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Surviving 15 years in IT

Surviving 15 years in IT

After spending most of his career in large multinational organisations, Raj Sharma decided to start-up his own small computer services business, Pentaq, 15 years ago. He’d already been general manager of distribution organisation, Tech Pacific, in Hong Kong as well as the director of its Asia-based offices, and spent some time with NEC Corporation in the 1980s. Pentaq has since expanded into PC assembly, technical services and software development. Sharma spoke to ARN about the advantages and challenges of running your own business, adapting to change and moving into the Indian market.

Raj Sharma

Raj Sharma

What does Pentaq do and how long has the company been around?

We decided we wouldn’t be a distribution business when we first set up our office in Moorebank, Sydney in 1992. We didn’t want to be a bulk, high volume and high turnover business, we wanted to be an IT partner for businesses. That has meant being technology neutral whatever comes in.

I came from a large distribution multinational to a small business environment. When you’re a small business yourself, selling to other small businesses requires a different skills set. It was much harder than I thought it was going to be. We started off providing very basic user-level support and evolved from there.

How have you adapted to change over the years?

We have become a more service-oriented company to a lot of our regular customers. More business is being done online and we’re providing more technical support. At one stage, we shipped between 50 and 60 PC units a month, but now our hardware sales are down to about 20 per cent of volume. In the last five years, we’ve been working with some software developers and we’ve developed what I call a mini-ERP solution. The platform is browser-based and uses standard technology. The whole ERP concept is the next step for the business.

How have you seen the IT industry evolve over the last 15 years?

Customers are getting smarter. Part of the reason is they’ve had three or four goes at trying to do their own thing and have learnt the value of a real partner in business, instead of just going to Dell for the best price and then seeing if we can match it. When it comes to buying a PC or a laptop, the SMB customer wants to get intimately involved, but they still know what the last catalogue price was. Recently, it’s been very hard to get people to invest in their business systems and equipment because they’re too busy investing in other areas, like real estate. It’s probably making them wealthy asset-wise, but it isn’t actually investing in their own business.

In 1995, I started thinking about how we were going to take the business to the next level. There was a PC company called Hypertec with a PC assembly plant, which I thought was beneficial. They had fantastic manufacturing equipment and a fully automated assembly plant, so I bought it. I went under the assumption that we could build for other PC assembling companies, and one of my first visitors was Cornel Ung [founder of Optima]. We eventually became the Tech Pacific reconfiguration centre and ran that for two years. That plant is still with us and we’re actually thinking of relocating it to India where the government is promoting foreign companies to set-up technology centres. We don’t want to create a brand of PCs to sell, we’ll be happy to configure them for anyone in the reseller market.


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