Legends of Tech
A weekly podcast where Chris Georgellis, on the Customer Development Team, interviews people across the tech industry. From veterans, to hall of famers, day to day tech industry people as well up and comers. Get to know them as individuals, find out what drives them, how they got into tech, and what they see now.
Hello everybody and welcome to the Legends of Tech on CFTV. Today we are joined by an absolute legend himself.
He's a Hall of Famer inductee. He's a mad advocate. He's a great swimmer.
He's a country boy who became a business guru. He went from an engineer to a CEO.
He's a Tragic Dragon supporter as well and an overall good guy. Please welcome Ian Poole.
Yeah, thank you and great introduction.
I don't know whether I can actually, make up for all the great words you've said about me.
But look, thanks. It's great to join in and yeah, great to talk to everybody today.
I appreciate it. Look, thanks for your time today.
I really appreciate it. We're just reading out all those things about you.
It brings a big smile to my face. The dragons part though, we're struggling in that sort of sense, but I'm not going to take the conversation into that pit right now, but we can definitely talk about it later on if we want to.
Well, I think we'd probably make a pretty good job.
It's maybe a better job than the current people here at the Dragon.
So yeah, we can talk about it. Spot on. Ian, looking at your background and seeing where you've come from, the thing I'm always curious of, how did you get into tech and what motivated you to start getting into that industry?
Yeah, well, I mean, when I first started out, there was probably no such thing as tech.
I sort of went to school in the 70s and back in those days, we did have computers at school, but I went to a fairly small school in the country.
So tech probably wasn't as it is today. It wasn't called IT.
It was probably more telecommunications in my days, but I was always very, very interested in technology.
I mainly stem from my family. My dad had an electrical retailing business in the country, very small town, about 3,000 people, or it was a lot less than, probably only 2,000 then.
He basically, in electrical retailing, sold anything from fridges to washing machines, to TVs, to radios, to records, all that sort of stuff.
I was always part of the business.
I mean, it was there from when I was basically born, so I was brought up in it.
I used to go up and work on weekends and whatever. In those small country towns, you had to actually sell as well as service.
You had to sell the service what you sold because there was no other place that could fix things.
It's unlike today where you throw a TV or whatever out.
In those days, you had to fix them because they were so expensive.
There was a service department there in the shop, and there was also obviously sales.
My dad did all the selling. I used to always go up on weekends or during the week after school and love to inquire about fixing things.
In the early days, it was valves, and then later on, it was integrated circuits and transistors and stuff.
I used to go out with the TV mechanics, the washing machine mechanics.
I used to fix steam alarms. I used to fix TVs, all that stuff. I was always interested in that sort of stuff.
When I finished my schooling up there, I thought, gee, what do I want to do?
Being in a small country town, the most important thing to do is to get out.
I think everybody in country towns either stay there and work in your father's business or you get out.
I wanted to get out, but I didn't really know what I wanted to do, basically.
That's really where it started.
That's where the interest started anyway. Fantastic. Sorry, mate.
Just give me one sec. That's fantastic. Tinkering, back then, it was all electronics.
What did you actually go off and study when you left the town? What did you end up doing?
Interestingly enough, I didn't really know what I wanted to do.
I had a mum that all she wanted to do was to get me out of a country town and say, you can do better than that.
She probably had more confidence in me than what I had, basically.
She said, look, you should go out and you should study engineering. I didn't even know what engineering was in those days.
Interestingly enough, there was no vocational guidance that you have now at schools.
The schools now are fantastic.
They've got people that will be offering you career advice and all sorts of things.
In those days, there wasn't any of that. I probably did what a lot of young boys do is they listen to their mother and say, okay, I'll go ahead and do it, study engineering.
That's really where it got to and why I did electrical engineering was because I was interested in electrical stuff, but there was no such thing as IT degrees or comms degrees or anything like that.
Little did I know how tough it was.
I learned that the hard way, but I think in hindsight, maybe I probably wouldn't have done it if I had my way now, but that's really how I did it.
I searched around and thought, well, yep, this is what I'm going to do.
I'm going to do an engineering degree.
I thought the best thing to do would be to try and learn on the job, learn from stuff, learn in business.
I was able to secure a traineeship, which in those days was pretty hard to get to because it was in the mid-70s and the economy wasn't all that good just after the Whitlam years.
I was lucky enough to get a traineeship down here in Sydney.
That traineeship, the company sent me through to university for a part-time degree.
Fantastic. What was your first job?
Which company gave you, I guess, your opportunity to become a trainee and work for them?
A company called AWA. I worked for AWA in what they called the engineering products in those days.
I had a six-year traineeship. Unfortunately, I don't offer them today in a lot of companies.
I tried to do it a couple of times, tried to get it started in particularly my intech days and also the UXC days to try and stimulate that sort of stuff.
It's really fantastic. I had an opportunity of working for six years with this company.
Every three months, they'd send me to a different location.
I was learning and working alongside design engineers, probably some of the best in Australia in those days.
That was really my first job, basically.
I was designing optical fibre systems, microchips.
I worked in a microchip factory, the only one in Australia in those days.
I was also designing single -mode and multimode fibre systems, which I think was the only fibre manufacturing plant in Australia at that time.
I was also working in the defence area for AWA.
AWA had lots and lots of great defence projects going on with the government.
I think they were one of the major ones. I had defence clearance when I was young and working on projects that I look back today and I think, wow, Australian technology was just fantastic in those days.
Unfortunately, looking back on it too, a lot of that technology in those days was escaped over the US because we weren't funding it correctly here in Australia, which I think we're getting better at doing now, particularly with some of the start-ups that are happening.
That was my first job and I worked for that company for six years.
That's amazing. You started off as an engineer. You loved getting your hands on.
What spurred you to move into the business side and how did you make that transition from being a tech hands-on into a business function?
