A SUDDEN and unexpected meeting was to change the direction of the life and ambitions of Alan Sibley, the youthful manager of CompuServe Pacific. It wasn't a pleasant one, but then again a head-on confrontation with a tree rarely is.
In the short term, it forced him to spend some months in hospital. In the long term, it forced Sibley to rethink his future. Until that time, he had been working - intermittently - as a casual teacher with the Department of Education, following his graduation with a Diploma of Teaching. But the work was neither responsible nor guaranteed, and so upon his release from hospital Sibley entered the world of computing.
Starting with IBM, he proceeded to work in various roles - as an operator, a systems engineer and networking specialist.
"I realised the enormous challenge this fast-developing technology involved," he said. "I was then certain I had made the right change to meet that challenge."
Sibley then moved to Fujitsu Australia's head office in Chatswood, Sydney, where he worked his way from an initial start in the technical field to become the executive assistant to the managing director, Neville Roach. Then came his opportunity to hold new reins.
In April 1991 CompuServe Pacific, under the Fujitsu umbrella, was launched at Sydney's Powerhouse Museum, with Sibley as the manager. At the time there were strong beliefs that there was the need for a fully effective service company in Australia. In the short years that have followed that faith has been more than justified.
Today there are 35 people employed in the company, 22 in the consumer service group. Its stature has been marked by a growth from 700 user/members in the first year to over 30,000 today.
Like many other companies, CompuServe is a specialist company serving the growing number of home users and small businesses. Business people whose jobs involve considerable travel are also discovering the networking capabilities of CompuServe and its close operational ties with Internet.
"Today," said Sibley, "Our users can access over 150 countries. We are becoming an increasingly stronger consumer product, with major marketing outlets in all the Australian capital cities, and through direct involvement with single users."
CompuServe now also has offices operating in New Zealand, and is looking at expanding its sales in South-East Asia.
"We've already launched in Singapore, and further expansion into Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia and Brunei will follow," Sibley said. "We're also looking at a presence in India, but that will be further down the track."
One of the most dramatic developments that has contributed to CompuServe's success has been the introduction of the OzEmail Internet Access disk.
Through this, users can exchange e-mail with 20 million customers worldwide, download files from thousands of computers and log onto tens of thousands of host companies.
"Through our Passport software disk, CompuServe has an introductory offer which gives the user membership and our support services," Sibley says. "As well, the first five hours of usage are free, and the fee is waived. It has been increasingly accepted and used in Australia. It's a real milestone in our company's success."
Today, CompuServe is number one as an on-line service provider on a global basis, and is also the market leader in its field in Australia.
With what it has previously achieved, with what it can now offer, Sibley believes his company has an increasingly healthy growth period ahead.
To him, obviously, the sky (or a tree trunk) is NOT the limit!