Like most successful IT people, Michelle Hamer is a hard woman to tie down. One day in Sydney, the next in London, she epitomises the necessity and excitement of the new business era in which mobile people who eat, breathe and live their work rarely fail to get ahead.
It is this attitude that often stands between her and her family, just like the Palm Pilot she always takes out of her bag to check if she is available for family lunches. Yet this very attitude is what has turned Michelle into a proud owner of IT training company PC Smart, a Lotus Business Partner and an internationally sought-after training consultant.
'The company is her baby and she loves it,' says Michelle's sister and office manager Donna in an attempt to rationalise the fact that these days she only gets to see Michelle for about an hour a week. 'She sleeps with her computer, she takes her Palm Pilot and her notebook everywhere she goes, she is definitely a very dynamic woman and this is why she leads the way in IT,' Donna asserts proudly.
Hamer founded PC Smart five years ago, when, after working her way up the corporate ladder as a trainer and IT manager at Control Data Australia and Perpetual Trustees, she decided her expertise in encouraging and delivering corporate training programs could be used to help organisations increase their productivity. 'My goal in establishing both PC Smart and [later PC Smart's online arm] SmartLearning was to enable clients to become self-sufficient with the applications they were working with,' she explained.
Setting about financial planning for the business eight months before she resigned from Perpetual Trustees, Hamer remembers having to 'pay off all [her] bills, develop a business plan based on what I saw as a real need in the market and save $6000 [in order] to start the business.
'Really, PC Smart was born in the third bedroom of our Sunshine Coast home where it grew over the next 18 months to incorporate another part-time trainer and a part-time assistant, at which stage we were financially able to move into our first office,' she recalls.
In fact, growth has never been a problem for PC Smart, so much so that soon after its establishment, the company faced the dilemma of how to deliver training for all those clients whose sites and staff were scattered throughout Australasia. This prompted Hamer to begin investigating the possibility of using 'the emerging capabilities of online training' as a viable alternative to a physically limiting and generally expensive classroom setup.
In November 1997 she went to a weekend seminar where she found out about Lotus LearningSpace, a user-friendly program that allowed organisations to deliver training over the Web or corporate intranets.
Hamer remembers her first impressions of the program: 'You know the saying 'I liked it so much I bought the company'? Well, I couldn't afford the company but I was very impressed and excited with what I saw. The potential of LearningSpace in assisting trainers taking their courses online and delivering them to a wider audience than could be reached in a classroom was so awesome that I decided to become a Lotus Speciality Business Partner in LearningSpace.'
To qualify as a Lotus Partner, Hamer had to complete several courses with Lotus, set up the required training environment that included a number of comprehensive Lotus LearningSpace demonstration courses and work actively with Lotus to promote the application to clients. But she signed on and hasn't looked back since.
And why should she? When she is not globetrotting in search of new clients and challenges, this 37-year-old helps her 13 full-time and contract staff look after a number of clients that have so far seen the team training in places as varied as Bali, China and, soon, Saudi Arabia.
And while she sits on the Australian Institute of Management board, her consultant, respected academic and sociologist of technology Professor Dale Spender, could soon sit on PC Smart's.
According to her sister, there is really no way of stopping Hamer from rising to the top. 'I don't really know what her vision is, but I know that she follows it around the globe,' Donna explained while holding the fort at the company's Sunshine Coast headquarters last week. Indeed, there is nothing in the story of Michelle Hamer that could justify the dismissal of Donna's description as overly hyperbolic, for SmartLearning has always been about taking PC Smart's training expertise to a wider clientele.
'Although it has been a long road, PC Smart is continuing to grow and SmartLearning is poised to grow dramatically over the next 18 months as a result of our work to date,' Hamer said. 'My experience in the last 12 months and the trends in the US indicate that we are at the very beginning of a new wave of online learning as corporations, educational institutions and public authorities begin to recognise the enormous potential of online learning and training for both staff and students - in franchise situations, remote offices and distant education, as well as in large organisations.
'Now, while SmartLearning is still in its in-fancy, my vision is to develop it into the leading online training resource in Australia.' And when she does, the globe may well become Michelle Hamer's backyard.