Meet Cliff Rocke: cycling through the world of insolvency

Cliff and his youngest daughter, Georgia, taken during an earlier Ride for Youth

When someone says “on your bike” to Cliff Rocke, it’s usually for good reason. Cliff, a Partner with WA Insolvency Solutions (WAIS), Jirsch Sutherland’s WA division, is a keen bike rider – and next year he will compete in the Hawaiian Ride for Youth, Australia’s premier charity event raising funds for the prevention of youth suicide and depression. It will be the 21st Ride for Youth, and Cliff’s 18th as a rider. The ride will facilitate 166 riders over three different routes, and Cliff will be one of 66 riding the Coastal route.

“At the time I became involved with the charity Youth Focus, my three daughters were very young, and mental health issues in teenagers was increasing. I felt I could learn what the signs were and be a better father and husband and make a valuable contribution to the community – my way of giving back” Cliff says.

By the time the 2023 Ride for Youth rolls around, Cliff and his fellow ‘Mineral Resources’ team members, together with all other riders, will have already covered around 5000km in training sessions before they even start the 750km ride from Albany to Perth. “I find the training hard, but the actual ride week is a constant highlight of the year. I couldn’t keep doing the ride without the unconditional support of my wife Helen and my family,” says Cliff, who is captain of the team. “Each rider must raise at least $5,000 before getting on the bus to Albany. I will unashamedly be emailing everyone for a donation, not only because I want to do the ride but because it is such a wonderful cause. Mental health issues are so prominent in today’s society, and they have no geographical or financial boundaries.”

Providing support is also something Cliff is adept at doing in his professional life. “I enjoy meeting with people and allaying their concerns,” he says. “I often say that you treat everyone with respect and empathy, whether it be the shop floor employee, the director or the numerous stakeholders in a particular matter. I approach each matter as though I have a personal exposure.”

Finding his passion

Like many of his peers, Cliff admits to “falling into insolvency”. “When I graduated from university, I did the usual stint in a Big 8 firm, initially working in auditing. I didn’t like ‘bashing the green pen’ and tax didn’t interest me, so my father introduced me to a recruiter, who suggested insolvency. I subsequently started as a graduate with Mel Ashton at Walton Donavan Pell, and I haven’t looked back since. I’ve now been in the industry for more than 30 years,” he says.

When asked if insolvency grabbed him immediately, Cliff responds with: “Great question! We often say we’re a breed of our own and that it takes a particular type of person to do insolvency or, as we now say, restructuring, turnaround and insolvency. I have enjoyed and embraced insolvency and I can honestly say I love what I do and coming to work – more so since joining WAIS/Jirsch Sutherland.

“What I like about restructuring, turnaround and insolvency is that in any one day you can be working on a myriad of tasks in many sectors. You’re also always thinking on your feet and making decisions on the spot. I also like working with many different types of people and working in teams, both within the firm and with stakeholders. And, of course, maximising the returns for all stakeholders is crucial. What I also love is mentoring and guiding staff and seeing them develop their careers and take on my values and offering, which I know are strongly aligned with WAIS/Jirsch Sutherland.”

A Registered Liquidator, Cliff has worked across a wide variety of sectors throughout his career, including hospitality, building and construction, manufacturing and engineering, property, retail, mining and financial services. “I’ve also worked closely with accountants, real estate agents, financial advisers, lawyers and SMEs in all industries,” he says. “I enjoy all sectors, but I particularly like hospitality as it involves considerable interaction with all stakeholders and the public.”

Maximising results despite challenges

Cliff with the son of a close friend during another ride

One of the most challenging matters Cliff has handled was trading a remote WA hotel that had gone into receivership. The hotel featured a public bar, beer garden, bottle shop with strict trading hours and limits on purchases, restaurant, accommodation (around 200 rooms), and a TAB. “There was a lot of work involved – and challenges. Sadly, during my appointment and as Licensee there was the death of a patron due to a fight on the premises after closing, and we were also operating what was essentially a cash business with a very desirable product – alcohol and food – in a remote location. So, we had to ensure we had appropriate protocols and procedures in place, as well as maintain existing and recruit new staff,” says Cliff.

“Not only that, but we also had to maintain strict qualifications as part of a contract with BHP, to ensure their employees could stay at the hotel. To this end, we effected an infrastructure review, which resulted in all air conditioners being replaced and serviced, plus we undertook an upgrade of the electricity supply to the hotel.”

Cliff and his team were also faced with competitors exploiting the fact that the hotel was in receivership. “We went to great lengths to promote that it was business as usual. That also meant maintaining a relationship with the local police and liquor licensing, and ensuring all laws and obligations were complied with. The end result was the orderly sale of the business, which was a great outcome,” he says.

The best return that Cliff has achieved was 100 cents in the dollar, for an ATO-driven matter involving a regional WA cement manufacturing business. “When we arrived, there was a hive of activity; trucks coming and going, deliveries being made, phones ringing, and employees who were totally oblivious to what was going on were scurrying around. This was totally unexpected from our account,” recounts Cliff. “When we met with the director advising of our appointment, he opened his desk drawer and commented, ‘So this is what all these ATO demands mean!’. We traded the business, restructured the company and paid all creditors with interest, plus our fees in full.”

Of the current state of insolvency, Cliff predicts that the ongoing economic pressures mean the sector will start to get busy, if not earlier, in earnest from February 2023 onwards. “Our inquiry rate has picked up and we are handling an increasing number of new matters,” he says. “Sectors requiring our services may include construction/building, property development, hospitality and tourism, particularly because they can’t get staff. Retail could also have challenges, especially if interest rate increases curtail consumer spending and demand.”

Since joining WAIS in September, Cliff has been busy getting to know the WAIS and wider Jirsch Sutherland team, reaching out to all his well-respected contacts and referrers, and promoting the firm’s offering. “All contacts and referrers have been overwhelmingly supportive and complimentary about my new role with WAIS,” says Cliff, who is also a very keen networker.

Cliff’s knowledge of insolvency is extensive and he was on the State and National Committee of the Australian Restructuring Insolvency and Turnaround Association (ARITA) for more than 10 years, where he was involved in the strategic direction of ARITA and insolvency law reform. “It was my way of giving back to the industry,” he adds.

Of his upcoming Ride for Youth bike ride in March 2023, he says: “I am great at going down hills but absolutely hate going up hills!”

WA Insolvency Solutions