Marriage is a challenging enough institution in its own right for many couples to keep on the rails. So you would think the extra burden of running a national IT services and distribution business together would quickly send you over the edge.
But maintaining both successfully and harmoniously is just what Ken and Maree Lowe have managed to do. The pair met as school teachers (Maree taught english, Ken was a science professor) at a Greek high school in Sydney’s inner west, got married, and proceeded to build one of Australia’s most iconic IT businesses, ASI Solutions.
As recognition of their contribution to the IT industry, the pair were inducted into the ARN Hall of Fame for 2009.
In the beginning
“I’d been a teacher for about five years at an all-boys school when this spunky Greek teacher joined the school. That was my first introduction to Miss Anabelle,” Ken recalled. “I took her to swimming classes with the year sevens when Maree was a first-year out teacher. It came to the second session where we had to do mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, so I pulled Miss Anabelle out of the crowd to demonstrate.
“She wouldn’t talk to me for 12 months after that.”
Slowly but surely, the pair saw more of each other. They eventually married during a backpacking trip through Asia by a local catholic priest in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. After returning to Sydney, Ken moved to a school in South Sydney and became friends with the maths master, who turned into his first business partner for computing venture, Mixed Microbits, in 1980.
“I ended up getting involved in a lot of the early computerisation of the school and was teaching people how to use word processors and databases using Apple II machines,” Ken said.
“Prior to that, in 1979, I did some development work with another teacher on what’s called a CompuTimer, a device that plugged into the gaming port and was used in physics experiments. When you dropped things, it would actually measure the light going through it by acceleration, and would plot that out.”
Trading under the name Educational Computer Aids, the duo sold 400-500 CompuTimers to NSW Department of Education and progressed from there. In 1985, they disbanded the company and Ken took over the importing and wholesale business. In the meantime, Maree completed a degree at the Conservatorium of Music and performed with the Sydney Opera for three years. Anabelle Bits, the official trading name for ASI Solutions, was established in 1985.
“Maree had come out of the Conservatorium and still wanted to sing, so she took the stage name Maree Anabelle and was performing the clubs circuit. We had Mixed Microbits on one side, Anabelle over here, so we called the company Anabelle Bits,” Ken said. “Maree would deliver during the day with the two kids while I was still working at the school.”
Shortly afterwards, Ken resigned from teaching to pursue the business full-time, importing components and systems from Taiwanese-based Aquarius Incorporated – which is where the name ASI Solutions came from. Maree put their success in the early days down to supporting IBM, rather than the commonly used Apple machines.