Running a tight ship

Datacom's Clark Hobson on developing the company in Queensland and how he came to be a Sydney Swans supporter

What was the first job you ever had?

Getting up at four in the morning as a twelve-year-old to cycle into town and roll newspapers for a paper run. I did that for a couple of years before working in a service station at a time when you still had to pump the petrol, clean windscreens and put air in the tyres. When I left school I joined the Navy as a seaman officer.

What attracted you to a military career?

Growing up in a small North Queensland town it was a chance to get a university degree and move into the larger world with an attractive lifestyle. It's a reasonably risk-free environment with three meals a day and somewhere to sleep. I served for eight years.

What did you enjoy about it?

You get to do some pretty cool stuff like flying off the back of a ship in a helicopter and going down in a submarine. I was part of a two-man boarding party that arrested illegal fisherman off the north coast and I was only about 20 [years old] at the time. You are given a lot of responsibility at a young age.

Why did you leave?

We were doing a really arduous sea program at the time I decided to go. I wrote a resignation letter but held it until we completed the job so I could be sure it was for the right reasons. It was really about my future because I could see the lives of people around me who had been in longer and it wasn't for me. There was a degree of wanting to earn more money and also wanting more control. But if my son wanted to join up I wouldn't stop him. I still recommend it as a fantastic start to your working life.

How did you get into the IT industry?

I had a computer science degree but don't think that had a lot to do with it. I was moved to a shore base after resigning and, while I was there, we got our first computers. I was appointed as the IT manager, which effectively meant calling for external support when it was required. The Internet was still something you read about in Time magazine but the role got bigger over 18 months as we got more computers and that led to a job in the private sector with CSC.

How did you progress to your current position?

I did four years with CSC and learned a lot across project management before moving into a sales role, which gave me a real grounding in how sales worked. I then secured a job with Datacom Systems when the company first came to Australia. It had won a contract with P&O and needed a service delivery manager. It was hard work for the first 12 months, because we were setting up an outsourcing contract from scratch, but the business grew and I was able to ride the wave. I became general manager of service desk and technical support for NSW. When the opportunity to acquire NetOptions came up in Brisbane, I was in the due diligence team and was eventually asked if I would like to run it.

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How has the Queensland business developed during your time here?

Operating at arms length from the core business brings a different set of challenges. We had 46 people in Brisbane when I arrived and if you replicated that business today it would have less. We needed to be more efficient and grow new businesses. People questioned the wisdom of taking on two new beachheads, and perhaps they were right because it's been difficult, but I wanted three substantial businesses. By the beginning of the next financial year, [profits from] the services and bespoke software development businesses combined will be as big as the pure product sales business.

What can we expect to see in the next 12 months?

If I could have anything it would be a local datacentre, because managing datacentres is a core strength of Datacom across Australia and New Zealand, but there's a scarce supply of them in Queensland. The main focus will be on getting our services and software development businesses to a greater level of maturity with reliable, predictable and repeatable processes. We're getting there with a large part of the process pieces but there are always parts that need more work. It's the little extra things that a good services organisation does that you have to keep your attention on. What do you dislike most about the industry?

The scepticism that some customers have for providers in terms of your intentions. As a full-service IT company you want to see your customers be successful but some think you are just trying to sell them something. We are in it for the long haul and provide open-book pricing to customers with disclosed margins.

What do you do in your spare time?

Since my son was born three years ago a lot of my time is spent with him. My wife and I like to make a big effort keeping him entertained. My best friends are people I met in the Navy and I like to go south and visit them whenever I can. I also play a bit of golf - poorly - and support the Swans in the AFL.

How does a Queenslander end up supporting a Sydney team?

I took an interest in AFL when I was living in Sydney. My wife and I were members for 12 months and went along to all the games. It was not long after we were married so we were looking for something to do together.

Do you like gadgets?

No, I'm hopeless because I don't like taking the time to learn how to use something. I also like being able to go home and switch off. I can check my email online if I want to but if they were popping up all the time on a smartphone I'd let it take over my life.

What did you want to be when you were younger?

A pilot. I thought about joining the Air Force but even at 17 my eyes weren't good enough for that sort of thing. It would also have been great to be an engineer, because you can see exactly what you've achieved, but IT has a demonstrable value. A simple product sale isn't as exciting as a project where you are putting together different pieces of a puzzle.