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Tuesday, 4 December 2012

We lost our battle.

Sadly I have had to appoint a liquidator to Skelton Sherborne this afternoon.

The Deloitte receivership conducted on behalf of HSBC has been catastrophic to the company's future viability. Despite the great efforts of my amazing team to save the company post the receivership, we deemed it could not be successfully salvaged while the bank accounts, debtor book and statutory refunds were kept under the control of Deloitte. Effectively Skelton Sherborne's cash flow was cut off and as a consequence the company became insolvent. As a director I was compelled to appoint a liquidator.

Therefore Anne Meagher and Terry Rose of SV Partners have been appointed and will proceed to wind up the company. I am no longer in charge of the company's affairs. SV Partners office phone number is +61 7 33102000. They will soon be in touch with all clients and creditors.

I know many of our clients have been hurt and inconvenienced by what has occurred with Skelton Sherborne these past two weeks. I am sorry that we were not in a position while Deloitte were in charge to achieve the right outcomes for you with your cargo. For any clients with cargo stored with us at our Brisbane Terminal, we ask that you make arrangements to promptly collect it. There will be a skeleton staff staying on with the company to assist you and the liquidators for a short time with this and to help clients with cargo still on the water.

To my crew. Thank you! You have been awesome and I am shattered for you and your families that this company could not survive. The loss of your jobs so close to Christmas is dreadful. I am so sorry! I think we can honestly say we did our level best though. The professionalism and commitment you have displayed to our clients, suppliers and each other in very challenging circumstances has been truly inspirational and helped keep me going and fighting hard everyday. I am deeply touched that such was your determination for this great company to survive that you all volunteered your time and expertise these past two days without pay. I could not dream of more support than this and I want everyone to know what you did. I am sorry I have let you down in the end.

I am in disbelief that such a good and profitable company with a great track record can lose the support of it's bankers and end up in this position with so many innocent people hurt along the way. I am sorry to the people Skelton Sherborne owes money to and any hardship this has already caused you and may in the future as the liquidation proceeds.

Thank you for the tremendous support the team and I received from so many people.

This is a setback for my children and I. The five year plan just became a ten year plan I think so the job of rebuilding starts tomorrow. I will soon be back bigger, better and even smarter so stay tuned to this blog.

I'll chalk this up to another great entrepreneurial learning experience that you can't get at any university in the world. For entrepreneurs it's not about the money. It's about the journey and the best days are still to come.

All for now,

Brad Skelton

The Shipping Bloke

Sunday, 2 December 2012

I'm back in control of Skelton Sherborne but....

Just before 5pm last Friday afternoon Deloitte advised me they have been "partially" retired by HSBC as receivers to Skelton Sherborne and handed control of the business back to me. A circular was sent by Deloitte to clients and suppliers early that evening advising them of this. 

If you have read my two previous blog posts you know the team and I have been fighting hard to find a way to get the control of Skelton Sherborne back and the receivers out. I should be really happy as I am largely in control again but I have been handed back a company that has literally had it's heart ripped out as a consequence of HSBC's actions in unjustifiably freezing bank accounts and then appointing receivers who brutally carried out their task in getting the banks money with little or no regard for our clients and our ongoing relationship with them, the future security of employment of my team and payment of other creditors who are owed money too.

I fear that these actions may have caused the company to become insolvent and as any responsible director knows it is against Australian corporations law to trade while insolvent. I am urgently seeking advice on this and the exact financial position of the company to get clarity on this.

Therefore regrettably I need to put our clients on notice that we may not be legally able to resume normal trading and cargo deliveries right away and there are the other issues raised as a consequence of a partial retirement of receivers I need to urgently find a way to overcome.

So what does "partially" retired as receivers mean?

Deloitte advise that the only areas of the business they continue to maintain control over are bank accounts, the debtor book as at the 30 November and statutory refunds. All other aspects of the business are back under my control as the director. They have pulled their people out of our office on Friday so it is just my team and I there now.

So what does this mean to the operation of the business and can it start to resume normal trading? Breaking it down...

