MTD's Les Jessop talks to ARN
What was your first job?
Trainee sales rep for a family owned business called Radioparts in Melbourne. I was in electronics sales and did that for nine years. That was in the days of valves, tubes and CB radio.
How did you end up in the IT industry?
I moved to a company called Systems Reliability. The business had a spare parts division, Sycom, and I was employed in IT sales. I worked there for nine years and became the national sales manager. The entire Systems Reliability business was sold to Remington Pitney Bowes in 1988.
How did you progress to where you are today?
Pitney Bowes didn't see any need for IT-related products, so they retrenched all the sales staff from Sycom. At that point, my former boss, Peter Woerndle, and I founded MTD. In those days it was called Magnafield. We had 35 staff and were national. We realised the IT industry was changing rapidly and there were a lot of Web-based firms, so we cut business back to Melbourne and changed our focus to do more ecommerce in order to be more profitable.
Five years ago, we sold the business to publicly-listed Multiemedia. I stayed on and my partner (Woerndle) retired. Earlier this year, a consortium bought MTD. They plan on restoring the business back to a national distribution company with offices in all states. I see exciting times ahead.
What do you like about your current job?
It's an ever-changing market; nothing ever stays still. The recent changes to our business will allow me to seek more product lines from overseas and make the company more profitable.
What is the biggest achievement of your career?
It would have to be seeing the original Magnafield business grow from zero to a turnover of $2 million within a year. This was done with just four people.
What do you dislike most about the IT industry?
The lack of margin and over distribution. Excessive competition results in a lack of margin, which then forces you to look for new products from overseas. It affects your direct relationships as you're unable to just concentrate on a few brands.
What will be the 'next big thing' in the industry?
I think the next product area will be all-in-one computers, featuring an LCD TV and PC. The first to get these products will make good inroads into the media centre market. We have samples coming in shortly but unfortunately we might just miss the Christmas period. The other thing is digital photo frames. They can rotate photos stored on a disk.
What is the main focus for your company this year?
To get MTD back to its former glory by growing the business through acquisition and building vendor relationships. We want to go to Sydney, Brisbane and Perth. We won't open in Tasmania. We won't touch New Zealand unless there's an opportunity for an acquisition. I would like to go back to managing 50-100 people and kick a few arses. Our industry is being dictated to by the big companies.
What do you do when you are not at work?
I like a bit of sport, particularly golf. I am also team manager for my son's Aussie Rules football team and on the school board of my son's basketball team.
Do you like gadgets?
If I take a fancy to a new gadget I will test it, but usually I let someone else do the evaluation. Then I do the necessary bargaining and bartering for a good price.
What did you want to be when you were younger?
I always wanted to be a salesman. When I finished school I felt confident talking to people. In this market, if you don't have the gift of being able to talk to people it's quite tricky. But if I had concentrated on it, maybe I could have been a reasonable golfer. I got my handicap down to three when I was 18.
What is your biggest ambition?
I have a wife, a boy and a girl. I want to make life easy for them and ensure we're comfortable. My second ambition is to make sure our staff are happy. If everybody is in a good frame of mind the business works.