There's an unexpected quality to Fiona Dicker, head of distributor Dicker Data and IT veteran of 22 years. It's a quality that could be associated with extreme sports personalities, not with the boss of a PC company.
It's a drive fuelled by an active determined spirit, as evidenced by revelations she has survived a high-speed car accident, bought a 43 foot Adam's yacht having only just completed an introductory sailing course and, despite being scared of heights, climbed a mountain.
`I guess I'm not sure I'll like sailing yet, although I think I will. I guess I'll find out.'
Spending serious money on a boat before you are sure you like the sport is an eccentric act and one might wonder how she has achieved business success despite this apparent irrational side to her personality. However, the success and the long-evity of her homegrown distribution business stands as a testimony to this woman's rationality.
Early in the conversation it becomes clear Fiona Dicker possesses a level business head and lives by the old-fashioned belief that honesty and hard work lead to success.
`I've always gone on my gut feel and stuck by my word. I used to work seven days a week for 17 years and although it was difficult and I didn't have a personal life, I loved it. I was completely dedicated. To cope I used to weight train for two hours a day, until I became pregnant. But now I really want to structure the business so I can take more time off. That means streamlining things and putting systems in place so I can take a month off a few times a year without the business suffering,' she said.
Part of the restructuring involves improving Dicker Data's three-year-old Web site. `Our site is not very good. We're building a completely new e-commerce solution. At the moment my staff are information givers as well as salespeople and that shouldn't be the case.'
The intended restructure will allow Fiona more time to spend with her son, now 20 months old, and her mountain-climbing second husband, Alex. More time means she can achieve some of her personal goals such as sailing around the world and learning to fly a plane. These goals are not clichs, nor are they empty dreams. Fiona appears to gravitate towards sporting activities involving risk, as she has already raced cars and completed the aforementioned ice mountain climb in Switzerland.
Such activities demonstrate she's a determined and tenacious woman and it's these qualities, coupled with a natural flair and love for business, that have underpinned her business success.
Her entry into PC distribution was not by design, however. When she met David Dicker, Fiona was a florist. Then, around 1978 and as the relationship blossomed, Fiona joined the Dicker family in their fabrication business.
`We were looking at using a PC to do the roof design. We went to the US to buy the application and Vector Graphics offered us the Australian distribution rights for their PC,' she said. Getting a sale was tough back then because it was more about selling the concept rather than a brand, Dicker explains.
Dicker Data faced a major hurdle during the mid-80s when IBM entered the PC market and Vector Graphics went broke. Responding to the challenge, the company modified its focus.
`David started an R&D division and I started importing clones from Taiwan which was hard because in those days the Taiwanese didn't support the products. We had to swap faulty product for good ones. We survived because we had a couple of good OEM contracts. And then later, we got the Toshiba distributorship, which is now 12 years old,' she said.
After sinking more than $3 million into the R&D division, the pair closed it down in the early 90s. The reality of manufacturing PCs didn't match the dream.
Dicker Data then started to concentrate solely on distribution. Although small in comparison to its competitors, the com-pany has support from big brand names Compaq, Toshiba and Epson. And this is so because time has shown that Dicker Data has a reasonable reputation and a solid dealer network in the small business market, Dicker said.
`We still deal with some of those small businesses we used to 22 years ago. Back then it was all about technology and we still maintain that product knowledge is the key to successful sales.'
David has since stepped back from the business but remains Fiona's partner in business but not in life. Fiona's role in the business hasn't changed much over time.
`I still do all the promotions and advertising, and I talk to all the customers. It's a hands-on role so I'm on the phones and I'm logged into the queue like everybody else. I do a bit of everything and if I have to I'll go out to the warehouse and pick and pack stock.'
Such an attitude has won respect and commitment from staff with most clocking up more than five years with the company. Fiona makes it easy for her mostly female crew to stay. With prams among the product boxes and a nursery upstairs, the company operates a family-friendly policy.
Is there life after Dicker Data for Fiona? `Absolutely,' she replied. Whether its selling up or stepping back from the hands-on role she plays, is as yet, the unwritten chapter of this IT veteran's life.