Profile: Constructing a services business

Profile: Constructing a services business

DATA#3's John Gran talks to ARN

What was your first job?

I graduated as a civil engineer from the University of Queensland. Having attended Uni under a scholarship from the Brisbane City Council, I joined them initially in their civil design office. From there I went into the construction and contract management division where we built roads, bridges and drainage systems.

How did you end up in the IT industry?

My last two jobs in the council were working on a five-year strategic plan for the Department of Works [where we used computer modelling], and managing quarrying operations. In the latter role I decided to computerise our operations and wrote a specification for a system to link weighbridges, time clocks and entry and exit systems. I advertised the tender and conducted the evaluation. In doing so I came into contact with the IT industry and decided it looked very interesting.

Not long after that I left the council and applied for several civil jobs locally and overseas. Two weeks later, I'd not had one response, but had noticed an IBM advertisement seeking experienced graduates. After three interviews with them I was offered a job as a sales exec.

How did you progress to where you are today?

At IBM I sold into the construction and local government sectors and in doing so worked with Brisbane software company, Powell, Clark and Associates. This consulting organisation, which had been founded by two ex-IBMers, was the foundation of Data#3. After about two-and-a-half years, I didn't see my future with a multinational and decided to leave. I almost went into real estate when I was approached by Powell, Clark and Associates to take a sales role with the potential for equity. One year later I took a full partnership in the business.

In 1984 we launched Data#3. We had acquired a typewriter reseller and service business which we turned into a PC reseller when IBM announced their PC and an IBM mid-range systems reseller [System 34]. I led the mid-range solution sales team for commercial and government. Over the next few years we developed and resold our own software into various industries. We'd also developed health industry software and had an interest in a hardware broking firm. At our peak we had eight partners.

Over the next few years we moved out of developing software and resold JD Edwards ERP and subsequently SAP ERP. We sold the health industry business to Baxter Healthcare. The remaining five partners, having grown the company to $70 million in revenue and around 200 staff, decided to list it on the ASX. We listed Data#3 in December 1997, raising the princely sum of $7.3 million. I have remained the managing director since then.

What do you like about your current job?

My leadership role, developing personally and devolving to others; and seeing people in the company develop and overcome difficulties. It's great to see young inexperienced people begin with us, become confident and capable and move on to better things either within or outside of Data#3. I also enjoy working with our stakeholders in building a better company.

What is the biggest achievement of your career?

Leading the company through two difficult periods. The first, in 2000/01, was when we'd bitten off more acquisitions than we could chew and the market hit the wall after Y2K. The other was when Powerlan defaulted on a joint venture by putting their venture entity into administration and receivership. In both situations we learnt what to do when things get tough and this still binds us today.

What do you dislike most about the IT industry?

The techno-babble we go on with when it's all about what technology can do, not what it is; and the unreasonably low operating margins. And I like evangelists but I dislike bigots!

What will be the 'next big thing' in the industry?

It's already happening - further development and maturing of the global communications infrastructure which will enable fully 'virtual' computing: utility computing, software as a service, mobility, etc.

What is the main focus for your company this year?

Implementing our solutions framework and our solution lifecycle model while maintaining profitability.

What do you do when you are not at work?

I have two older children - 29 and 27 - and two young ones - 14 and 12. In the time my wife and I have left after tending to their needs I like watching all sports, particularly football, and we love the beach and surfing. We're also renovating and extending our house which is exciting. We also have a boat which we don't spend enough time in.

Do you like gadgets?

Not really.

What did you want to be when you were younger?

A surfer and an international rugby league player - I achieved both.

Who did you play for and when?

I played in Brisbane for Southern Suburbs Rugby League Club (Souths) from 1969-1978 [the same club Mal Meninga, Gary Belcher and Gary Jackson subsequently played for]. From 1971-1974 and in 1976 I played for Queensland in the interstate competition against NSW and on tours of New Zealand. I played for Australia in the 1972 World Cup in France. I played on the wing and in the centre with well known internationals such as Bobby Fulton, Bob McCarthy, Elwyn Walters, Ray Branighan, Arthur Beetson and Tommy Roudonikis. We played and beat New Zealand and France but lost the final to Great Britain in a draw. The winner was decided on a countback of wins during the series.

What is your biggest ambition?

On the business side, to see Data#3 grow beyond a 'small cap' company and achieve our vision. On the personal side, to see my children live happy lives and exceed their expectations. I want to grow old happy and healthy with my wife.

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