When assisting businesses under financial stress, Stephen focuses on restoring stability, preserving and enhancing value while maintaining empathy and understanding toward the stresses involved for stakeholders.
Stephen has over 14 years of experience with Cor Cordis. After initially starting out in a treasury role with the firm, Stephen has since gained vast experience across all types of formal and advisory appointments with a key focus on business restructuring via the voluntary administration regime (with several regional business engagements), investigative/forensic matters (with a particular focus on funds tracing and litigation recoveries)and assisting in the preparation of expert witness reports (including business valuations as part of Family Law disputes).
Since 2020, Stephen has played a key role in overseeing and undertaking investigations into the complex liquidation of the i-Prosperity Group of Companies(an investment and funds management group dealing primarily in Australian real estate assets for high-net-worth foreign investors). This engagement has included various litigation proceedings and recoveries (through extensive funds tracing to identify and preserve assets or identify potential claims) and obtaining funding from the Commonwealth of Australia to undertake public examinations relevant to Australia’s two (2) most prominent casinos.
Stephen has played a key role in the Voluntary Administration and subsequent Liquidation of i-Prosperity, an investment and funds management group dealing primarily in Australian real estate assets for high-net-worth foreign investors, some of which were within the significant investor (SIV) program. The broader i-Prosperity Group structure is comprised of some 64 entities.
Debts across the 12 entities subject to the appointments with Cor Cordis exceed c$400m. Minimal tangible assets or recoverable loans on the balance sheet; however, ongoing investigations and the tracing of funds have now identified a potential claim pool of more than c$175m.
As part of this potential claim pool, Stephen has undertaken extensive funds tracing investigations which identified:
This is an evolving appointment that Stephen and Sara Williams have led since its commencement during the challenging Covid times of mid-2020.
Stephen was key in a multi-stage advisory engagement for a large construction group(with debt greater than $300m) that undertook residential, mixed-use and commercial projects. The engagement included a financial review of operating entities and preparing a model to demonstrate the impact of various insolvency scenarios on certain entities within the Group and what that would mean with respect to loans provided to those entities by the Head (Treasury) Entity. This allowed the group to negotiate ordinary wind-downs of some entities and place other entities’ surplus requirements into administration or liquidation.
At its peak, this vocational education student broking and RTO business had revenues of c.$130m and secured debt of c.$40m. However, the group became destabilised after changes to the government’s student funding model. After successfully divesting the group’s assets, the Liquidators were funded to continue to fully investigate the affairs of the Acquire Learning Group and pursue several director-related claims and complex shareholder loan trust structures resulting in a material recovery from the Company’s pre-appointment insurance policy. Stephen played a key role throughout the appointment with respect to overseeing the diversification of the group’s assets on-site and reconstructing and investigating the true extent of the shareholder loan claims and the associated trust structures.
Group of entities located in Lakes Entrance Victoria, which operated a range of plant, paint and hardware businesses from commercial properties owned with Group. There were five businesses in total.
The business ceased to trade upon appointment, given the depleted levels of stock and declining sales in the prior months.
However, rather than progressing forth to an immediately distressed asset sale scenario (of business assets and the vacant commercial properties), Stephen spent time down in Lakes Entrance with the local community, which saw interest from local parties wanting to take over the business and enter into new lease agreements to occupy the commercial properties.
Stephen oversaw and negotiated the asset sales and commercial leases to be installed after independent rental valuations were obtained.
By tenanting the underlining commercial properties, Stephen enhanced the return to priority and secured creditors (secured debt of c.$6m) and avoided a vacant position distressed property sale scenario in a regional location.
Forklift and equipment hire business with circa 25 staff, which operated on the Victoria and NSW border. The Company incorrectly completed an audit with respect to its historical superannuation guarantee charge obligations, which resulted in a debt arising to the ATO in the vicinity of circa $500k when the true level of debt was much less.
The Company attempted to negotiate the matter with the ATO for several years, but ongoing accruing interest ultimately meant the only option was to place the company into administration or risk the Company being wound up via the court.
Prior to the Court winding up hearing, the Company was placed into to enable urgent expressions of interest campaign to be undertaken to see if there may be a better outcome than the Company being liquidated, be it via either:
Stephen oversaw trading operations on site up on the border and met with the director’s local legal representative to negotiate a Deed of Company Arrangement proposal(DOCA).
The business demonstrated it was able to trade profitably under theAdministrators’ control, and a successful DOCA was approved by creditors, whichsaw contributions made by the Company from ongoing trading profits back underthe director’s control. The DOCA was successfully effectuated, the directorretained business control, and all employees retained employment.
Key involvement in a liquidation involving debtor finance fraud. Stephen established that the client had committed debtor finance fraud (which included onsite inspections, independent inquiries with third parties and signature matching analysis). Upon compiling the evidence at hand, which indicated that the Company had been submitting fraudulent invoices to the debtor financier, the debtor financer provided funding to the Liquidators to undertake examinations of key parties involved, including the Company director and representatives from the purported debtors that formed part of the fraud.
Chocolate confectionery manufacturing and distribution business based in Geelong, Victoria that had existed for ten years and employed circa 20 staff.
The Company fell into difficulties with its taxation obligations, and by mid-2019, the debt level owing to the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) was circa$250,000. This led to the ATO commencing proceedings to have the Company wound up.
Before the Court winding up hearing, the Company was placed into administration to enable urgent expressions of interest campaign to be undertaken to see if there may be a better outcome than the Company being liquidated, be it via either:
The Court granted a short adjournment of three (3) weeks to explore whether a better outcome could be achieved. During this period, the business continued to trade profitably under the Administrators’ control, and all employees retained their employment.
Stephen oversaw trading operations on site in Geelong whilst facilitating the urgent expressions of interest campaign and meeting with interested parties onsite company.
Stephen oversaw a successful sale of the business (as a going concern) in mid-November 2019, with all employees being transferred over to the incoming purchaser and maintaining their employment in the lead-up to Christmas.
The business has thrived since the change in ownership and has recently moved into larger premises as the popularity of the brand has increased.