It's a good question, Chris, because in a lot of cases, you don't know what you don't know.
I think in those early days, I didn't really know what I wanted to do.
If I think back now, the big thing that drove me is I had a love of business.
I always did have a love of business.
I think it probably stemmed from being brought up in my dad's business.
I understood the importance of cash. I understood the most important thing about selling.
In those early days, I understood also that technology was important and being technical was important, but I also realised the importance of selling.
Selling is always, and it has been for me, the most important part of running a business because that's what you're doing.
Selling and communicating all the time.
When I was first going through my head and I was doing all the engineering stuff, I thought, what am I going to do?
I think the thing that drove me more than anything was just the love and the passion that I had for communicating, for relationships and also for selling.
It was always something that was inside me.
In that early stage, I also realised that engineering was important because it was training me to do things.
As an engineer, as you know, being an engineer yourself, you do understand the importance of following processes and solving problems.
I think on that hand, it was great being a technologist and being an engineer, but I realised very quickly I had to run a business.
At that point in time, I had a great opportunity to go and work in North America.
It was in the 80s. That probably was the one thing that drove me away from technology when I was over there.
Not from driving away from technology, I saw what technology could do, but it probably drove me more down the business and marketing side.
Where did you go when you went to America? I was very lucky in the fact that...
I'll use the word luck a lot because in my life, I would say just about everything's been lucky for me.
Luck plays a very important part. Sure, you can be in the right place at the right time, but I still think that luck's so critical in the way things are.
You can position yourself to take advantage of luck, I guess, but if things don't fall in the right way, you can't take advantage of it.
I was very lucky.
The same company, AWA, was entering an agreement with Northern Telecom in those days, or later called Nortel.
It doesn't exist anymore, unfortunately. Canadian company.
They were bringing Nortel products into Australia on the telecommunications side.
They approached me and said, look, would you like to go over to North America for two years and work with a design team over there and a marketing team to get products ready for Australia?
I jumped at it. I thought, how good is this?
I'd just graduated, I'd just finished my engineering degree, and I thought this would give me a real good eye -opening about what's happening in the US.
There was a big gap between the US and Australia in those days, and not near as closely near as where they are now.
There was lots of heavy regulations. To sell any products in Australia, it had to have certain regulations to fit with the Australian network.
I was sent over there, and I worked mainly in Canada, but I worked in the design labs in Canada in a little place called Belleville, Ontario.
I also worked in Mountain View, California, which is in the early 80s.
To go down to California and work in Silicon Valley was quite amazing, because there was more apple orchards than leaf factories in those days.
I worked over there for two years, and I think that's really where I thought, technology is important, I know that, but really, I want to work out how this technology can create benefits for organisations, because that's the way everything was leading now.
In the early days, it was, we call it business outcomes now, I guess, but in those early days, how can you take technology to create business advantage for customers?
That's probably the big click for me, and it was probably a sliding door moment, in a way, to say, yep, I want to go down the sales and marketing, and get into running a business, and potentially run my own business, even though I didn't probably think about it then, but that's probably where I thought, yep, that's what I want to do.
Okay, fantastic. Was that your transition from being an engineer into a business person, doing that role over in the US and Canada?
Yeah, it was. That was absolutely the moment where I thought, yep, not that I knew enough about technology, because I'm not really a technologist, per se, but I think I'm more of a systems person, rather than a pure technologist.
But yeah, that was the time when I thought, not that I knew everything or I knew enough, I thought, it's now time for me to move forward and create a different career.
So yeah, that was probably the time that I realised that, particularly when I came back from North America.
And even though over there, I started to get more involved, even though I was doing adaptation, IT adaptation to the Australian market, I was also working with the business guys and the marketing people on how to position the product.
So even then, I started to swing between the two, and I thought, you know, I'd rather work with the marketing guys than the engineers.
So that's probably a big moment of change for me.
So from that perspective, trying to build, I guess, capability or go to market for Australia, I guess, what was the method and how did you figure out how to take products from one place and bring them into country?
What did you have to do to do that?
Yeah, so in those days, there was data equipment, but the data equipment was all connected to the telecom lines in those days.
And then telecom Australia, as it was called then, you know, had regulations that you had to meet to be able to connect, whether it be by modems or whatever.
So we had to actually change the products that we had to connect to the Australian environment.
And so there was a lot of software and hardware design changes that needed to be done to adhere to it.
And then I actually brought all the products back over with me and put it through, you know, the labs to make sure that they'll work properly and got type approved.
So I still did that. And that was part of my job to do that with.
I had three products to do that with. And yeah, so it was a great learning experience for me to do that as well.
That's great. And how long did you spend with AWA at that time?
So I then came back. I stayed with AWA because I had an agreement to do that.
I stayed with them for a year after I came back.
But I think after I was over there, the role that they had for me when I came back was a more technical role.
And AWA was a typical big Australian company in those early, you know, sort of in the 70s and 80s time frame where, you know, they were still very much around not a selling machine, but they're around a technology machine that was bidding for contracts and they didn't really have that sales engine.
And I really yearned for that.
And I thought, you know, I need to move on with my career now and get to the next stage.
And so I thought, you know, and I left those guys on great terms.
And it was sort of probably disappointing for me to do that after all the investment they've made in me, but it was something that I had to do.
And one of the lessons in life, I think, and I say this to a lot of people now, a lot of young guys, is that you've got to look for opportunities and you can't cut the opportunities off.
You know, when you see something there, you've got to go for it.
And I think that's probably what forced, what made me do that then. I realised that something was there and I wanted to go for it.
So that was the change probably from when I came back from sort of systems engineering into the world.
And what was the, and what was that next step? So you spent your time there, you got to taste the business within technology, then what was your next step post AWA?
