In the hot seat: Motoring up the distribution highway

What was your first job? Ken Lowe (KL): I graduated from university in China in 1987 with a major in Automatic Control. I became an engineer and was involved in automation project design and deployment in the first five-star hotel in that country. Back then, we had to design and craft the computer control system board from PCB level all the way through to the operating system by using Z80 CPU and Assemble System Language.

How did you end up in IT? KL: I grew up in the new personal computer era and built up computer software programming skills and hardware designing knowledge. I was trading and servicing computer systems such as IBM PCs and Apples to friends and businesses outside campus in my final year of uni. Working in the IT industry was a fashionable thing for young people at the time and became my obvious choice.

How did you progress to where you are today? KL: China in the late 1980s was limiting in regards to personal growth, so I came to Australia in 1990 as an international student and found a job as a technician at a computer retailer. While I improved my English, and studied at night, I also discovered how to source suppliers of all the components needed for a whitebox PC locally.

I then started a small business in 1991 called Beyond Computers with $US3000 worth of capital. I was still a full-time student then, so I had to close my shop at 5pm and rush to school every night until two years later when I was accepted as skilled migrant. The business expanded to three locations in Sydney and then to all other major capital cities on the east coast. Our locally assembled PCs won many awards in all major computer magazines in Australia.

Up until the mid-90s, the market had little focus on promoting branded components inside the whitebox chassis. In 1994, I decided to set up a new distribution division called BCN Technology to market branded components to the OEM whitebox segment. SuperMicro was the first kind of product vendor I picked up from US. Soon after, BCN became the first Australian foundation distributor for Goldstar, which later became LG. We also worked with Sony, Leadtek and VIA. I decided to focus just on distribution and rolled out the integration part of business. Today, BCN is one of the major distributors in Australia carrying components, multimedia, systems, servers, networking, embedded solutions and CE products.

What do you like about your current job? KL: I enjoy leading our company direction and achieving goals together with my fellow staff. The IT industry requires strong management skills and business knowledge, and the dynamic nature of the industry is really challenging. I am also happy to have had the chance to test and use the skills I've developed from my continued education in the past few years. I have an MBA degree from UTS and Master of Arts Degree in Business Research from Macquarie University. I am now in the middle of a Doctoral study and research (Doctor of Business Administration, MGSM).

What is the biggest achievement of your career to date? KL: Setting up the business with virtually no capital and growing it into a significant contender in today's distribution market.

What do you dislike most about the IT industry? KL: IT products have matured, particularly hardware, but there is little room for adding more value to the products today. This is allowing some non-educated industry players to sell these products with little strategy and a price-only focus. The Australian market is also limited by size. From time to time I'm jealous of players in larger economic countries, who can grow their businesses a lot bigger in a shorter timeframe. Some of them were my school mates at uni.

What do you think will be the 'next big thing' in the industry? KL: IT products are all about providing convenience and enjoyment for improving human life. Upcoming driving forces for the further growth of the industry will be things like home automation, 3D virtual imitation, merged VoIP/personal devices and CE products.

What is the main focus for your company this year? KL: We will look to improve our competitive competency and efficiency. Many organisations are choosing to bring in CRM and ERP as a silver bullet. As we did this five years' ago, it is time to further utilise our human resource assets to deliver lower costs of operation and higher business competitiveness.

What do you do when you are not at work? KL: I am a very sporty person and have played tennis for more then 20 years. I also started to play golf about three years ago. I am interested in reading and debating philosophy and history topics. Recently I've been spending more time with my wife and my lovely little boy (who is three months old).

Do you like gadgets? If so, what is your favourite at the moment? KL: I have a lot of fun with toys such as my home theatre and HiFi systems. Recently, I bought myself an EOS 20D digital camera to capture my son at play and I have an O2 XDA Atom PDA that allows me to take my office with me while I'm on the move.

What did you want to be when you were growing up? KL: I dreamt of becoming a product innovator. I clearly remember the happy moment when I wired up the first motor in motion, and soldered the first AM radio that made sound.

If you weren't in IT, what would you be doing now? KL: I'd possibly be in a management position within a multinational corporation.

What is your biggest ambition? KL: Building a successful business contributing to product innovation and improving human life.