Bank accounts
The HSBC bank accounts remain under their control. This effectively leaves the business without a bank account to operate and any funds contained in the existing HSBC accounts Skelton Sherborne doesn't get the benefit of to operate the business.

Debtor book
Deloitte will be collecting all amounts owed to the company as at 30 November, 2012. Therefore Skelton Sherborne will not have access to these funds to allow us to operate with either. 

Statutory refunds
The company has a stamp duty refund due of about $86k so Deloitte advise they will collect this as well.

Therefore to run the business I effectively have no banking facilities, no cash coming in from past work performed nor the benefit of a stamp duty refund. Furthermore subject to the advice I am seeking, we may now be insolvent and therefore cannot resume normal trading unless this situation can be resolved within the law.

During the receivership Deloitte kept advising clients they were "trading" the business. Well as a business owner my definition of "trading" includes taking on new work. Many of our incredible clients have tried to keep supporting us through this period. Sadly we were instructed by Deloitte to turn this new business away so Skelton Sherborne has next to nothing in it's immediate pipeline to keep us going either.

I feel like we have just taken the hospital pass from hell with all of this but we are not dead yet. Anyone who really knows me will probably say I never give up on anything I believe in. I believe in Skelton Sherborne, it's people and know their families are worth fighting for. If we can find a way to keep trading, as HSBC should have sensibly allowed us as a profitable company to do, then the outcome for the Skelton's crew, our clients and our suppliers will be much better. 

My team and I are grateful for the many comments on this blog, some media attention, countless emails and texts of support. The words in one email in particular I love and have kept me going and smiling despite the seriousness of the situation. An old acquaintance of mine in Perth who said he has been through the same thing with his former bank said "Good luck and don’t give up until the bastards have nailed you to a cross". Well, neither Skelton Sherborne or I are on the cross yet let alone nailed. We will find a way to keep going and survive this as intact as possible.

I will keep posting a blog daily with important information for clients and suppliers and details of how this unfolds. For more immediate and frequent updates on cargo movements and the situation you can follow me on Google+ . I am sorry but unfortunately sometimes my key team and I are struggling to keep pace with the phone calls.

All for now,

Brad Skelton

The Shipping Bloke

Friday, 30 November 2012

Fighting back

Thank you for all kind messages of support since publishing my blog yesterday. I am grateful that so many clients and suppliers alike want this great Australian company to pull through this situation despite some hardship they are currently experiencing.

Our goal is to have the receivers, Deloitte, complete their task as fast as possible for HSBC so my team and I can then take back over and try to salvage the business and take it from there. We respect that Deloitte are still running a sales process in the background for which they have received expressions of interest already.

We know getting the company back on track after this receivership is going to be a HUGE challenge as some clients have been forced to take their business elsewhere to keep their cargo flowing. We respect this and do not blame them in the slightest for taking this action and regret the inconvenience and extra costs caused to them. While Deloitte are "trading" the business while they are trying to sell it, they are currently instructing our team not to take on new work. This is going to leave a void for us once they are gone making the recovery more challenging. Our team and I are up for it though and judging by the sentiment of most clients we hope they will come back.

If you are a client that ALREADY has delivery of your cargo but have outstanding final invoices relating to this then we would be very grateful if you could immediately make payment to us. The faster the funds come in and HSBC and Deloitte get paid out the sooner the receivership will end and we can start the recovery and return to normal.

To ensure we can keep trading and recover post the receivership we are hoping that we can pull the following things off.

1. We need a new bank! If any bankers are reading this blog and are interested in helping this company with a recovery, then please contact me urgently. In a future blog I will let you know what bank or banks were willing to support us.

2. If you are a creditor and Skelton Sherborne currently owes you money, then we are willing to consider a "debt for equity" swap. Again I am sorry for any amounts we owe you and any hardship this is causing you and your business!

3. If you are one of our team members, overseas agents, a supplier or an investor that would like to see this company survive and are willing to invest in it then we would welcome that.

