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Here's a corporate weasel word worth knowing - 'de-risk'


Revisiting a year’s worth of InQueensland columns gives you plenty to reflect on writes columnist Robert MacDonald

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What did I learn this year writing a weekly column for InQueensland?

Well, I did find a new favourite corporate weasel word – “de-risk”.

In May this year, I wrote about Ampol’s success in shaking up to a billion dollars out of the Federal Government to keep its Lytton refinery running for the rest of the decade, in the name of national fuel security.

It’s a good deal for Ampol. We, the taxpayers, pay the company money if fuel prices fall below a certain level.

Most people might call this a government handout or perhaps a subsidy, or, if you were feeling deeply sceptical, a shakedown – “pay us some money or we’ll shut the place down”.

But not Ampol. It prefers “de-risking”, as in “Lytton refinery earnings de-risked”, according to a headline in its latest half-year report.

De-risking is, of course, a zero-sum game. One person’s de-risk (if such a word actually exists) is another’s up-risk (surely not a word.)

Ampol’s shareholders have less risk but only because the government now carries it.

This year, I also had confirmed something I’ve long suspected – that ministerial trade missions are generally a waste of time, at least when it comes to increasing exports.

In January I wrote a piece looking at the state of Queensland’s exports in the age of Covid.

I made the following observation, based on personal experience as a former Austrade trade commissioner:

“One of the great time-consuming banes of any overseas trade office is the ministerial-led trade mission – TIQ handled 15 of them in 2018-19 and eight in Covid-disrupted 2019-20.

“Whatever the ultimate benefit of having, say, your premier or tourism minister visit a particular market, the work that goes into developing the program – organising suitable meetings and media opportunities, preparing briefing papers and the sheer logistics – is enormously time-consuming.”

I wrote that we’d have to wait until this year’s annual report to see how effectively TIQ had used all the time suddenly freed up by the pandemic-forced end to ministerial trade missions.

Pretty effectively indeed, as it turns out.

TIQ helped companies achieve trade and investment outcomes worth a record $1.23 billion according to its 2020-21 annual report, released in September.

That was a 26 per cent increase on the year-before figure and done without a single ministerial trade mission.

It will be interesting to see whether, despite this evidence, ministers will start travelling again once international travel returns to normal.

I’m sure they will. It’s pretty hard to resist an all-expenses paid overseas trip, even if you end up with not much to show for it.

Something else I learnt – or more accurately, had reconfirmed — was that Queensland is full of brilliant and entrepreneurial companies, which have been able to survive not only Covid but all sorts of other challenges.

In March, I wrote about fourth-generation, family-owned Brisbane-based Packer Leather, which was facing an attempt by various US Congressmen and women to ban imports of its big seller – kangaroo leather.

I checked in last week with family patriarch and boss of the company for the past 50 years, Lindsay Packer, to see how things were going.

“You just keep plugging along,” was Packer’s laconic response.

You could say that. The company celebrated its 130th anniversary in October and includes the biggest names in sports footwear among its clients.

And the US Congressional attempts to block kangaroo leather sales? The bill is still live but the chances of it ever getting up are currently rated at about 3 per cent according to one US website that monitors these things.

At the other end of the corporate time scale, just a few weeks ago I wrote about a Southport-based company, Next Level Racing, this year’s winner of the Premier of Queensland’s Exporter of the Year Award.

The company is barely a decade old and already includes the likes of Ford, NASA, Boeing and the Royal Air Force among its clients.

I wrote about other companies during the year, such as Everhard Industries, which worked out how to fight off cheap Chinese imports by just being better at making the tanks and drainage systems that have been its bread and butter for close to a century.

And then there was Imaging Solutions, founded by Glenn Honey, who found a profitable niche after realising the medical world needed a better lead apron.

His company exports around the world and now supplies more than half of the Australian market for the radiation protection apparel needed by anyone involved in medical imaging – from dentists and veterinarians to radiologists and radiographers.

None of the successful companies I spoke to during the year spoke of de-risking. Quite the opposite in fact.

These were businesses that took on risk, backed themselves and succeeded.



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