Accounting for the IT passion

Accounting for the IT passion

Born in Poland, Mark Davis immigrated to Australia with his family as an 11-year-old, starting school without being able to speak any English.

"For three months before we got to Australia we had no idea where in the world we were going to - [the] US, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa or Australia," Davis says.

After a short time in a country town, the family moved to Adelaide. "It was pretty much around then that I fell in love with technology," he says. "At school, I was going to the computing room and spending a lot of time [there] - rather than playing sport, I was playing on computers."

But the tinkering paid off, with Davis winning a software competition while still a student. And it was an interest which turned into more than just a school project.

"I convinced my parents to buy me [my] first computer about two years after we got to Australia, arguing it would be great for all of us - myself and my three sisters." But Davis admits that he "hogged it" and the computer quickly migrated from the family rumpus room to his bedroom.

When he reached Year 12, having done well academically, Davis needed to decide on a career. "At that stage I was spending a lot of time on computers, but my parents, being from a European background, looked at me and said ‘Mark, are you going to stop wasting your time on computers and get a real job'?"

His parents thought computers would "come and go" and suggested their son study accountancy and commerce at the University of Adelaide. "I did enjoy it, but whatever technology subject was available through the commerce stream I did and actually ended up doing the technology homework for lots of my friends because, for me, it was fun, whereas for them it was a pain."

After graduating with a Bachelor of Commerce and becoming an accountant, Davis was appointed financial controller in a company which managed five other companies. He says that, to his surprise, on the first day he was asked to set up an accounting system for the organisation. Davis was given free rein to implement the entire IT network with his choice of software, and full power of designing the accounting and costing processes just the way he wanted them. "I worked very very long hours, but it didn't seem like working." He says it always made him wonder why someone was paying him what was quite a reasonable salary for a graduate to do what he enjoyed.

From there he went on to work at a confectionery manufacturing company. Again, he was hired in an accountancy role and ended up working with the technology.

After carrying out a few more jobs around Adelaide as an accountant, Davis decided to take the plunge and set up a software company with school friend James Smith. "We'd been friends since I came to Australia pretty much." By that stage, Smith was living in Melbourne, but the pair teamed up, seeing a niche in providing services to companies that didn't have the skills they were offering on their payroll fulltime.

Smith moved back to Adelaide and Davis quit his job, "which was another big no-no in my parents' books". The company was called Ready to Implement and carried out contracts around the city, working for different companies on different days, a period which Davis describes as "exciting".

From there an opportunity arose for Davis to work with accountancy firm Perks and Associates to help the company sell its services more effectively. In 1996, Perks Business Technology (a separate company from Perks and Associates) was set up by Davis and Greg Perks, developing the client needs analysis software Focus for Results (FFR), which became an instant hit with a number of accountants around the city.

Sales grew quickly and Davis says they discovered there was money to be made in the software. They identified the need to find channels to sell its product worldwide, citing that it was one thing to sell 15 copies and another to make a business out of it.

So Davis went on the road and identified vendors in professions such as accountancy, law and financial planning, and the company developed different versions of its system for each professional group.

"To our surprise we've done well," he says. Asked by ARN why this surprises him, Davis says it's because they "never set out to conquer the world".

Perks Business Technology appointed two major distributors with international distribution presences. In addition, it has a number of other distributors and Davis says this allowed the software to be sold much more effectively than on a one-to-one basis. "All of a sudden I was going to a meeting not to sell one system, but to sell 500 systems. It was such an adrenalin rush."

Davis says on a daily basis he found himself talking to senior figures in large businesses - people who were a lot older and running multimillion-dollar companies. "It was a tremendous experience," he says, describing selling overseas, in countries such as the US, UK, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa, as "a big lesson". He likens it to cold calling, but rather than selling one system, you're trying to sell 500 systems.

Now Davis can't imagine not working in IT. "I'm lucky now that I'm financially secure," he says. "I do it because every morning is a brand new, exciting day." This now gives Davis time to focus on other interests.

Davis has also found a new challenge since meeting Netline Technologies founder and CEO Mark Fortunatow.

He says he hadn't been looking for an opportunity, but had seen the advertising for E-Fone on buses and was intrigued. After speaking with Fortunatow, Davis was convinced the role provided him with the type of challenge he enjoys.

Davis says he was attracted by the product which Netline produces - E-Fone, an e-mail-by-phone solution.

He seems to be relishing the challenges that working with a new company and product present. He says sometimes he gets up at 6am, having had only six hours sleep. "But it's something new."

And it's a role in which his experience in setting up channels with his own company can be utilised: Netline is also recruiting distributors and looking for the extended market reach the channel can provide.

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