What role in which company? Yeah, so I was actually, I was approached, it was in, I'll tell you when it was, it was in 1987, because it was just, it was just before the stock market crash, actually, and I can remember it well.
I was approached by a telecommunications consultancy company, and they were a company that was started in South Australia, specialising in the utility market.
And they just picked up a really big contract with the electricity provider over here, Electricity Commission, New South Wales.
And so they wanted to open an office here and they needed a manager to do that.
And so they approached me and said, look, you know, with all your experience that you've got now in technology and working overseas, we'd like you to start this, you know, this organisation, this branch here, and we've got this big network that we need to do a big voice network for Electricity Commission, we just won this contract, and we want you to write all the documents for it, all the tender documents.
So I then came on board and started the office.
And then we did all that work for Electricity Commission, I think it was, took us a bit over 12 months to get that done.
So I think I ended up hiring about three or four people in those days back in the late 80s.
So that was my foray into consulting. And so I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed the consulting piece.
And, you know, it was very much customer interaction, but it was probably a transition for me from pure technology and systems work into working with customers and working with suppliers and vendors and things.
So lots of learning for me as well doing that, but I really enjoyed that as well.
That's great. How, I guess, how important was having an engineering background and moving into a business consulting role?
Was there, was there a lot of things that you had learned that helped with your transition to business?
Or was it, were they two completely separate things, in your opinion?
Yeah, another good question. I think, you know, it's interesting, having a real deep technology background is good, particularly if you want to stay in technology.
I think what you've got to be careful of is, you know, you've got to be careful when you move into business and you're moving to more systems work, you've got to be careful about detail.
And because, you know, you're trained continuously in an engineering environment, particularly when you're doing your degree to be absolutely trained around detail, because that's what engineers do.
They build bridges, they design bridges, design roads, it's all about risk.
And so you've got to be diligent in what you do.
When you move more into the systems world, you've got to be careful, you're not too detailed, because you've got to sort of look at things and make decisions around what you see, not what you do.
So I found that I look, I did find it very, very, very, very, very good from a process perspective, you know, because my brain in those days was processed and trained to complete things to do things well, to follow systems through to think of everything.
So from engineering perspective, great training there. I also learned that I just had to be careful a little bit about how much detail I put into things so that I didn't overanalyze because, you know, when you're, when you're, when you're trained for X amount of years and doing engineering work, you tend to overanalyze things quite well, which is good, but it also can be a bit of a it can be a bit of a hindrance as well.
I remember when I transitioned, the first thing they said to me was, you've got to forget about your technical background, have it in the back of your head, but don't use it as a, as a thing because otherwise you won't, you won't make that transition.
But yeah, I mean, some really important notes because, you know, I've seen people where they've struggled to move from an engineering to a sales point of view.
And it's just because I haven't been able to let go of that, you know, what they're used to, but yeah, that's, it's interesting.
And everyone that I've spoken to has had similar thought process around what you need to do.
That's great. Now, what was it like managing a business through a stock market crash?
I mean, you know, you've probably seen a couple through now we've seen, you know, the dot -com crash, we've seen the GFC, and now you could say the pandemic has created some, some challenges in the market.
What was it like for you back then to, you know, to take on a new role in a business and then to be faced with, you know, uncertainty within the market?
Yeah, that time for me was a great, was an incredible learning experience.
And it hit me, that, that one hit me really hard because I, I suffer like a lot of people do is having a massive fear of failure.
I mean, I don't like to fail. And, and, and I've learned over the years that you've got to learn to fail, and you've got to learn to fail quickly often and learn from it.
And, and I think in those days, I wasn't quite ready for that.
And, and yeah, it was a real, real hit. It hit me hard because we as an organisation, the telecommunications consultancy company decided to move back to South Australia.
And so we closed all the branch offices, we had, I think, three branch offices at that point in time.
And we decided to take it all back to Adelaide.
And, you know, mainly because there was massive pressure on cash, you know, you know, people's value and market capitalisation and net worth of a lot of companies, you know, went down.
And, and as a result of that, they couldn't spend as much money.
So our company as well, being only a small one, we had to had to retract back to Adelaide.
And so at that point, I had to, you know, sort of close down the office and, and, and move off.
And at that point in time, it was interesting for me because, you know, I, even though it was quite a while ago, I'll never forget that.
It was not only a learning experience for me, but it hit me pretty hard because, you know, it was the first time where I'd actually thought, my God, what am I going to do now?
You know, I didn't have a job, basically. So, so, you know, but lessons learned, you know, you pick yourself up and go again.
And, and that's what I had to do.
But yeah, it was, it was a hard time. Yeah, I can imagine.
Yeah. And I guess, you know, I think, you know, very wise words around, you know, I think society now is not meant to fail schools, you know, they're not, they're not allowed kids to fail.
I think it's an important lesson for all of us that you have to go through that to grow, in my opinion as well.
And, you know, whether it's good, bad, or ugly, I think, you know, having those experiences galvanize you and give you experience to ensure that, okay, well, if you do come across something again, now, how do you start to navigate through that?
So you've gone through that, you know, you went through a bit of a hard, I guess, you know, core lesson at that point, how did you pick yourself up?
And then what did you do next?
Yeah, I look at it. And, and I, I remember I was, as I said, I was hit pretty hard on that.
And, and looking back on a great lesson, you know, to do it. But, you know, one of the one of the lessons I learned from it is that the importance of when you're down, and when you're going through tough times, you've got to keep going.
You know, it's all about persistence. And that's one of the other lessons that I think I've always said, you know, you never, never, never, never, never give up.
And that's something that always resonates in my mind, you know, when you, when you have an aspiration, you move to it, and, and you don't give up, you keep pushing, you know, and that's probably an attribute that I've always had, and I've always believed in.
So what I did is I picked myself up, and I thought, what am I going to do next?
And I thought, you know, I'm still in education land, you know, I'm still learning.
