Sybiz Hall of Fame entrant, Mike Francis!
Working with Sybiz products for 25 years in New Zealand, Mike Francis is another deserving entrant to our Hall of Fame. To read Mike's story about his time with Sybiz and beyond, download the PDF by clicking the image below or scroll down to keep reading.
When did you first start working with Sybiz/Sybiz Products?
In 1983 I joined a company that shared offices with Sybiz New Zealand. I had graduated with an honours degree in Land Surveying and had completed the 2nd year of my Engineering degree when I just lost interest in University. I had been there for 5 years, sat and passed 52 exams and hit the boredom wall.
Trying to find a job in the fledging IT industry was a challenge, although the same rules apply as now. Numerous Job interviews ended with “you need experience”. The IBM PC was one year old and the IBM AT or 286 had not even been invented.
However, an enterprising lad can always find a job if they are willing to work on commission only. Sharp Business Machines liked the look of me and their accounting system came from
Sybiz New Zealand. The Lads at City Computers shared an office with Sybiz and the offer they made was too good to miss, so shift was on and I moved to the big city.
What were you doing as part of your job?
As any commission only sales person knows, you only eat when you sell. Selling also encompassed installation, training and setup. We sold Sharp NEC and NCR computers with the occasional expensive IBM PC. Dot matrix printers did the hard copy work. (HP Lasers had not been invented yet). Very occasionally someone would purchase a very expensive Typewriter linked to their PC for “wordprocessing”, a new fad. However, 90 percent of the systems sold were to replace manual account cards.
Very early on I learned to maximise the sale by including an accounting system. This simple fact allowed us to prosper through the arrival of the “Clone” computers when our $10,000 computer was now available for $2000. We would not try to compete on the Computer sale, just grab the printer sale and then sell a lot more Sybiz accounting software, with a corresponding great profit and service margin. Some of those clients were still with us when we sold our company to Sybiz in 2008.
What changes within Sybiz and/or the industry have you seen that have left an impression on you? (good and bad)
The 1980s was a steady dash to convert people initially from manual systems into some form of computerisation. This was usually the accounts person and later on the accounts team as multiuser systems began to establish themselves. Demand for true networking did not establish itself until Windows 95 and Novell Netware was released. So we got a second go at the same clients. Brilliant.
The next ten years bought the introduction and establishment of email, truly the world changing application that required desktops for everyone. That was the good bit. The ability to communicate without paper. Well that was what was promised and we all know how our use of paper has declined. Yeah right!
The Internet beavered away behind the scenes allowing us to log and track software and client issues and to contribute to development of the software packages. Most of the work was done using private bulletin boards and dial up modems. Quite a different process from today. We would stay late at the office downloading the precious updates and then after loading onto floppy discs we would visit each of the clients and keep them happy. Sybiz was an early adopter of the web updates and this made the job a whole lot easier.
What has been the progression of jobs from then up to your current employment or activity?
The role of Salesman, purchaser and installer, followed by customer support lasted until we were big enough to develop specialist teams. This was a slow process and I used to really like the customer contact support offered. Many of my clients have remained good friends and working with Sybiz has strangely enough enabled great friendships with a bunch of very like-able Australians and people from around the world. In 1990 we were offered the New Zealand distribution of Sybiz Software. We leapt at it and suddenly I was a Managing Director of my own company. The City Computers brand was then swapped for SPS Services trading as Sybiz New Zealand. Ten Years later we formed Revolution Systems as the need for complimentary services to Sybiz developed in CRM and Sharepoint Services from Microsoft. This worked out very well for us when Sybiz moved into the CRM space some years later.
Are there any other awards or achievements you would like to mention?
For many years we had been attending the Sybiz conferences as the “poor cousin” from across the ditch. This was despite outselling the various Australian States at various times. We were accompanied by the Irish, English and Sri Lankan fellow distributors from time to time, but really the conferences were all about Australia. This really changed when Sybiz was sold to Softline from South Africa and led to the arrival of this fireball Peter Whalley. Suddenly we had real recognition and support. We were now competitively matched against the rest of the world and the Sybiz International Challenge was on. The award was ours in its first year and remained so until we sold in 2008. It was only a small thing but peer recognition is an important aspect of business and it really made a difference to our focus.
Can you include others (business, channel or family) that deserve recognition for their support?
People and the relationships that develop over twenty five years make up a lot of the reasons for staying in business. I would like to thank Judy Leefson for her friendship and support over her whole time with Sybiz. Peter Whalley for bringing the company into the Twentieth century, Grant Argy, for his technical direction and software development and Ben O’Brien for always finding the funny side of life while steering the Sybiz ship.
In New Zealand we could not have grown without the support of Tony, Craig and Chandan at BDO Spicers, Owen at Hothouse and Dene and Wayne from Innovation. Chris Graham and Eric Doctor were also life savers in developing specialised applications to seamlessly fit into the areas outside of the Sybiz Development process. With time to reflect there are many people to thank at Sybiz, but the best decision I ever made was to make Fiona Francis the Managing Director of our company. Ego’s had to be put to one side when we met with Dave Martin and Dion Murphy our strategic consultants in 2003. There is no point paying for advice unless you are willing to act on it, so I fired myself and handed over the responsibility of running the company to my wife.
This left me time to work on the company and to develop strong relationships with our business partners and key accounts. It also left time to up skill in the new technology areas, a considerable challenge that never stopped testing our ability to move with the changes.
It was with some real sadness that we left the industry in 2008 having completed 25 years of working with Sybiz. It was also a time to re examine what we wanted from life. The Great Kiwi and Aussie Overseas Experience had missed both of us in our twenties so it was time to see the world.
The fact that Fiona said “Sure, why not” when I told her we would be driving from Italy, to Tunisia through North Africa, up through the Middle East and Turkey and then across Iran and the “stans”
before crossing the infamous Taklaman desert in far Western China and into Tibet, Nepal and then around India for 9 months says a lot about her character. Our first overseas trip took 9 months
and just firmly planted the travel bug. The rest of the world awaits.
Planning is the hidden advantage we can all own in life. Achieving the goals that follow is the reward. Take the time to plan, work with specialists and even though it may “hurt”, take their advice so that when life throws it’s challenges down, you are ready to respond. Rome was not built in a day and its still standing 2000 years later. More importantly the foundations built all those centuries ago remain and continue to support modern life.
Stay fluid so you can respond but stay true to your goals and life will, I believe give you what you need as long as you are prepared to help yourself and to help others.
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