Picking cherries

Picking cherries

Youssef Elrozz recently returned from a holiday in Lebanon where, at the airport, he was conscripted into the army . . . for about 90 seconds, before he bolted.

"I wasn't really scared because I knew I had more than $US25 in my pocket," said Elrozz with barely veiled humour. The deep respect he has for his parent's homeland doesn't seem to extend so far as to do a stint at bootcamp.

A week later, Elrozz left the country without incident; "We have a family friend in the consulate," he says as if the rest is self-explanatory.

Family is a high priority for Elrozz and a primary driver for his entry into the world of IT. Youssef confesses his involvement in technology was mostly recreational, dabbling in a friend's computer services company, Cherry Technology, where his younger brother was employed as a programmer and graphic designer. Youssef's interest in the company grew to usurp his economics and finance studies and, when his friend expressed an intention to sell the company, Youssef couldn't resist.

A small but established brand in Sydney's western suburbs, Cherry Technology found a prosperous niche in supplying Internet services, Web hosting, small business systems, hardware and software and support to local businesses and homeusers. What's more, Youssef was familiar with the company's client base and operations.

"[My brothers and I] knew Cherry Tech's customers and we had the skill sets between us to make it work, said Elrozz. "We did the figures and knew it was an incredible buy. We also knew that we could bundle its services and expand our clientele with some well-planned marketing initiatives."

The interview is interrupted by Elrozz's mobile phone, the third time in 10 minutes. He grimaces apologetically, it's something to do with his car, which he fondly refers to as "the other love in his life". He turns the phone off after taking the call but his eyes keep finding it on the table, like it hurts him to be out of touch. "It comes from being a chronic networker," says Youssef's close friend, Mustafa Assoum. "Youssef would never call himself an entrepreneur, but he's always been doggedly ambitious."

According to Elrozz, ambition is a trait that has helped him overcome perhaps the greatest challenge in taking over the Cherry Tech business - proving himself. He spent several weeks doing the rounds with customers, introducing himself and reassuring them that the company's services would continue uninterrupted.

"There were a lot of raised eyebrows about my age. To add injury to insult, I'm cursed with a baby face. I've had to win respect from a lot of people over the last few months, but to our credit we haven't lost a client," he laughs.

In fact, Cherry Tech has grown its client base 15 per cent in five months through sheer hard work and tight management, Elrozz says. In addition, it has attracted the eye of private investors who have bought with them significant business opportunities.

"Even if that process [of winning customers over] cost us a lot of time and a lot of money, in the end it is worth it because it's earned us a durable reputation. In our business that means a lot," explains Elrozz. "We wanted to ensure Cherry Tech had all the elements in place to grow without struggling or stalling at a crucial moment. We're aiming for controlled, balanced growth."

This doesn't mean that the Elrozz brothers haven't set their aspirations high. "I'd like to see Cherry Tech go national," admits Youssef. "We're in the process of solidifying the state-based customers so it's way off yet, but it's definitely on the map."CHERRY TAKES OFF1997 -- Carlo Dicello opens Cherry Technology.

1999 -- Youssef Elrozz finishes high school and enrolls in Finance, at the University of Newcastle.

2000 -- Youssef's brother finishes school and begins working with Dicello at Cherry Technology.

January 2001 -- Dicello puts Cherry Technology up for sale.

March 2001 -- The Elrozz brothers become the owners of Cherry Technology.

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