And I think you've got to continuously learn. And now to me, you can learn from books and learn from stuff and learn from courses, but you learn from others.
And, and that's why, you know, I think it's really important.
You know, during my life, I've had a number of business coaches and different people like that mentors, it's, it's really good to be able to go to people like that to be able to help you through things.
You know, which I'm sort of doing now in my new life.
But going back to that one, I thought, okay, what am I going to do?
Where am I now? And I thought, I've always, you know, my aspiration is always to run a business, didn't really say I want to run a business with five people, two people, 50, 100, didn't matter, I just wanted to run a business.
It was just, it was almost like inside me saying, I want to do that. And I, and I thought, what do I need to do, you know, and one thing was for sure, at that point, I didn't want to do any more technical training, you know, I thought, I've got to finish with that, you know, I've done lots, lots of technical courses when I was having the in North America, you know, I had my qualifications, and I thought, I'm going to have to learn to do other things.
And I thought, okay, what I'm going to do is, is I'm going to do marketing, because I, I thought, you know, I'd love to do, you know, sales, but in those days, there weren't any sales courses, no sales training.
And I thought, well, I'm going to do marketing. So I, I did a, a postgrad diploma in marketing at AGSM, which was very well, you know, I'd read up a lot.
And I thought, well, this is what I'll do. I'll get that going. So I did that course.
And at the same time, I thought, I've got to learn how to sell. And I thought, if I can do not necessarily if I can do my marketing qualifications, and a sales job, wouldn't that be fantastic?
You know, gee, it's probably not going to be all that easy to do that.
But, but I came across this, and again, luck, you know, this was absolutely luck.
I'm flicking through the paper one day, and I'm, I see this job called for a sales engineer in the paper.
And it's Sydney Morning Herald.
And it said branch manager in three years. And I thought, wow. And they said, got to have an engineering degree.
And we'll do, we'll teach you all the sales stuff.
Don't have to be anything. We're up to young people with an engineering degree that want to venture into sales.
And I thought, oh, this is, this is like perfect.
So I thought, I'm going to go and apply for this job. And I went and applied for it.
And, and luckily enough, I got the job, which again, was luck.
And it was with Honeywell. And it was with Honeywell in their building controls and heating, ventilating air conditioning systems.
And, and so I went to work for them.
I worked for them for five years. And I tell you, I learned more about how to professionally sell there than, than what I've ever learned.
And, you know, they sent me on being an American company.
They sent me in on just about every sales training, professional sales training program you could have.
And they had great training and still do.
They're a great company. And so I went there as a sales engineer and, and one of the toughest jobs I ever had was when I was given a quota, you know, I mean, you've done it, know what it's like.
And I've, I've been involved in sales now ever since probably, but oh, wow.
You know, my first job with a quota, I just thought again, you know, I, this is easy, you know, anyone can do this.
Yeah. He's my quota. I'll just go up there and talk to a customer and say, you know, I'm selling a heating and ventilating and air conditioning system.
Please sign here. You know, little, I've always, I've always said to the sales teams that I've worked with now, you know, the hardest job in the world is selling, you know, ever since then, it was, it was a tough gig.
So, yeah, so that was my foray into sales.
And so I thought I'll get my qualifications and I'll move into, to start to learn to sell.
And that's what I did. That's fantastic.
Now you said it was a hard thing to get a quota. How, like, so how did you get yourself prepared to deliver on that quota?
What like, I know, especially being an engineer where there's still pressure, but having the pressure of carrying a bag is a different set of pressure.
How did you overcome that transition and how did you get into, into it?
Okay. I think I've, I mentioned to you about, about listening and learning.
I had a fantastic manager in those days who, who's gone on to do fantastic things in the industry now.
He's a very well known CEO and he was actually working at Honeywell as, as, as my first boss.
And, and I looked and watched from him on how he did things.
And he was just phenomenal. I said, how do you do this?
And, and so I just listened and learned and learned and watched and learned.
And, and I realised the subtle art of selling is, is about, you know, you've, you've got to read your customers so well, and you've got to understand what their, their requirements are and what their outcomes are and, and manage the process.
And, and so I learned to number one, manage the sales process well.
Number two, you know, understand what the customers were wanting. And number three, forming a relationship with the customers.
And, you know, in those days, relationship selling was just sort of starting to get going, you know, and there was no such thing as just getting to sign on the, on the contract.
It was very much around forming a relationship, understand what they were trying to do and developing that trust that you could get.
So, so I, I learned all about developing trust.
I learned all about forming relationships. You know, I learned the technology and one of the other things I wanted to do is, because I came from a technical background, I thought, I don't want to sell what I know, because the worst thing you can do is sell what you know, because then it becomes technical selling.
So I thought, I'm going to move away from that. So moving into, into security systems, I was selling, you know, as I was saying, heating, ventilating, air conditioning systems, security systems, building management systems.
That was not really my background in my training.
I was more of a comms person. So it was great. I, I, I learned how to sell something that wasn't that was still, you know, technologically oriented, but, but I, I'd learned how to sell, not because I knew in depth how it will work, but more about what it could deliver for customers.
Now I was reading an article from ARN that was posted a couple of years back, and you mentioned one thing that really resonated for me about the art of communicating, whether it's in a sales role or even in a management role.
How did you, how did, was that something that you always had, or was that something that you had to learn and develop?
How did you identify that communication is the key to ensuring that you could be successful in what you do?
Yeah. I, I think in that, I, I probably learned communicating in the very early days when I was, when I was sort of back with my dad, I mean, my dad was, was, ran his business from a selling perspective.
And, and I used to watch and learn the way he did it. And, and he did it without being trained.
And, and I used to watch it looking, even looking back now that my dad's 93, still alive.
And, and, and yeah, so I still sort of get to see him as much as I can, but I look back on how he did it and he, the relationships he used to form, even though it was in the country selling stuff, it was just astronomical for me.
