Laurie Sellers, chief executive of distributor Alstom Information Technology (Alstom IT), has a long history in the IT industry. Vivienne Fisher spoke with him about his career and how he has watched the industry evolveYou can still detect an English accent when you speak to Laurie Sellers, who was born in Leeds in the UK's Yorkshire county.
Sellers first became interested in the computer industry while he was working in office equipment sales in the early 70s. "A number of my colleagues were going into the IT industry at the time to sell computers," Sellers said.
He didn't follow immediately in their footsteps, instead first spending a couple of years selling cars. "But then I realised that it wasn't going to go anywhere and I began looking for a way into computing; my initial interest was a technical one," he said. After discovering that he could retrain as a computer engineer, Sellers completed a six-month computer engineering course in London in 1975.
He said it was the electronics, and also the logic, which appealed to him.
Sellers agrees that starting in the industry early gave him the advantage of gaining a broad range of experience. In the early days of his career, he worked on fault finding down to component level. "You used to get a logic diagram out on the table and actually follow the signals through the computer circuit on a logic diagram," he described.
"It was most satisfying to follow a problem through and actually find the single component that was causing the problem, replace it with a new one and have the whole thing suddenly burst back into life again."As well as engineering, Sellers has also spent time working in development, marketing and management in the IT industry.
In 1981 Sellers and his wife decided to emigrate to Australia. Sellers said they arrived "literally with two suitcases . . . and no job, nowhere to live".
"We got an apartment very quickly and then I just started to scour the newspapers and contact people. In a couple of weeks I had this job offer on the table with ICL."First employed as a customer service manager, within a year he was promoted to NSW support manager. This was followed by a three-year stint back in England from 1984, working out of ICL's London office managing software development.
After returning to Australia in 1987, Sellers became a customer services and marketing manager for ICL, before moving back into a more sales-oriented role.
It's a move Sellers is glad he made, saying he enjoys the sales environment.
"It was enjoyable and particularly at the time, in the 80s, you could make a lot of money selling computers.""I'd worked in various aspects [of the industry], from the nitty-gritty of the engineering through to marketing of computers and that helped me enormously when selling." He was part of the government sales team, selling into Federal, state and local government, and stayed in the role for about six years.
Then in 1993, Sellers was approached by GEC Alsthom to take over the running of its NSW branch.
Sellers' experience in distribution has stemmed from his involvement with GEC Alsthom's distribution company, i.t.connXions. "Digital was looking to appoint distributors around the world and we put a business plan forward to take on the distribution for Australia, and it was accepted," Sellers said. "I was very close to all of that and I could see it was going to be a big opportunity." At the same time, the position of running i.t.connXions was vacant, so Sellers asked for a transfer to take over and introduce the Digital distribution.
For about five years Sellers said he "steered the progress of i.t.connXions", during which time its annual turnover of $5 million grew to about $60 million.
Shortly after the company floated on the London, Paris and New York stock exchanges, it changed its name from GEC Alsthom to Alstom IT. "All the divisions around the world were asked to adopt worldwide naming standards, so we stopped trading as i.t.conn Xions . . . and adopted the name Alstom Information Technology instead," Sellers said.
His involvement in the company has continued, with Sellers taking on the role of chief executive in 1998.
Just as Sellers' roles in the IT industry have changed, so has the industry around him. Sellers says the distribution market has altered "tremendously" during the time he has been working in it. "The margins on hardware have become much more difficult, it's become far more competitive," he said.
These changes left distributors with a choice of which route to take, with Alstom IT opting for an approach which sees them distribute solutions with a hardware and software component.
"We're trying to be the distributor of technology that enables complete solutions end-to-end," he said.
Sellers said it was very exciting and very satisfying to have been involved [in the industry] since the early days. "We've managed to build an excellent team of people. "Many of them have been here as long as I have." Sellers said his personal goals for the future included seeing the company continue to grow, and steering it through the latest changes, such as e-business solutions and training.