Unisys ANZ chief heads to rival

Regional services companies make a charge at multinational incumbents

Australian information technology services firm Oakton has capped off a strong half year of growth by hiring the ANZ managing director of rival Unisys.

During his company's half-yearly results briefing last week, Oakton chief executive Neil Wilson revealed Steve Parker would join the company in the newly created position of chief operating officer. For the past two years, Parker had served as the Australia and New Zealand managing director of Unisys.

He will take on much of the day-to-day operational management of Oakton, with Wilson shifting into a more strategic focus, including future acquisitions.

Although the two companies operate in the same sector, they are in markedly different stages of their life cycles. Unisys is one of a handful of large multinationals, like IBM and Electronic Data Systems, that have operated in Australia for several decades.

These companies face increasing competition from smaller locals such as Oakton, SMS Management and Technology and UXC, which owns several services companies in New Zealand including Carter Holt Harvey spin-off Oxygen.

Parker was unavailable for comment, but Claire Hosegood, a Unisys spokeswoman, said he had left at the start of this year to join Oakton. Unisys's Sydney-based Asia-Pacific vice-president and general manager, Andrew Barkla, would assume local responsibility, Hosegood said.

Wilson HTM analyst Simon Fritsch sees the appointment as an exercise in succession planning, with the possibility ahead that Mr Wilson would step down from his role. It was a positive sign of Oakton's maturity, he said, that the mid-cap company would carry out such an initiative.

Unisys's most recent local results filed with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission reveal it has been suffering growth problems. For the year to December 31, 2006, Unisys pulled in local revenue of A$275.6 million (NZ$317.2 million(, up slightly from $274.7 million for the previous year. Net profit was down slightly to $11.2 million.

Meanwhile, Oakton's revenue grew 101% to A$94.7 million for the half year to December 31, with earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation increasing by 39% to A$18.31 million. Oakton declared a fully franked interim dividend of A11¢ a share, A1¢ higher than its interim dividend last year.

"Oakton has delivered strong organic growth, while continuing to deliver as planned the acquisition of Acumen Alliance and the development of our offshore operation," Wilson said. The executive added that demand for his firm's services remained solid.

"The impact of the change of government and current market volatility is still to play out. However, there has been no immediate impact," he said. The Acumen buy contributed A$32 million to revenue in the period.

Oakton ended the period with just A$6,000 in cash and equivalents, but with A$51.3 million in other current receivables. The company had 1177 staff, 619 more than the same period in 2006. Oakton's share price closed down A18¢ at A$4.19.

— Australian Financial Review

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