Peter Lucas of Kestrel Solutions will handle the "debt for equity swap" and new investment process. Kestrel Solutions assist companies like mine in these types of difficult situations and can be relied upon to take a highly professional approach. Peter can be reached by calling +61 (0) 7 32325250 or by email plucas@kestrelsolutions.com.au 

Again my team and I are grateful for your support and well wishes. We are determined to get through this and hope that with a bit of help from everyone we can get all of our business relationships properly back on track and, receivership period aside, continue our good profitable track record.

This great Aussie company deserves to survive and my team, my clients and my suppliers will suffer far less if it does.

All for now,

Brad Skelton

The Shipping Bloke

Thursday, 29 November 2012

I am sorry!

If you haven't heard the news yet Deloitte in Brisbane have been appointed by HSBC bank as receivers to my company, Skelton Sherborne. Therefore they are currently in full control of the company not me.

Deloitte have advised they intend to keep the business trading while offering it for sale. An advertising campaign began yesterday in various Australian newspapers.

Skelton Sherborne has truly great people who I can say without reservation are among the shipping  industry's best in the world. I am extremely grateful to every one of them for the incredible professionalism they are displaying right now in very challenging circumstances. I am so proud of them. Most of these people have given the business between 8-15+ years of their lives and I hope they think it has been an interesting, fun and personally rewarding ride with the company so far. I thank them for the dedication to company and I and for their hard work. I am personally doing my best not to let them or their families down.

This team has built the company's systems and procedures from the ground up and they are world class and very innovative. Skelton Sherborne's business model and processes are probably the most copied by competitors in the heavy logistics market. With some amusement, the team and I have always taken this as a compliment. 

The company would make an outstanding acquisition for someone and has a track record of good profitability and growth. If you are interested please contact Deloitte in Brisbane directly.

So what happened at Skelton Sherborne for the company to be currently in receivership?

Clearly we lost the support of our bankers, HSBC. Late on Tuesday the 20th of November without warning or notice they froze Skelton Sherborne's bank accounts. The company was not outside of any bank covenants or limits. Furthermore the company was trading very profitably having just delivered the best four months results in years. The company did not have a single default or judgment against it that would give justification for our banks action. 

Since late September this year HSBC had imposed a rapid step down of credit facilities the company relied upon. They required the business to reduce one of those facilities by $100k every Friday or they threatened receivership. I am proud to say that with the tremendous help and support of my team, long standing clients, suppliers and friends that Skelton Sherborne met this step down as impossible as it initially seemed. We were still trading profitably and I thought the receivership threat from the bank was removed. Increased attention was then given to reducing creditor balances as fast as we could. As a consequence of the rapid step down required by our bank our cashflow was under pressure but recovering.

HSBC's action in freezing our accounts last week paralyzed us to pay customs, shipping lines and other suppliers in order to ensure smooth cargo and service delivery to our valued clients.

The company immediately engaged our lawyers to try and get this freeze lifted, seek our banks justification for this action and to reserve our rights to claim for any losses and damages caused. As we were within all bank limits we had hoped that we could quickly resolve this with them and continue serving our clients and paying suppliers. Unfortunately we were unable to get HSBC to lift the freeze and their lawyers informed us that all of our banking facilities had been cancelled and withdrawn. At the same time we were also given an immediate demand to payout the full balance of the remaining facilities. The company could not meet an "immediate" demand of that magnitude and subsequently HSBC appointed Deloitte as their receivers.

I know this receivership is hurting people. I humbly humbly apologise to my team, our clients and suppliers who have been hurt or affected by what has transpired with Skelton Sherborne over the last 9 days.

I am working very hard to try and somehow regain control of the business and continue on trading after the receivers have done their job for HSBC if I can. This situation is temporary and I am fighting like hell and determined to be one of those many companies who have successfully emerged from a bank receivership. This situation is a massive setback that will slow me down but it will not stop me.

Deloitte are making decisions that they think are in the best interest of the company and no doubt their client, HSBC. Many of the these decisions and actions my team and I do not agree with nor in anyway condone. We are sad to see some of our great clients, who have become friends as well, incurring further expenses that in our view could have and should have been avoided or at least minimised. Client and supplier relationships are being damaged and right now losses are being incurred. I am powerless to stop this at the moment.