I used to, I'll never forget one of the stories I, I, I had was I used to do deliveries and, and, you know, the front of the shop, they'd have, I know 10 different types of refrigerators, but out the back, there was only one type of refrigerator.
And I always used to, to deliver the one refrigerator.
And I used to think, how's this guy doing it? You know, he's got 10 out the front, but why is it always this one that we've got at the back that, that he is able to sell.
And so I've got to learn about this. So I went out and I was probably only around about 10 or 12.
And this is looking back where I start to learn the importance of communications.
And, and it was all about, you know, he might, he might be selling to, to these people and they're in the country.
You might've been selling to them for, I don't know, 20 minutes or half an hour.
For the first 20 minutes, it was forming a relationship with them, you know, and I used to listen to him and he used to be talking to them about, oh, how's your son?
How's John? You know, you're still living on the farm. You know, how's the beef cattle industry?
You know, for 20 minutes, it was all about forming that relationship and communicating to them to the point where he'll say, he would then say to them, oh, so you want a new fridge, do you?
What's happened to that Westinghouse that you've got?
And they'd say, how'd you know I had a Westinghouse? And he'd say, I can remember what I was selling.
You know, so immediately it was that relationship, it was the communication.
And then after that, it was like, okay, the customer just said, what do you, what do you think is best for me?
And he'd say, this one.
And it was the one that they had 10 out the back and I used to deliver it.
So, you know, he used to do that through, through communicating. And I think that's probably, I learned a lot about that, about how to communicate and, and how to form relationships and the way you sell, you know, you've got to put yourself in the customer's position and say, you know, what, what do I want?
How do I want to be treated?
So, so yeah, so I learned a lot about that and I've always sort of been trying to adhere to those sorts of principles.
Yeah, fair enough. That's good to know.
So, you know, the communication, building rapport, you know, there's a lot of physical aspects to that in terms of what we're going through now, being in lockdown and not being isolated and communicating with people over Zoom or other types of media.
What else, I guess, have you got any ideas of how to still drive that same engagement, even though now we're virtual and online?
Yeah, look, it's really interesting.
You know, there's, there's, I see a lot of people doing podcasts with, with customers, you know, the, the, the way to, I guess there's probably two or three elements, you know, getting information to customers is probably not so difficult these days, you know, whether you can talk about case studies and you can do podcasts, you can get them to do learning stuff online.
You know, there's a lot of information that they can learn about it.
In the, in, in, in the new era of COVID and, you know, we don't know how long this is going to last, the, the touching points of forming a relationship aren't there anymore, you know, no longer can you, you know, form a relationship by getting to know them, by inviting them into your home, by working with them, by, you know, taking them to lunch or whatever it is.
So that's posing a challenge now. It's a challenge because you've got to learn now, how can I form that relationship in a different way to what I used to form?
You know, it's still verbal and communications, you know, obviously by Zoom and other things.
And that's very, very important. But I think you've got to be careful.
It's not too intrusive too, because, you know, people don't want to be, you know, too intrusive the way we want to be dealing with.
So I think it's, it's just a matter of being quite delicate the way you do it, but using the technology where you can to, to create touch points and correct and form that relationship.
Because I think, you know, whether it be in the old days of point-to-point personal selling versus the new days of doing it online, you know, people are starting to appreciate that and you've just got to, got to work through it to see what's the best way to be able to work with each, each person.
Relationships are still, relationships and communications are still very, very important.
That's definitely, it's definitely a new way. And I think, you know, even, you know, it's always after the fact, you can start to see, I mean, this is going to be the new norm for some time now.
And I think, you know, as, as people that are communicating and trying to drive relationships, we've got to, we just got to figure out what's the best way of doing it in this, in this new format.
I mean, you know, video and having the interactions good, but some people don't turn on their videos.
Some people don't allow you in, but it's, it's quite wise to think, you know, yeah, you just got to figure out the best way.
That's spot on. That's great.
So you spent your time at Honeywell. How long did you spend there doing, doing that role?
I spent five years, just about, might've been a bit more than five years.
And, and I started out there being, being a sales engineer with a, carrying a bag.
And then I, I think after about four years, they, interestingly enough, they, they formed a, a communications business in Australia with Lucent Technologies, which is part of AT&T in those days.
And, and so they formed a new relationship with them and they started a new division called the communications division.
And so I went over to work for that and I was, I was branch manager.
So I'd gone from sales manager to branch manager and, and in those days and sort of in the new communications business.
Fantastic. No, that's great.
So yeah, lots of, I guess, lots of good lessons learned. And then as you moved on to your career, you moved into what we know as Alcatel.
Was that, was that the next move after Honeywell?
Yeah, yeah, it was. I'd, I'd, I think the main reason why I changed at that point is, is just going back to what I was saying before.
You've got to, you know, my advice for a lot of younger people, you, you, I'm not saying time's not on your side, but you've got to, you've got to have an aspiration about what you want to do and you've got to plan and keep on pushing for that aspiration.
And I think where I was at that point in time is I, I felt I'd learned an awful lot at Honeywell, great organisation, but I didn't see a major progression.
I think at that point, I thought, well, I want to move back into, into, into mainstream comms, you know, networking and data.
It was the convergence of voice and data was all happening at that point in time.
And, and, and I wanted to sort of start getting back into that mainstream and away from security systems.
So then the opportunity came up with Alcatel, which was a big French company in those days that were making that transition, you know, from, from, it was very much a voice organisation and it was making, making a move into data.
And I thought this could be a good opportunity for me. And, and so they approached me about, about a role as, as regional sales manager.
So I thought, well, here's an opportunity that I can go from running a branch in comms in a non -comms company like Honeywell to move over to, to more of a mainstream communications company and take on a regional sales manager.
