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Wettenhalls calls administrators

26 Jan 2013 THE AGE - BY LUCY BATTERSBY AND NICK TOSCANO



THE Wettenhalls Group of trucking and logistics companies, including Amezdroz & Sons and Wildan Transport, were placed into voluntary administration on Friday morning putting about 450 jobs at risk.

BusinessDay understands administrators were appointed after a major investor in the privately owned company - believed to be Brett Amezdroz - announced he would not commit to further financing. On the same day senior financier, GE Capital, appointed Ferrier Hodgson as receivers over an $11 million debt. This puts the assets and control of the business in the hands of restructuring firm Ferrier Hodgson.

Mr Amezdroz is a director of Wettenhalls, Amezdroz & Son, and Logistics Group Investments, according to records filed with the corporate regulator. It is believed the receivers are unlikely to close the whole business and that up to 350 jobs could be saved by selling off profitable parts of the business.

Ferrier Hodgson partner Brendan Richards said he had already received a significant number of calls from other businesses interested in buying parts of the Wettenhalls Group. "I am fielding quite a lot of inquiries around potential acquisitions of the business," Mr Richards said. In the meantime it would be "business as usual", he added.

Wettenhalls' regional transportation business was doing well, but its business hauling freight between capital cities had been struggling in a highly competitive market. Parts of Wettenhalls were "making significant losses", Mr Richards said.

Employees and creditors will learn more at the initial creditors' meeting to be held in the week starting February 4.

Wettenhalls owes GE Capital and other lenders about $20 million in fleet financing for hundreds of prime movers and trailers. It is a 90-year-old company based in western Victoria with annual turnover of about $140 million. It grew out of the Amezdroz & Menzies company and provides interstate transport and logistics services to thousands of customers. The company recently quadrupled its warehouse capacity by moving its national office and storage from Altona to Laverton North in Melbourne's west.

Transport Workers Union senior organiser Chris Fennell said "more than 250 transport workers nationally could lose their jobs". Mr Fennell said the cause was big retailers driving down the cost of supply. "The company was complaining that they were being squeezed by customers hitting them up for reductions all the time."

"Everyone's always looking for a reduction. Customers have seen what bigger companies are getting away with and are saying, 'If you don't do this, we'll go elsewhere'."