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Ex PDL chiefs build empire free of 'inhibitive structures'

By Aimee McClinchy

Friday 9th June 2000

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A group of former key figures in listed Christchurch company PDL Holdings are expanding their fledgling Canterbury-based technology empire with the acquisition of an Australian company.

Ex PDL chief executive Don Sollitt and former engineering head David Cook began Trans Tasman Technology in late 1998 after leaving PDL during a period of drastic restructuring and after each received over $1 million in payouts.

Mr Cook said then that he and Mr Sollitt were "leaving behind the inhibitive structures of mature companies which cannot easily change."

The two men are now building an electronics empire by gathering small businesses into one group, focusing on light emitting diode (LED) technology and exporting into the world LED market, estimated to be worth $500 million.

"We are a little group that operates on both sides of the Tasman and it is natural for us to be looking abroad and here to grow," Mr Cook, the company's chief executive, said.

Trans Tasman has acquired 58-year-old Sydney-based See-Ezy for an undisclosed sum. See-Ezy manufactures hand-held inspection lamps which can be extended by the LED expertise the group's first acquisition developed.

Christchurch-based Sound Logic Research was bought late last year and pioneered LED-based traffic lights. Sound Logic has projected revenues of $20 million over the next three years.

Mr Cook, with PDL for 23 years, and Mr Sollitt, at PDL for 29 years and now Trans Tasman's commercial director, have hired more of their past colleagues to help their cash-rich business grow.

Former PDL director Humphrey Catchpole has been appointed Trans Tasman's Australian sales manager in Melbourne, while former PDL sales manager John Harris has joined as country sales manager.

Mr Cook said their appointments were not a sign he was re-building the management team as a competitor to PDL, which manufactures electronics accessories. "It's more that we have long relationships - they were available and the right men for the job."

He said other acquisitions were in the pipeline but he was also looking for manufacturers and distributors for the group's products.

Mr Cook wanted to keep the manufacturing base in Canterbury where the directors lived and where costs were competitive.

He said the group was looking to list on the New Zealand Stock Exchange in three or four years. It had not discussed listing in Australia as some other technology companies are planning to do.

Trans Tasman is part of High Technology Systems group, which has a research arm in Melbourne and Christchurch and is also owned by Mr Sollitt and Mr Cook.

Over 20 senior staff including four directors left PDL during restructuring and cost-cutting carried out by founder Sir Robertson Stewart's son Mark 18 months ago after he took over as head of the company.

The drastic changes at PDL seem to have worked. In February it reported a nine-month turnover to December 31 of $180 million compared with $159 million for the same period in the previous year.

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