If you were to ask Gary Dickinson what the key to his company is, the answer might surprise you. It's not product, sales pitch or vision. It's people.
When Dickinson founded network reseller company Starcom Group back in 1985, he realised he could no longer operate as a one-man band. "The fundamental key was people. Having people come in and work side by side required some fundamental shifts in attitude on my behalf."
From a team of only two people Starcom now has grown to a staff of 60 employees. The company boasts an average 40 per cent compound growth for the past two years and is looking forward to a further 40 per cent this year. Organisations it has worked with include the University of Sydney, ANZ Funds Management, Sony Music and the Australian Institute of Company Directors.
Dickinson said he has built Starcom on the basis of developing the people within the business as the business itself develops. "The vision has been all along that the business wouldn't be sold. We were looking to build something that would support everybody who worked in it, and in a sense belong to everybody in both an emotional and a real way, in that everybody shares in the rewards if the company is successful. And we're also worked very consciously at overcoming issues that relate to people. It means that we've really put a focus on people and not just what they're doing for you but how they're going in their life in total."
Dickinson said the validation of this approach is that many of his staff have been with the company for a long term. "That's probably the achievement I'm most proud of, that we've had such loyalty and such commitment, and such development and growth in people's knowledge and skills. A lot of the people that we brought to the business had come from various disciplines, and for one reason or another were disenchanted with their particular area. Thankfully people have believed enough in what we're trying to bring about with Starcom, and they've stayed there and they've given their all."
Dickinson said Starcom has also made a large investment in its internal systems, including a database built on Lotus Notes. "There are systems in place that enable communication to take place which represents a higher level of service and performance as far as the customer is concerned, as well as making our lives easier."
Dickinson said Starcom has also been able to make shrewd decisions when it comes to picking the hot areas in the industry. "We were able to pick up the wind shifts and changes as they took place in the industry, particularly the movement to networking and in particular to Novell. I would say that if anything really grew our business it's when we decided to move into networking."
Partner companies for Starcom include Novell, Microsoft, Com Tech, Bay Networks, Cisco Systems, Symantec, IBM, Compaq, Hewlett-Packard and Intel. Dickinson says such broad contacts are necessary. "If you're an integrator you need to be across the board. You are at varying times and to varying degrees depending on the nature of the business that you're working on currently."
One thing that Dickinson said Starcom has worked hard to come to grips with is the enormity of the networking arena. Despite their expense, he finds training courses vital in this area. "You can't provide a quality of service to your business partners without having the necessary knowledge and skills. The integrator business is not a low cost of entry business, because there just has to be a tremendous amount invested."
Dickinson said his next challenge is in strengthening Starcom's relationship with clients, with the aim of elevating them to business partner status. "That's a lot more dynamic relationship, because it's multi-tiered and it requires far better knowledge and understanding of what the needs of the client are, because they're moving and changing very quickly.
"The pressure's constantly on engineering resource, and juggling that resource. If you have your regular client base that you're constantly doing work for, and then you bid for and win a very large project , that can then just suck up your resources. You've still got an ongoing responsibility to your existing clients. And they're very dependent on their networks. A couple of years ago if the network went down for half a day it wasn't such a drama. Today it's absolutely terminal, because the network carries everything."