So I looked out for the region and, and so, yeah, so that was the main reason why I moved to that one.
Fantastic. And was it, how, how much had that industry changed since you stint at Honeywell?
Cause you were obviously doing it before at AWA, you went to Honeywell. Had, had you seen a huge shift in that market since, since your previous days, especially when you're working with Nortel?
Yes, that was, was probably, you know, it would have been five, six years since when I was working with Nortel over into, to then, yeah, it was starting to make a big move.
And I remember at, at, at the point there was some big money being spent, you know, coming up to the dot-com, you know, era around 2000, where there was lots of money being spent on, particularly from Alcatel's perspective in terms of IT companies from the US.
And so, yeah, there was, there was a big, starting to be a big move.
You know, the cloud was starting to come, you know, the, the, the digital networking was, was all, all ago.
And, and so Alcatel was buying a lot of US companies in those days too.
So they bought Assured Access, Packet Engines, Zyland, Newbridge Networks.
I mean, lots of companies were coming under their, under their band.
And so I was sort of involved in that at that point too, or I was starting to get involved in that at that point.
That's great. So you spent your time there and then a few years later, Alcatel decided to, to sell off their services business?
Yes. And this is at the point where you made, I'd say, a pretty, pretty, you know, big move to, to actually put your hand up and take on that business.
Talk, talk, talk us through that.
How did, how did that come about and what made you jump on that opportunity? Yeah.
So this was another, another point in my, in my life, I think where I was lucky.
And, and, you know, when I keep on saying to, to the people, you know, you've got to take every, you know, you've got to go for it.
If ever you see an opportunity, you must give it a go.
And, and this was probably a big sliding wall moment for me because I can remember the date.
It was November, November 8th, I think it was, in 2000.
And, and I was, you know, working for a French company. You did have to go to France an awful lot and, or to Paris.
I mean, I was looking after about five or six divisions in those days, the mobile phone business, the data business, the voice business and the services business.
And, and, and I went over there for this particular conference and they just said that they were going to sell their services business, their enterprise services business.
And in those days, the enterprise services business was that business that did all the services associated with design and implementation support of all the Alcatel enterprise products.
And, and they said, we're going to do this because we want to go indirect. We don't want to have any, any direct sales force.
We're going to go indirect, which was really a, the reason I'm doing this is because I'm buying a lot of US companies and they're all indirect, as you know, being one of them.
And, and so the big indirect model was the goal.
So they thought we're going to get out of, we can't have a direct and indirect business.
We want to go all indirect. So, so the bit that was the, the, the direct business was this services business, which was, you know, selling Alcatel product and servicing.
So they wanted to sell it off. They were going to sell France and Germany, which were the big countries where most of the, you know, being a French company, about 80% of the business was there, but because they wanted to do it there, they wanted to do it elsewhere in the world.
So they thought we can't just do it in France and Germany, we'll do it globally.
So, so I was tasked to sell this business. And, and I remember coming back to Australia and telling the local CEO that we had to do this.
And we were both, you know, the thought of saying, well, you know, this is a good business.
You know, we don't want to do that in Australia.
And to a certain extent, you, you could always get away with things in Australia because we're so far away, but unfortunately we couldn't get away with this.
And so we had to sell it. And so my starting moment was, I think at that point, I just had my first son and he was about two and, and I was doing a lot of travel around the world.
And, and, and my wife came to me one day and said, look, you know, you got to start putting some time in your family, you know, and, and little did she know it was the next step, which is probably, probably even worse.
But I said, I said, yeah, I said, look, you know, I've just got to do this travel.
And she said, well, can you get out of it? And I said, well, funnily, funnily enough, I said, you know, one of the businesses that, that I'm looking after now, they've, I've been told to sell it.
I said, I said, I was just having a dream last night.
I thought, you know, why don't I buy it? He says, what do you mean you buy it?
And I said, well, why don't I buy it? And she said, on one condition, you don't use the house as collateral.
And I thought, in those days, that's all we had, you know, we had a house.
And, and so I thought that's going to be a bit of a challenge.
How do I buy a business without having any money?
And also the fact that, you know, doing management buyout in those days, nobody knew anything about, I knew absolutely nothing.
And, and even, you know, Alcatel didn't have any experience in this either, you know, so they hadn't done that before.
So yeah, so I went into, into the, you know, the, the CEO in Australia said, look, I'd like to buy this business.
And, and he said, oh, gee, um, oh, okay.
He said, but I still want you to sell it. And I said, well, you know, it's going to make it difficult to sell and buy it.
But, you know, I sort of did my own little due diligence.
And, and we, we came to an arrangement that I would sell the business, but I'd also put in a management buyout offer.
So, so I was in those days, it was pretty challenging, because I was actually doing my own IM work for my own buying a business, you know, with other members of the my management team, as well as, um, independently of that, um, you know, doing, you know, putting together a document to sell to others.
So, you know, it was quite challenging, because I'd have to actually invite other people in prospective buyers and explain it in the business.
But I'd made it very clear that I was also going to be putting in an offer.
So yeah, so yeah, so it worked out really well. Um, in the end, I was successful.
But, um, you know, one of the other reasons why I'm, I'm sort of now working with other businesses in these sorts of areas now, in these days, is because I found it, it's very different now to what it was then.
In those days, there was no one around that you could go to, you know, it was just after the dot -com bust, nobody wanted to spend money on IT.
You know, IT was taboo, because it was, um, you know, that it reached the rapid heights, and it had gone down, that sort of valley of death, which it came out of.
But I was doing this right at that point in time where there was no money.
So it was very challenging. I was trying to sell the business, trying to buy the business, as well as try and find some money to, from everything from venture capitalists, to private equity, to trading people.
So it was a very interesting 12 months of my life. Yeah. And then you're a successful bidder.
