If luck is the universal currency for a traveller I was beginning to think if I didn’t have bad luck, I’d have no luck at all. A tyre had blown on the Kombi just outside the picturesque town of Bega on NSW’s south coast. Still there are worse places to be broken down in, anywhere in the Northern Territory springs to mind, and besides it gave me a good chance to catch up with former Kombi owner and long time traveller, Alan Morgan.
Sitting in the Commercial Hotel, over a beer, I remember what struck me about Alan the first time we met in his long serving computer reselling business, The Logic Centre. The retail computer and support centre has become an institution of sorts, over the past 20 years in a town better known for its cheese factory.
In fact it was in Bega, where Alan was born and raised, that he and programmer Murray Hopkins first planted the seed of what was to become a forerunner to enterprise resource planning (ERP) software for the cattle industry and a great little Aussie success story .
Alan’s story is an interesting one. At 18 he was certain life began as soon as he could get out of the small town and into the city. And in many ways it did, but as Alan would attest, luck played a large hand in how things turned out.
“Looking back choosing accountancy was the best decision I could have made,” he said. “With a background in accounting no business you own should ever fail.”
Alan’s initial taste for IT came when working for Computer Accounting Services (CAS), a large bureau service in Sydney. This led to a high profile job in the UK.
It was the late ‘60s early ‘70s and Alan chose to take the long trip overland, via Kathmandu. “It was a wonderful experience and it was during a time when you could actually travel that way,” he said. ”It took months and that’s where I really got the desire to travel.”
Seven years on and Alan, with new bride in tow, had covered the majority of Europe and North and South America.
The idea then was to buy a 100 acres somewhere and eventually become self sufficient. Together they had traveled to 70-odd countries and were looking for a place to call home.
“But every country we’d been to either the climate wasn’t right, the political situation was unstable, or there was the language barrier. In the end I said ‘Why don’t we settle down on the south coast of NSW where I grew up?’”
Alan became the group accountant for Bega Co-Operative Creamery, as it was known then, and it wasn’t long before he saw a way to migrate massive hand-drawn spreadsheets to computers. He left to pursue the opportunity with programmer Murray Hopkins and Ag-Vantage was born.
In 1983 he set up The Logic Centre with a retail shopfront selling early model NEC and Commodore computers and a programming workshop out the back. By the mid-1980’s Ag-Vantage Dairy and subsequent variations Ag-Vantage Beef and Ag-Vantage Stud had won several industry awards.
The Logic Centre was growing rapidly with software sales to New Zealand, the UK, US and Arab countries (for camel breeding). The genius of the program enabled companies like Bega Cheese, a co-op of 117 local farmers, to track and manipulate changes to production quantities, planning and confirmation of orders, breeding lines and cost structures electronically.
Alan remembers fondly a time when the PC market boomed and the software business grew rapidly but it is one he has no desire to revisit. In the mid-1990s, at the height of the last big drought, the wheels began to fall off. Commercialisation began to grip the PC sector at the same time as the beef market dropped through the floor.
Alan and Murray decided to split the business. Murray persevered with Ag-Vantage and later sold it to Armidale University, which incorporated the code into its own breeding program software around 1996.
“I don’t want to get big again,” he tells me. “The business now is enough to sustain me indefinitely.”
Nowadays, Alan has little to trouble him besides the odd gripe over what he sees as Microsoft’s over-inflated price for retail software — “all it does is encourage piracy” he’ll thunder away — and plans to stick around in the IT industry “so long as I’m still enjoying it”.