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IN THE HOT SEAT: Carving out a services future

IN THE HOT SEAT: Carving out a services future

What was your first job?

While I was at university I worked at the La Trobe Valley power stations in Victoria. This was during my Electrical Engineering sandwich course. In the holidays, I worked for ATCO, now TridonicAtco. My first full-time job was a graduate role at Telecom Australia (now Telstra) in 1987.

How did you end up in the IT industry?

At Telstra we did three month rotations - my first was with the 'linies' around Melbourne. Due to union restrictions, I wasn't allowed to do any of the real work. My next three months were spent poring over huge spreadsheet printouts looking at data on time taken to fix domestic telephony faults.

During this time, my manager got me to research computerised systems. He loved the work I'd done and put me forward to help design and build Telstra's first optical fibre networks in Sydney and Melbourne. From there I progressed to implementing LANs and WANs.

How did you progress to where you are today?

We cabled several major CBD buildings using Ethernet over broadband, and I became a large buyer of IT equipment. There was one particular 2.5MBps Thomson Conrad ARCNET card I couldn't find anywhere. Out of the blue, I got a call from a guy running a little one-man operation in Sydney who said he could get one. I got to know David Shein and Com Tech Communications pretty well.

A couple of years later, David asked me if I wanted to set up an office for him in Melbourne. That was in 1989. Com Tech was eventually acquired by Dimension Data (DiData) in 1996. I was its sixth employee, and the first outside Sydney. I built up the Melbourne branch then took over running the integration division in 2001. I became Australian CEO in 2002.

What do you like about your current job?

The dynamic aspects of the IT industry really excite me: technologies and business models are constantly changing. It's great to know that each day brings with it the potential to see a groundbreaking technology hit the market.

What is the biggest achievement of your career?

My biggest achievement has been starting at a company with just five staff and seeing it grow to the position it is in today. It's one of the few local IT companies doing business in the late 1980s that is still around. I am also proud that I started in IT as an engineer and am now the CEO of the largest independent systems integrator in Australia.

What do you dislike most about the IT industry?

It can be really fickle. Often there is not enough long-term planning on the vendor and reseller side.

I also think the barriers to entry are too low, as is the professionalism and quality of service standards compared to most industries today. All of this results in companies going under, poor service and a negative experience for clients, fluctuating salary pressures and huge staff movements. There is not enough investment in training, and not enough promotion of our industry, particularly in secondary and tertiary education institutions.

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

Convergence is the next big thing. I know it's been talked about for years, but I really believe technology has matured to the point where it will become pervasive in business.

In part, this has come from consumers, with the rapid adoption of MP3 players, smartphones, Web video and instant messaging. Many of these younger people are starting to enter the workforce, bringing with them an expectation that those communication tools they have relied on for personal use will be available in the office.

What is the main focus for your company this year?

We are executing on a simple strategy around convergence. Our clients need to provide staff with a robust and secure collaborative environment and give them the means to communicate in the way which best suits their situation.

This has an impact on the desktop and telephony environment, mobile devices, messaging services, videoconferencing and the network. Our clients also need to be able to manage it. We have gone to market with a suite of managed services to support and secure our clients' infrastructure.

What do you do when you are not at work?

When we had kids, my wife and I vowed that they would all play the same sport so we didn't have to spend all weekend ferrying them around. I now have three boys, who all play different sports, and we spend most weekends ferrying them around Melbourne. I travel a lot for work, so I really value the time I can spend at home.

I also have a consuming passion for woodwork. I have set up a well-equipped shop at home, and I like to spend a couple of hours each weekend making something - usually furniture. The kids often come in and help me, which is great.

Do you like gadgets?

I am a sucker for a new piece of technology. I love reading local and international technology gadget magazines, and sites such as Good Gear Guide. I had a lot of fun setting up and building a media centre at home. I am also a sucker for old woodworking tools - I am a big collector.

What did you want to be when you were younger?

A carpenter, but my father (who was a fitter and turner) convinced me to get a good education. He warned me how hard the work was, and how difficult it would be to make a living. The great thing is that carpentry is now my hobby and I find it really therapeutic.

What is your biggest ambition?

As a parent, to see my kids grow up to be happy, healthy and good people. As a sports fan, to see Carlton win the flag in the (very) near future. As a businessman, to see DiData continue to grow and be successful, and to be a strong and reputable business for the next 20 years at least.


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