For the company's competitors, who are nearly all former employees of mine, this situation presents an amazing opportunity. It's not every day that the biggest player in their market suffers misfortune like this. I don't blame any of them for trying to exploit it. I would seize the opportunity myself and indeed would buy the company from the receivers if I were them. By the way to my former employees...if your non-compete obligations in your contract have not expired then I strongly suggest you think very carefully. You know that we always enforce them and seek our damages. This situation will be no different.

I take my responsibilities as director very seriously and have been at the office every day. I have not run away overseas as some competitors are saying. Everything that I can do to improve the situation is being done and I know and accept the ultimate responsibility rests with me.

My team and I have at times been overwhelmed with calls and emails through this period. I am sorry if we have not been able to get back to you in a timely fashion. We have frequently been reliant on Deloitte for directions on how to respond to people.

It has been heartening to my team and I to receive so many calls and emails of support from clients and suppliers. Thank you! It is nice to know that you believe in us and the brand. Skelton Sherborne is a great company and I am determined that it will keep going somehow and hopefully with me still at helm and the team intact.

Again I am deeply sorry for any hardship, expense or inconvenience this situation is causing anybody associated with Skelton Sherborne. I am sincerely doing everything in my power to make things right.

Please stay tuned to my blog for further updates as this situation is worked through. I might even lift the lid on a few secrets on people in the coming days.

All for now,

Brad Skelton

The Shipping Bloke. 



Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Monday, 5 November 2012

First solar powered boat to circumnavigate the world


Back in September 2009 I posted a blog about NYK working on designing a Super Eco cargo ship to have it in service by 2030 using a combination of renewable energies. Well perhaps this is now a step closer thanks to what has been learned by the PlanetSolar team.

The "Turanor" PlanetSolar catamaran completed the first solar powered circumnavigation of the world in May this year. Take a look at this video to see this amazing vessel.


The round the world trip it has undertaken has made it the symbol of energy efficiency and sustainable energy.  The "Turanor" is 95Tonnes in weight, 35m long, 23m wide and 6.1m high and has 537m2 of solar modules. The boat can propel itself at speeds up to 15knots without adding pollution of any kind as it is completely silent. It cost £10million to build and set many records as it circumnavigated the globe.

Commercialisation of solar powered ships surely is just around the corner. Who would have thought a Toyota Prius' would be commercialised into taxis as fast as they have.

By the way, is it just me or does everyone else seem to end up with a Prius every time you call a taxi these days?!

All for now,

Brad Skelton

The Shipping Bloke






Sunday, 4 November 2012

40' container rates between Shanghai and Rotterdam spike up $788 last week!

Most container lines in the world are still struggling with over-capacity in ships for the current world cargo transportation task and little or no growth is forecast in cargo volumes in the coming year.

A break even result is the best many of these shipping lines can hope for with the prevailing market conditions. Despite over-capacity in ships which usually leads to lower freight rates, last week a huge and key market segment from China to Europe saw a massive increase in rates of $788 per 40' container/FEU(Forty foot Equivalent Unit). That is a 38% increase in a single week taking the average cost to ship a 40' container to US$2865.00.

(source-World Container Index)

As you can see by the rate history over the last year, rates at some stages have tripled and between January and July, effectively quadrupled.

What is causing this upward volatility when the usual rules of supply and demand suggest rates should be going lower?

Carriers are endeavouring to remove tonnage from some trade lanes to address the vessel over-capacity but the delivery of a profitable bottom line for them is the real driver after the terrible losses many of them have suffered the past couple of years. Ship owners are being forced to increase rates to ensure they stay profitable and are here in the long run. Slow steaming is still commonplace to keep fuel and operating costs to a minimum.

In my opinion we are going to see tremendous rationalisation and consolidation with shipping lines in 2013 and continued rate volatility. It just has to happen as charter rates are still low and they just can't keep carrying on with the financial performance of the last two years.

I would suggest that not only for the shipping industry but many other industries, "Volatility" is the new normal business environment that everyone has to get used too. Being lean, debt free, commercially agile and nimble will give operators the best prospects of survival.

All for now,

Brad Skelton

The Shipping Bloke