There aren't many IT jobs Sonnet's Baden Wright hasn't done but, as he tells ARN, he has a very clear vision of the future.
What was your first job?
Working for Brambles in a division called Enviroguard doing bioremediation. People spill stuff in the course of business and bioremediation is growing bugs in tanks of water to go and eat things like oil. They were looking for casual workers when I was leaving school and it paid really well. I did it on and off while I was at university.
How did you get into IT?
I had started a degree in building so I was messing around with auto CAD systems. I wanted to get a PC for home so I could do drawings on it and all of a sudden I found I was kind of good at configuring machines. Then I found myself doing it for everybody else in class at university and eventually swapped into IT. A double major in information systems computing gave me a fantastic grounding. My first IT job was working behind the counter for Carlingford Computers while I was at university. I was building systems and selling them, which developed into configuring networks for small businesses and it went from there.
How did you progress to where you are today?
I had spent about 18 months working in a bank doing systems management while I was at university and went straight into integration when I came out to chase the money. I worked for Grandmaster Computers in Artarmon, which became Australian Business Technologies (ABT).
They started moving into outsourcing and brought different people into the business that gave me another period of accelerated learning. I became operations manager before making a move into Telstra.
That was when Telstra was making its first moves into outsourcing and it won a gig to do the ABN Amro relocation from the NAB building on George Street [Sydney CBD] to the Renzo Piano building on Phillip Street. I signed on as the third project director and was the one who got it working. Then I moved over and did the Telstra outsourcing at Westpac, which included getting a new network up based on Cisco DPT technology.
I left Telstra for six months to do some performance management for Imperial Tobacco before moving back to do the outsourcing for Qantas. I worked on the bid team and did the transitioning of services. Once that was finished I went to Heather Tech and then AGM IT to re-hone my sales skills working with Steven Szigoszki and Frank Mulcahy.
After a stint there I decided to start my own company and had been watching this compliance stuff coming up. I started a company called Cyphertech with my business partner, Jonathon McQuade. We went into the certification market and did the Telstra Information Storage Solution (TISS). Then we did certification for about nine government departments and by this point we were very well rounded IT guys. Peter Stebbings was a mentor of mine and he would always talk to me about visible, repeatable processes.
Then Telstra went for the next round of Qantas outsourcing and I was the transition transformation executive. I became the general manager of desktop outsourcing for Kaz Group before deciding to go back to consulting. I had been looking for some time to get my own managed services business going. John [McQuade] and I decided it was the only way to get people to stick within the framework. That meant configuring devices, securing them, supplying service desk systems and everything. I joined Sonnet last September and took over the business in January.
What do you like most about your job today?
Being able to see through all the things I want to do. I can get the outcome that I want and that's really rewarding. Moving forward I want to be able to do a lot more of it. I want customers that don't feel threatened and are happy to get onboard with the systems.
What is the biggest achievement of your career to date?
The most testing time was acquiring Sonnet. Before that I would have said the ABN Amro relocation was a huge tick, and doing the Qantas outsourcing involved coordinating a massive amount of manpower, but taking over a business and running it end-to-end is totally different. When you make a decision to invest in something it is a serious decision.
What do you dislike most about the industry?
The way everything is over thought because it leads to ridiculously long sales cycles. People say they can't get good sales people anywhere but it is hardly surprising when you look at the lead time needed to do a deal and the level of pre-sales involvement and customer procrastination. That's where I see the advantages of managed services and hosted platforms because it removes that. We can provision service desk instantly once we have the user names and turn on a network management console in a week.
What is the main focus for Sonnet this year?
We want to pick up more solid managed services customers of the right size through channel partners. We would like another Jetstar or Alcatel but don't want to be out there doing the sales work. We are looking for somebody with that depth of relationship to join the dots with us and go into a proper business partnership.
What do you do away from work?
Skiing in the winter and free-diving in summer. I can hold my breath for a couple of minutes and get down to about 35m, which is kind of a long way down. I used to go spear-fishing with my dad as a kid. You start off shooting little fish and end up chasing after jewfish, big kingfish, tuna and all sorts of things in the Coral Sea. Free-diving is a very good form of relaxation because you need to lower your heart rate and get into the right mental space or you can't hold your breath for very long. It's a form of meditation. You can't be down there thinking about your cash flow. It's escapism and a few fish on the BBQ is always a good thing.
Have you had any near misses?
Yes. I started using a shark shield about four years ago, which is a device that transmits an electronic frequency to upset their receptors so they don't bite you. I'd had a small whaler shark latch onto one of my flippers and give me a bit of a shake. That was a clear enough message.
What did you want to be when you were a younger?
A builder, like my dad, because I loved the concept of getting an outcome. You start with a hole in the ground and end up with a great house.
What is your biggest ambition?
Driving this business to success, which I'm pretty blinkered about, and being happy.