Singing a new tune

Singing a new tune

ASI Solutions' Maree Lowe talks to ARN about the company's heritage, what it's like to be a woman in IT, and how the business is growing its scope to take advantage of new technology trends.

What was your first job?
My first job was as a car detailer while at university studying teaching. I then taught english and history for five years at Enmore Boys High School.

How did you end up in the IT industry?
My husband Ken was on the science team at the same high school I was teaching at. He moved to another school and somebody there got him interested in computers. In those days, schools were dominated by Apple. We decided to start our own IT business, ASI Solutions. Ken would meet up with resellers after school and talk about technology and we developed good relationships with a number of local shops. We ran the business from home for two years distributing computers, components, Taxan monitors and Adaptec. I looked after two kids, took orders during the day and drove around in my station wagon doing deliveries. Probably the most embarrassing moments were when we had some managing director or big company come from overseas to our house, which started looking like a warehouse before we moved into our first office in Ultimo.

What do you like about your current job?
I enjoy working with a bunch of young people - it keeps you on your toes and they have good ideas. For a manager, I think it's great to let younger staff step up a peg. The worst part is that I'm getting older. I don't know what I'm going to do about that.

What is the biggest achievement of your career?
On a personal level, the biggest achievement is to have worked with my husband for over 30 years on a full-time basis. I've got four kids and have worked full-time for 22 years. It is a challenge and it has made me pretty tough. I think that is why I have survived in the industry. Growing the company from nothing to 60 million services and having good staff has been really important.

In 1999 I won a Telstra Business Award and the Westpac Business Owner award in NSW. This wasn't just important because it was an award, it said we must be doing something right. I've also done things outside of IT: I am the only woman on the Telstra Stadium Club board, which allows me to deal with people outside of IT and at a senior board level. Because of that, I've also been involved with the state government board for six years. I'm also on the NSW AIIA board, and the ACS has asked me to speak at 'women in business' functions.

What it is like being a woman in a male dominated industry?
I have been in it for so long, I get a lot of respect. I think the industry has huge potential, but women, unfortunately, are not going into IT because there is more money elsewhere. In the early days it was difficult because I wasn't as wise, but I have learnt to listen. The clever people are ones that listen first, and then talk.

What do you dislike about the IT industry?
I am a great believer in ethics and work hard, play hard. There are a few people in this industry that need to look at their ethics. The tone of the organisation is always set by management. You need a sense of ethics because a bad reputation will stick for a long time.

Another key is longevity of relationships - everybody makes a mistake, but having a good relationship with a vendor helps you work through issues. It is ridiculous to think there are never going to be issues - you have to realise vendors are in a certain position and have targets to make.

What is the next big thing in industry?
It is very hard to pin down one thing. We are about to set up a datacentre, which is a new area for us. I think we are going to see enormous growth in datacentre-based services. Customers have increased storage needs and the electronic data we build up is going to be phenomenal. The ASP model was introduced back in 2000 and didn't take off, but I think we're going to see lots of new software solutions, which could be housed in a datacentre where people pay per user.

What is the main focus for ASI this year?
It is managed services into the corporate space. Medium enterprise is our target market and we are also focusing heavily on the datacentre, as well as remote delivery.

What do you when you are not at work?
I have a boat and I escape on that. I like to get out on the water as well as travel.

Have you travelled to any interesting places?
I love China. Unfortunately, most of ASI's business has been based in America and Asia-Pacific so I tend to travel around there. I would like to go to South America, Alaska and Antarctica. I've been to lots of interesting places and they were all good for different reasons. But I don't take long holidays; I can't remember the last time I had four weeks off.

Do you like gadgets?
I do but only those that can connect to the business: things like a Blackberry and notebooks. I get frustrated when I go into a room and there is no wireless, but in saying that it took me ages to get wireless at home because I was never home for anybody to do it.

What did you want to be when you were younger?
There were two things - one I have done and the other I haven't. I wanted to be a singer, but not just any singer; I wanted to be a famous one. While studying, I went to the Conservatorium of Music and did three years opera training. I sang in the chorus at the Opera House part-time. I then got involved in the ASI business and teaching, so music became secondary. I also sang in clubs for about four years and was a back-up singer to Frank Ifield, Reg Varney and Martin St James. I was the girl that would come out and for sing for half an hour that nobody probably wanted to hear.

The other thing I wanted to do was get into politics but there isn't much time left to achieve that one.

What is your biggest ambition?
To grow ASI into something much bigger. We need to keep delivering what we are doing now to existing and new customers and make sure we don't drop the ball.

A personal ambition is to have a four week holiday and not think about IT. I wouldn't mind going to a Greek island. I would also still like to give politics a shot. You can't do that and work, but I could get involved locally.

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