing to do to grow.  Like Eureka, in January 2014 when I took over as chairman we had about a $5 million market cap company.  We are $120 million now and that is through setting up a really clear strategy. That's not just for investors, but for the staff and people who are helping to achieve that strategy.  It is about creating that vision of what you can be and how you are going to get there.  And then it is creating enough belief in the stakeholders.

The other way that I have led in the businesses that I have been involved with in the last decade is I've always had a material stake in the business.  I am one of the two biggest shareholders in Eureka, as I was with Industrea as well.  People know you are putting your money where your mouth is.

What have been some of your biggest professional highlights?

Industrea provided a terrific outcome for all investors, given it was very close to going into liquidation when I took over.  That was certainly a great financial outcome for anyone who had invested in the business along the way and believed in the story.  But from my perspective, I put into practice at Eureka what I learnt there and we have actually grown more quickly than Industrea and will continue to do so.  I think I have been quite fortunate where, during the Industrea days, there was a strong tailwind or investment appetite for mining and mining services.  There is now a very strong appetite for aged-care retirement, as people see that demographic playing out.  I'm really delighted with the progress we have made and I can see us going on to be at least as successful as the outcome for Industrea.

What have been some of the biggest challenges?

I'm facing one now, where I am the chairman of a mining services company (PPK Group, ASX:PPK) which is the complete antithesis. There is no interest in that and it is an area where there doesn't seem to be any let-up from the cost-cutting and the lack of capital spending.  Those times are always difficult, where you have to either downsize or reduce costs and so forth, because that normally has an impact on people's lives.

Eureka Group recently reported strong profit results.  What do you attribute this to?

I think it is three things.  First, we have our strategy right where we have gone from being a manager or operator of retirement villages to an owner/operator.  In the space of 24 months, we have gone from managing 30 villages and owning none, to now owning 18 and managing around 28 or 29, so about the same number.  But, if you put that in perspective, when we were managing 30 villages our annualised EBITDA was about $1 million. Now we are managing a couple less, but we own 18 and our annualised EBITDA is around $10 million, so it is quite a material difference.

Secondly, we have really tried to focus on cost control, which in the retirement area is critical to not only allow us to provide a service but also provide some money.  And, thirdly, I think we have been very diligent on the things that we have bought and I think the things that we haven't bought have made us successful because we haven't paid too much for our assets.

What is your ultimate vision for Eureka?

We are very close to being the largest ASX-listed operator of rental-only retirement villages.  Our first goal is to be the largest.  Secondly, we have about 2000 units under our control.  The interim step for us would be to grow that to 5000 and we have a pretty clear plan as to how to do that.  And, at that size, from a Queensland point of view, we would be a pretty large and profitable ASX-listed business. I would say it would probably put us into the ASX300 Index, which is always a great positive given that the index funds would then have to invest in the company, as opposed to choosing to.

What are your top tips for growing a business?

The strategy is number one.  If you can't convince your staff, shareholders, bankers, and the people around you that you have the right strategy and there is a reason why you will be successful, then I don't think you go anywhere.  Aligned with that is getting the right people on board.  If you don't get good people, if they can't understand the strategy and understand why it is going to be successful, then it doesn't work.  Every organisation needs a leader; you don't have to know how to turn the spanner but you have to understand what is happening within the organisation. Again, you have to really clearly articulate the stages of growth and how you are going to get there.  And in any business, I come back to the fact that cost control is absolutely critical.


Author: Jenna Rathbone
About: Jenna Rathbone is a Queensland-based journalist who writes on a range of issues including business and property affairs and social issues.
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