Sailing away with Sabre

Sailing away with Sabre

From Monday to Friday he's general manager of Sabre Pacific, an IT outsourcing company focused on the travel industry. But every Sunday, you'll find Col Poulter racing his `Tornado' catamaran on Botany Bay with his 16-year-old son, John.

`It gets the adrenalin pumping,' Poulter said. `It's an Olympic-class cat and it does about 33 knots (almost 70kmph) without an engine. We don't win very often, but we have a lot of fun.'

When it comes to his professional life however, Poulter is clearly on a winning streak.

He is relishing the challenges and opportunities at Sabre Pacific, since joining as general manager five months ago.

`I really love being a CEO,' Poulter said. `It's all about strategy and motivating people. It's about guidance and empowering people to really run the business themselves. I see my future continuing to be at the forefront of e-commerce and Internet technology.'

Sabre Pacific provides IT outsourcing to the travel industry, includ- ing online booking and distribution systems.

But Poulter actually started his career in engineering, moving to the IT industry just five years ago. As a civil engineer, Poulter was involved in building the coal loader at Port Kembla, several hospitals around the state including Sydney Hospital, and overseeing the redevelopment of Central Railway.

Poulter also designed and built his own earth- covered house in Bangor in Sydney's south.

`I've always done things differently,' Poulter said. `I like to think outside the square. It's an earth-covered house, literally underground with trees and bushes on the roof. It's cool in summer and warm in winter and when the bushfires hit I don't care. In 1994 my house copped a direct hit from a fireball and the house behind was burnt to the ground, but mine was fine. I lost the landscaping and the garden shed and I had to get the carpets steam cleaned and that was all.'

It was this ability to `think outside the square' and a sense of the growing importance of IT in the Australian economy that attracted Poulter to IT five years ago.

`I looked at Australia and its future and I saw three areas that would be important in the new millennium - information technology, finance, and tourism. With the building industry, things will always be built, but it's cyclic. I wanted to be part of the future of the country.'

Poulter's first IT job was at computer services and high-range server provider Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), which has since been purchased by Compaq.

`I started off by running a couple of big accounts, and by the time I left I was running NSW, as state manager. It was a terrific grounding. Five years ago the Internet was just starting and I was lucky enough to land in a company that was focused on it.'

The fast rate of change in IT over the last five years has worked in his favour, Poulter believes.

`I knew nothing about computers before I started at DEC. It was a huge learning curve, but it was fascinating. I loved every second of it. It was not that difficult because the technology was changing so fast that all I had to do was learn the new stuff. Everyone else knew the old stuff already, but they still had to learn the new stuff. It was a period of transition. It didn't take long before I knew as much about the new technology as anyone. The rate of change worked in my favour.'

When Compaq acquired DEC in mid-1998, Poulter decided to open his own consulting business, Exsight, focusing on sales and marketing strategy and major project work, in both the IT and building industries.

`I found it very different,' Poulter said. `It had great features. There was flexibility in what I did and who I worked for and I could dictate my own hours. The thing that wasn't as attrac-tive was the business development time. I had to spend two to three days a week keeping consulting work coming through the pipeline and the other three to four days delivering. It got to the stage where I had to either grow the company and put staff on, or get back into corporate life.'

Poulter had been running Exsight for 18 months when he was head hunted for the top position at Sabre Pacific. Exsight still exists, but is no longer active.

`I was asked if I was interested in running an IT company focused on the travel industry,' Poulter recalled. `The job entailed IT, finance and travel. It gave me an opportunity to do all at once.'

Sabre Pacific was founded in 1989 as a joint venture between Qantas, Australian Airlines, Ansett and Air New Zealand, originally to provide access to a global distribution system.

`Our focus has changed over the years. It was originally set up to put bums on seats in aeroplanes. Now we are focused more on consulting and services.'

A separate company to the US-based Sabre, Sabre Pacific holds the exclusive marketing rights for Sabre products in Australia, as well as working with partners to develop products locally.

Some of its major clients are Thomas Cook, Internet Travel Group, Carlson Wagonlit Travel, Traveland, STA Travel and Jetset.

`I'm motivated by success,' Poulter said. `I'm not happy unless the company is achieving. Our focus for the next three years is to be number one in market share, brand awareness, customer satisfaction and staff satisfaction.'

Poulter has never regretted his decision to move into IT. `I think this country has an amazing opportunity to become a leading innovator in the world. The result will be wealth creation for the whole country. I'm really pleased I made the change to the IT industry five years ago. It's been an exciting ride - almost as much adrenalin as Tornado racing and definitely as much fun!'

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