So yeah. So how did you, how did you then go, okay, I'm now working for this company, and now I'm owner of a business unit that you used to run before.
How, that would have been a huge shift and change and dynamic in, I guess, the way you operate.
Absolutely. But, you know, like, this comes back to people.
I had absolutely fantastic people. You know, we had, um, you know, we had a team of people, um, I had a great leadership team, um, and, and great employees.
And I think I took over, because what I had to do is then separate the businesses out to sell it.
So, you know, because everybody worked for Alcatel, so I had to pull out people into a separate business, which was sold, you know, into, into another balance sheet, and then bought the balance sheet.
And, um, and, uh, and then, you know, sort of start the business from scratch.
You know, we had no brand, we had no name.
But I had two, two fantastic things. And that was, I had great retention customers, because we had a lot of existing customers to work with.
And, um, and I had fantastic employees, you know, really, really top employees.
I think in those days, it was around about 30 that we started with. And, um, and, you know, they were loyal, they were hardworking, they were committed, which was hard for them, because they had to also move from a global company into a small startup.
And, um, you know, in those days, you know, small startups in the dot -com era, you couldn't really promise too much.
So, you know, um, you know, but, but, but they will, you know, we all work together.
And, um, you know, we all knew what was in front of us.
And we had a lot of fun. I mean, fun is everything, you know, if you have fun in what you do, you enjoy it and you do well, and you've got to make it fun.
So I tried to spend as much time as I could to make an enjoyable place to work.
Fantastic. That's great. So talk about the ride of Integ and how you took it from separation to, I guess, to, you know, um, to a state where, um, there was an acquisition that was made further on down the track.
It's, you know, talk us through that, that wild ride coming out of the valley of death, as you call it.
Yeah, I know.
Look, it was, um, you know, I've sort of forgotten all of it now, but looking back on it, um, it was, it was challenging because we had to take all the IT systems off because as you can imagine, that, you know, from an operational perspective, we were running SAP, which was Aptel's SAP.
We were running Aptel's CRM system.
We were running all the systems. So we'd take them all off. So not only did we have to, to get going in a new business, but we had to form our own systems.
Um, and prior to that, um, we also had to find some money. So, um, you know, as I was saying to you, I, you know, before we could do anything, we had to, you know, get the money to, to buy the company.
So we had a lot of operational things to do.
We had to look after the customers. We had to, you know, get all the employee structure in place and get my leadership team in place.
Um, plus I had to separate, you get my own branding, form a name, um, and, um, you know, get new premises plus get all off the IT systems, plus find some money.
And, um, you know, so there was a lot happening at that point in time.
That's, yeah, that's great. And going through that process, you said there was no one to, I guess, to lean on and no one was doing it.
How did you learn, I guess, the skills and techniques to go and buy a company, then transition it out into running it as your own?
Look, honestly, as I say, luck, looking back, a lot of luck, because I had no idea what I was doing.
Absolutely no idea.
Um, and, um, you know, in those days you could go and ask for advice, but a lot of people in the finance sector in those days, whenever you ask for advice, you know, there was something in it for them.
And so you could never get independent advice.
I had a really great legal advisor that I use, um, and he helped me a lot with, with sort of putting things together and for me.
Um, and, uh, the other thing I had was, um, I decided to go with a company called USC or UXC as it was then as, um, as the major finance partners.
So I did a joint venture with UXC and they were just starting up at that point in time and, um, and joining forces with them.
They were a very tiny company in those days when I joined, um, there was probably only two, two other companies there.
And, um, and the aspiration of that company and its chairman was to create the largest Australian owned IT company.
So we came in, um, as a, as a, one of the first companies to enable us to do that.
So I then had, you know, a board and an executive chairman that I could actually work with to help me get it going.
So I used that plus I use my external legal advice, plus having great employees and great customers.
So I think that all that put together, um, sort of came together for us.
That's great. Um, during that time you, there was a huge shift in the market.
We saw the convergence of, um, you know, IP networks and voice networks coming together and, you know, we, we saw a huge growth in that, in that particular space.
How, how, what was it like riding that wave of, you know, moving away from traditional TDM to, to the voiceover IP Yeah, look, that was, that was an amazing experience looking back on that because, um, you know, it's, it's so simple now to think about, you know, like who would have had TDM systems in those days, you know, but in those days it was all about, you know, reliability.
We talk about, you know, the, the six, what was it, six Ps or whatever it was, you know, that, that you had to have absolutely, um, you know, you, you couldn't have a break of communications.
It had to be reliable. It had to be sustainable.
And, um, and when IP telephony first came on board, it wasn't that, you know, and, um, and it was just a big change.
So we were actually working with all the technology and, and then transforming into new technology.
So, you know, our whole game was to try and move to that area.
One of the biggest challenges we had is out until, um, wasn't, um, because they were very much a TDM company that weren't big in the IP world.
So we had to start with the new vendors as well to move to.
So, so, um, yeah, so there's some interesting times there too, because we had to sort of work with multiple vendors across stuff and we had, you know, not conflicting, but we had to be very careful about which customers had what technologies and, and what ones didn't in these days, it doesn't matter because it's all very open now.
So it doesn't matter so much, but yeah, it was an interesting, interesting experience to go through that.
Yeah. I mean, look, you know, it's always seeing these tech shifts and I guess opportunities.
I mean, you call it luck.
I think, you know, luck is one thing, but I don't, I think if you take the opportunity, you're making your own luck in the end of the day.
Um, so you had some great success.
Was there any proud moments for you during that time of running your own business like that, owning and running that?
Any, any proud moments?
Any proud, yeah, like, is there, is there a couple of moments that stand out for you?
Like, you know, you couldn't believe, um, you know, maybe how, what the team achieved or, or the growth that you guys achieved, um, during that, during that.
