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CNBC Transcript: Stuart Brown, CEO, BlackWall


Following is the transcript of a CNBC interview with Stuart Brown, CEO of BlackWall. The interview was broadcast on CNBC on 25 April 2017 at 12:40PM SG/HK Time, during CNBC's "Hong Kong versus Singapore" theme week.

All references must be sourced to a "CNBC Interview".

Interviewed by Dan Murphy, Correspondent, CNBC.

Dan Murphy: Stuart Brown the CEO of the Australian-listed BlackWall, which is the parent company of WOTSO, joins us live now. WOTSO is Australia's largest provider of collaboration workspaces. Stuart, great to get you on the program. Welcome to CNBC. Now, first and foremost, you're no stranger to Singapore the business does have a presence already but you're in town because you want to try and grow that presence is that right?

Stuart Brown: Yeah we took a position in an existing collaborative workspace business in a beautiful iconic building in Cecil Street known as the Quadrant, there's an existing big business we rebranded WOTSO and took an equity position in that business. It's us dipping our toe in the water before looking at more opportunities which is what I'm up here to do it this week.

Dan: And what is the opportunity here and why have you chosen Singapore specifically?

Brown: Well, Singapore and Australia, there's a long history of collaboration. Sorry to use the buzz word between Australia and Singapore businesses of a number of tech companies are listening on the ASX at the moment. But for us the legal structure is here. The manner of business is far more familiar to us and it was a natural first stop for us and in moving up into the Asian market.

Dan: And of course WOTSO isn't the only operator in town either. I think over the past two years we've seen some 20 different operators moving into Singapore hoping to catch a slice of that pie. How do you differentiate your offering?

Brown: In Australia and what we've done in Singapore. We like to differentiate the physical asset, we see collaborative workspace as a real estate business so, people are making a choice on the physical asset first and foremost; both geography and how it's configured. So again in Cecil Street we're in a beautiful historic building where we're creating a pointed difference to large, what we would say is commodified office space. Again, once the customers come to us, I think it's that real estate decision they're making first, but then it's services, our staff, our fitout, our design that attracts and retains them, hopefully.

Dan: Speaking of attracting tenants, what does the tenancy mix look like and how do you get it right to ensure that you have a stable income generating asset. Who are the types of people that you're attracting into these buildings?

Brown: WOTSO is very clear in its business model to be agnostic to sector. So we're not just attracting startups, although startups are certainly a part of what we do. We're a provider of flexible workspace for small to medium enterprises so that's right across the board. So in terms of creating a collaborative atmosphere we feel that you're going to get a better cross-section of society if all industries are represented. Now for the startups that are testing products or designing tech products, we see a collaboration between some of the legal services we might have in the space or accounting services so that collaboration right across the spectrum is the key to what we're trying to foster.

Dan: So the problem halved is a problem shared, so to speak when it comes to getting the tenant mix right.

Brown: Sure, I think from a business proposition we specifically don't want to limit the market. The market is to have all this office space in the manner that we provided.

Dan: Who's your biggest competitor?

Brown: I think our biggest competitor is the person that's working at home. In Australia, less, less in Singapore because we're a CBD office but in Australia we don't have. We're on the fringe of the CBD, we're in suburban. So in various places it differs but in some cases we draw from two kilometers around us. So I made up a term that I've heard a lot in Singapore of how people want to live, work and play is really what WATSO in Australia and for new sites in Singapore will be providing. You're working where you want to live to cut down on commute times and all those things. Mobile technology has allowed us to do that. And really that mobile technology as it is really, really what's driven the growth in collaborative workspace.

Dan: So an Australian property business making a play into Singapore and the Asian region. How aggressive do you want to be in this space? Very quickly.

Brown: We'll be as great as we need to be. We're an opportunistic business. As I said we see it as a real estate business that we're going to get the real estate fundamentals right and the collaborative workspace flows on from that. So, we've got an eye on a few things and we're having some discussions in other other regions as well. I'll tell you what when we do our next deal, I'll come back and talk to you about it.

Dan: All right looking forward to it. Stuart, great to get you on CNBC. Thanks again for coming in, Pauline back over to you. That's Stuart Brown from BlackWall.