Ebos has been transformed by meteoric growth

The successful integration of a major Australian acquisition helped propel Ebos Group to Company of the Year in 2015 after being runner-up for the title three times in the past decade.

The NZX-listed healthcare distributor has gone through a meteoric phase of growth, completing roughly 20 acquisitions over the past 10 years.

The most significant of those was its $1.1 billion purchase of Australian pharmaceutical wholesaler Symbion in 2013, which increased revenue from around $1.5 billion before the transaction to $6.1 billion in the 12 months to June 30 this year.

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Forsyth Barr managing director Neil Paviour-Smith, one of the judges of the award, said the acquisition had been "transformative" for Ebos.

"The reality is that Ebos could have potentially won this award many times before now," he said.

"The reason I felt it was a deserving winner this year was that it has successfully integrated the Symbion acquisition."

Paviour-Smith said the market had also deemed the acquisition and integration a success.

"It's one thing to make big acquisition and another to make it successful," he said. "And on top all of that, if you look at the earnings momentum, the analysts' forecasts for Ebos have been revised upwards. So not only did they meet expectations or even exceed expectations on the back of this very significant acquisition, since that time the analysts have upgraded Ebos even further which indicates how well the company has performed."

Paviour-Smith said it was especially impressive that a major change of management had taken place during the integration of Symbion.

Patrick Davies, who previously headed Symbion, took the helm of Ebos last year from Mark Waller, who had been in the top job for almost three decades. Waller is now the firm's chairman.

"The management change has been seamless," Paviour-Smith said.

Ebos investors have had a great run with the company, now generating around 80 per cent of earnings in Australia. The firm has notched up a spectacular total shareholder return over the past 25 years of 31,309 per cent, or 25.9 per cent per annum.

There's no other company that can make this statement but we can because of our diversity and our long-standing commitment to expanding our company to ensure we participate in emerging opportunities.

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That means every dollar invested into Ebos in 1990, with dividends reinvested, is worth $313 today.

The company's market capitalisation has jumped from about $5 million around 20 years ago to more than $2 billion today.

Highlights for Ebos in the 2015 year included the firm's $57.8 million acquisition of Australia's BlackHawk Premium Pet Care and a 25 per cent investment in Good Price Pharmacy Warehouse.

It also secured a contract with the Government of New South Wales for the distribution and warehousing of consumable medical products to the state's public hospitals.

Annual profit jumped 15 per cent to $150.7 million.

Paviour-Smith said: "In terms of the 12 months under review by the judges, they've put the runs on the board and exceeded expectations."

Join Holly Ryan from the New Zealand Herald on the Deloitte Top 200 awards night red carpet as she interviews the leaders of NZ business.

Addressing shareholders at the firm's annual meeting last month, Davies said Ebos had been broadening operations for many years through both internal growth and acquisitions.

"Pleasingly, we saw in the year just past the benefit of having a diverse portfolio of transtasman businesses."

Despite its size, the company has a relatively low profile. However, the it distributes well-known brands including Deep Heat and Anti-Flamme, and Eukanuba pet food.

At the annual meeting Davies pointed out that for almost anyone accessing medicine and other healthcare items on both sides of the Tasman, Ebos is likely to play a role in the delivery of those products.

We've completely reinvented the place about every five years so I feel like I've had about five jobs.

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"There's no other company that can make this statement but we can because of our diversity and our long-standing commitment to expanding our company to ensure we participate in emerging opportunities."

The company first listed on the New Zealand stock exchange in 1960 as Ebos Dental and Surgical Supplies.

Its roots stretch back to the Early Brothers Trading Co, which was founded in Christchurch in 1922 and sold lamps for horse-drawn carriages.

In a Business Herald interview last year, Waller reflected on how much the company had changed since he joined the business, initially as chief financial officer, in the 1980s.

Back then, it was only marginally profitable and turning over about $8 million.

"We've completely reinvented the place about every five years so I feel like I've had about five jobs," he said.

In the early 1990s, Ebos' major shareholder, Brierley Investments, exited the business and the firm lost its dental division during the break-up of the company.

Waller said the company found itself on delicate ground at that time, as its core business -- the local distribution of international brands -- was being undermmined by the end of the export licence era.

"That was really, really hard. Saving the company; travelling the world with a very young family; three weeks away at a time, just constantly, to try to find new opportunities to save the day."

The company needed scale and it needed it fast. That sparked an appetite for acquisitions that has continued to this day. - Christopher Adams

Finalist: Fisher & Paykel Healthcare

Fisher & Paykel Healthcareboss Mike Daniell gave an impressive insight into the company's vast growth prospects at a finance industry conference last month.

He said there was potential for the Auckland-based medical device maker to be treating 30 million patients annually within 10 years, which would provide annual revenue in the region of US$1.8 billion ($2.6 billion).

That would be an almost three-fold increase on the operating revenue of around $800 million the company has given guidance for in the current financial year. A profit in the range of $135 million to $140 million is also expected.

Daniell, who recently announced his retirement from the firm, sees big healthcare opportunities in the many parts of the world with rapidly ageing populations. F&P Healthcare's products include devices for the treatment of obstructive sleep apnoea, as well as respiratory humidifiers used in intensive care units.

"We see this ageing demographic coming through, which is going to pretty much double the number of people over the age of 65," he told the Business Herald last month. "Plus, we've got developing markets -- China being a good example -- where they're rapidly improving their healthcare infrastructure."

F&P Healthcare, which employs more than 400 research and development staff in Auckland, has been enjoying the fruits of heavy investment into R&D, driving a slew of new product releases recently.

Record financial results and numerous profit upgrades have stoked a more than 300 per cent gain in the company's share price since August 2012, giving it a market capitalisation of over $4 billion.

Finalist: Z Energy

Z Energy, which has already been a phenomenal performer for investors, is on the cusp of a major expansion.

In June the petrol station operator launched a $785 million acquisition bid for Chevron NZ, operator of the Caltex and Challenge! brands.

Should the deal receive regulatory approval from the Commerce Commission, it will take Z's share of the total fuel market to 49 per cent from about 28 per cent at present.

Craigs Investment Partners head of private wealth research Mark Lister has said the acquisition would transform Z's business. "It gives them some real scale," he said.

The service station operator proved to be an incredible investment for the New Zealand Superannuation Fund and Infratil, who purchased Shell NZ's downstream assets in 2010 and rebranded them as Z in 2012. The spruced-up business was floated on the stock exchange the following year.

Z's share price has almost doubled since the initial public offering and Infratil booked a $392 million profit when it sold its remaining 20 per cent stake in the firm in September.

The Super Fund, which reduced its Z holding to just over 10 per cent from 20 per cent in the same block sale, has reaped around $785 million in total proceeds from the investment, while its remaining shares were worth $246.6 million at the time of the September sell-down.

Super Fund chief investment officer Matt Whineray said the retention of the 10 per cent holding reflected the confidence the fund had in Z's business strategy and management team.