Cornel Ung’s introduction to the Australian IT industry consisted of posting advertisements on the noticeboards of Sydney’s Macquarie University in the early 80’s.
He was 17, an immigrant from Macau (now part of China), and taking his first step on a path that would set him apart as an IT entrepreneur.
Like its peers ASI, Ipex, Paragon, Todaytech and others, the company Ung founded flourished during the rise of the white box personal computer and has now matured into a manufacturer that thrives on the endorsement of a plethora of government agencies.
Upon completing his university career - he studied computing science - Ung applied for a job as a computer salesman, only to be told that there were more opportunities afoot for people of his skills to start off their own reseller business.
In 1989, Ung established his first reseller business in West Ryde. The reseller changed its name to Optima the following year and moved into manufacturing computers.
In 1996, Optima took a giant leap, winning its first contract with the NSW Department of Education. The company has since won similar deals with school authorities in Queensland, Victoria and Tasmania.
The 2003 year will fondly be remembered by Ung as 12 months of success in the Government vertical. Optima won contracts with the Victorian Department of Education and Training, with the Department of Defence, with Queensland Education and with the Tasmanian government, to name a few.
“It has been a big year for Optima,” Ung said. “It was a big year for us in Canberra.”
Ung had set ambitious targets for the year – expecting growth in the order of 40 per cent. While these results are not yet finalised, Ung is becoming confident as the year draws to a close that the group will achieve at least 30 per cent growth, mostly on the back of government deals.
These deals, some of which totalled more than 20,000 PC’s at a time, gave Optima the mindshare - and Ung the impetus to consider revitalising the company’s channel model. In late 2003, he divulged his ambitions to ARN after appointing channel veteran, Michael Calculli, to make a play at the SME market.
“In the first seven or eight years of being in this industry, we were a reseller in the retail and SME market,” he said. “Now we are talking about expanding into that same market segment through our business partners.”
“We believe we will achieve a lot of growth with this strategy,” he said. “We have set very ambitious targets for the next six months.”
IDC statistics show that Optima held 2.4 per cent of the total PC market in Australia in the third quarter of 2003. This result is a substantial decline from the 4.1 and 5.6 per cent of market share the company captured in preceding quarters – but Ung explained that these figures in particular were inflated by the inclusion of the large government deals Optima won at the time.
With the effect of these deals taken out, he expectws that Optima would average 2.1 per cent of the market.
Ung predicted that this figure would double to 5 per cent within the next 12 months, as Optima made further inroads into the SMB and education markets.
The Optima brand name will be better recognised in the industry in 2004. The company will invest in advertising in print publications as well as radio advertising.
“We are working on sales and marketing programs at the moment,” Ung said. “But they have to stay a secret for now.”
Ung said that success in the retail channel depended largely on branding, but an understanding of customer requirements was much more important than brand.
His main ambition for 2004 was to seek out the support of metropolitan resellers to drive Optima’s growth.
The company also had further ambition for penetration into the mass merchant channel, but was keen to take a soft approach.
At present, Optima personal computers are sold in Dick Smith outlets.
“We are looking into [the mass merchant market] at the moment,” Ung said. “I don’t want to create too much competition between our partners so we need to be very careful. There are no plans in place but I would expect we would have more partners in the future.”
At the relatively young age of 40, Ung said that while he still drove product roadmaps and corporate objectives, the design of Optima’s products was now being managed by product managers in each of Optima’s categories.
Ung’s focus was to give the company corporate direction and to tend to the all important vendor relationships that had aided Optima’s acceptance in the market (certification with Intel and Microsoft).
“My passion, apart from the business, is my family,” he said. “I have two boys. I like golf too, if I ever get the time.”