Yeah, probably, probably the biggest achievement and I'll go back to the people again, because, you know, one of the things that I've loved working in IT is that the people in IT industries are fantastic people.
It's a dynamic industry. It's always changing.
There's always new things happening. Um, and you know, you like to have fun, as I say, it's a very important thing as part of being in a company.
So probably my proudest moments was to see that company grow. I mean, you know, we grew from, from basically 20 people up to almost 200.
Um, and, um, we grew double digit, um, double digit growth every year.
So we were doing plus 10% growth through some pretty tough times.
So, you know, in the end we were, um, you know, we were, uh, about 75, $80 million in revenues from, um, from when we started probably only about five.
So, you know, we grew a lot and, um, and that was, that was a, that was a great, that was a good achievement to be part of a growth engine.
And that was, that was probably the big driver for us.
Everything was around growth because in those days you didn't grow, you didn't survive.
So it was very much grow, grow, grow to do it.
So, um, yeah, so look, we, we, we love that sort of stuff in those intake days.
And then later on with the UXC connect, that is much the same, you know, with, with, um, with UXC making more and more acquisitions, we then merged with, um, with XSI and Geotronics as well.
So, and that was a, that was, um, a real challenge as well, a different challenge.
You know, if I look, if I go back to say, what was it like starting Integ versus doing the merge with Geotronics, um, XSI and Integ, there were two different challenges, but equally as difficult.
Yeah. So merging, so, you know, acquiring and separating companies, but what was it like trying to merge, I guess, three separate companies or three separate cultures into one?
I mean, I was, I was part, I was part of that.
So I remember going through that transition. I see it from one view, but from your perspective, you would have had a completely different way of looking at things.
What was it like to manage like, you know, three separate personalities effectively and bringing it into one.
Yeah. Yours is probably more accurate than mine, Chris.
You had your feet on the ground. I had mine in the clouds probably. But anyway, um, look, it was, it was really, really tough, you know, um, and I can say, I can, I definitely underestimated it, you know, doing mergers, um, you know, you, you, you, I was on a real tight deadline to do this merge.
And, um, the board said to me, we're going to merge, you know, and just make it happen.
And, um, and I started talking about change management, about cultures, different cultures, how we're going to merge the cultures and, and, um, you know, um, quite well, I'm not criticising the board, but, you know, there was a, we're an Australian public company.
And for their perspective, they wanted to do it quickly.
And, and they wanted to do it so that, um, you know, it was, was earnings growth.
And, um, and it was a challenge because to do a big merge like that, it was probably one of the biggest around in those days, because we were, you know, each company was big.
Detronix was the biggest one. And, um, and, you know, it was, we had different technologies, a lot of reasons why we merged.
And I was always an advocate to say we had emerged because everyone had their own, you know, their own space.
And so it was a perfect recipe for emerge. But one of the lessons that I learned going forward, you cannot do a merge of that, of that entity in a quick way.
You can't just go to bank, because there are reasons why, um, that you've got to be the subconscious reasons in the way people think and act that you need to look at.
And, um, and I underestimated that. Um, and, um, and it's a big learning for me, you know, you've got to be very careful about change management.
You've got to be very careful about planning things. And it's not all about, you know, earnings growth, um, earnings growth will come, but, you know, in most cases, it's around having a sustainable business.
And you've got to be very conscious about doing things too quick and too hard and it not being sustainable for the future.
Yeah. I guess, you know, I guess that's business, right? If, if you've got to get, if you've got to get a thing done, it's got to get done.
But I guess now you can probably take a lot of those lessons and, you know, in the job that you're doing now, you can probably impart the knowledge and help others do that.
Yeah, look, I am. And, you know, what I'm doing now is, um, you know, one of the passions for me is to, um, you know, for one minute, I don't say I know, I know a lot or I know everything, but I've sort of gone through a lot of stuff over the years.
And, um, I'm, I'm very careful when I'm doing my advisory and coaching work that I don't tell people what to do because I, you know, I'm not, I don't have the answers, but they do have the answers.
So it's a matter of working with them and, um, young executives in a lot of cases, CEOs and sort of saying to them, you know, like, um, you know, what are your challenges here?
And in most cases, they'll always come to me with challenges, but it's a matter of getting them to think broadly about what they're going to do about the challenges and, um, and, and coach them to, to, for them to make the right calls.
That's great, Ian. Brilliant.
Awesome. I've learned a lot about you today. It's been, you know, I've known you for so many years, but it's always, you know, having these conversations, you probably learn, um, a few different aspects of, um, I guess of what you've done and I guess your thought process and, you know, really for me, it demonstrates the type of person you are, you, you know, you've been a really good, um, um, mentor, good advocate, and obviously a good friend as well.
So mate, I really appreciate your time today.
Um, it's been great. I'm sure everyone that's, that's tuned in today has, has learned a lot.
Um, I think, you know, for us as an industry, you know, we're, we're, I think we punch above our weight massively.
And I think, you know, because of people like you that have, you know, effectively carved out the industry for us, um, gives us the opportunity to keep it growing.
So mate, we appreciate everything that you've done for us.
Um, and it's great to see that you're helping other companies and mentoring other CEOs and helping, um, I guess our industry move forward.
It's, it's really good to have you as part of that.
Okay. Chris, thank you so much, mate. It's been a, been a pleasure, um, to, um, uh, to, you know, to be here with you and to, to talk with you.
Um, so you've always got a second job, mate.
If you ever want to, um, leave, uh, you know, maybe the next car stepping over you or something.
No worries at all, Ian. Thank you so much.
Appreciate it. Have a great day. Um, and mate, look forward to seeing you again.
We'll see you soon. Thanks so much, buddy. That concludes our segment of Legends of Tech on CFTV.
Once again, thank you to our special guest, Ian Paul. See you next week at 9am.
See everyone. And all your projection charts are moving up into the right.
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