Business stories of interest this week

Business stories from the past week, compiled by Jason Maywald:

1) General Pants latest victim of dire retail industry

Fans of well-known fashion brand Metalicus are reeling after the company announced it was no longer able to continue trading.

The brand revealed it will enter voluntary administration in an email sent to customers late last night.

“Metalicus has long been recognised as an iconic Australian fashion brand and we would like to take this opportunity to thank our customers for their ongoing loyalty and support over the years,” the email stated.

“While this is a difficult period for our staff and customers, tomorrow we will be launching a sale event at all of our flagship stores, Myer concessions and online with significant savings on all pieces.”


2) The devil is in the detail as race for Healthscope heats up 

Brookfield Asset Management’s entry to the tussle for Healthscope is more of an exploratory expedition at this point than a counter-offer to the BGH Capital proposal. Brookfield wants to test whether it can prise Australian Super out of the BGH consortium.

Brookfield confirmed rumours of its interest in Healthscope by announcing, in the usual private equity form of an “unsolicited, non-binding, indicative proposal” – a $4.35 billion offer for the hospitals operator.

At face value, the $2.50 a share proposal is worth $250 million more than the $2.36 a share offer proposed by BGH, but the nature of the conditions attached would mean it would evaporate unless Australian Super, which has committed its 14 per cent of Healthscope to the BGH consortium, were to somehow free itself of that agreement.


3) Bookies hit with new $30m point of consumption tax in Victoria

Victoria will raise $30 million annually from a new gambling point of consumption tax, but foreign-owned corporate bookmakers are delighted to have been spared from paying the significantly higher rates imposed in other states.

The new tax, to be introduced on January 1 next year, will see bookmakers pay an 8 per cent tax on net wagering revenue from bets placed by Victorian punters, less than the 15 per cent rate already in place in South Australia and set for Western Australia and potentially other states.


4) Jobs in Australia: Company offers five-hour work day, with benefits 

Imagine a five-hour work day. You saunter in with your morning coffee at 9am, get down to business, and you’re out the door by 2pm to hit up the beach, see a movie or just face-plant on the couch.

It may sound like an impossible utopian dream, but a number of Aussie companies have successfully made the shift.

At Hobart-based financial firm Collins SBA, every employee — from receptionists to senior management — can be leaving work while the sun is still high, provided they get the job done. The idea came from the firm’s managing director Jonathan Elliot.

When his wife got cancer, Jonathan had to drop to part-time hours to look after her and their young baby.

While his family life improved, he was surprised to find his work output didn’t suffer. Despite the reduced hours, he was producing the same amount as he would in an eight-hour work day, leading him to question whether the nine-to-five lifestyle was really necessary.


5) AI levels the playing field for small business

Artificial intelligence – AI – is on the table as a topic for discussion at every meeting I attend these days.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines AI as, “the capability of a machine to imitate intelligent human behaviour”.

Until now, AI has really only been for big businesses with deep pockets and big data sets. But that’s all set to change and small firms must be ready.

That’s futurist and author Michael McQueen’s message to small businesses. He’s just written a book, How to Prepare Now for What’s Next, which looks at this and other similar issues.

“AI gives you insights into your customers. But for businesses that are not adding value beyond the transactional level, it’s a threat,” he warns.