Steve Murphy set-up Sydney-based integrator, Frontline Systems, in 1992. He speaks to MATTHEW SAINSBURY about making the best of the economic situation, sales strategies and his favourite food.
What was your fi rst job?
My fi rst job was in England, where I was an accounts clerk for a subsidiary for the National Westminster Bank. I found that incredibly boring and moved into the computer room, which was basically how I got into the IT industry.
What part of England are you from?
I’m from West London, and grew up very close to London airport.
Why did you move down to Australia?
Five years of working nightshift for the bank where, especially in winter, I would get up in the dark and go to bed in the dark, was enough to make me think there must be a better life. So at 22, I fi gured I’d do some backpacking. I came to Australia, ran out of money and ended up staying here for several years. By that time, I was hooked on Australia and never did quite make it back.
How did you progress to where you are today?
After several years of enjoying the fruits of sunshine and West Australian beer, I fi gured it was time to get back into the industry. It was the time of the oil exploration boom in WA, so I just happened to be there at the right time to pick up a job in operations, so that got me back into IT after a fouryear hiatus. From that I ended up moving into junior CIO positions, which got me into the buying side of the industry, and I’d be sitting there across the table from the people in sales thinking to myself ‘I should be selling rather than buying’, so I moved into sales rep roles in the later 1980s. Then after several jobs, I fi gured that a way to have independence was to start my own company, which I did in 1992.
What do you like about your current job?
I like the fact that we still have a level of independence. I’ve got some great people, some great customers, and it’s the variety of the IT industry that keeps us fresh.
What is the biggest achievement to date?
Building a 100 per cent private Australian-owned company, and keeping the company with a level of humility and honesty which has seen us continue to grow, is something I’m very proud of. We’re about 120 people now, and it’s been great to get where we are on what was basically a $2 company.
What do you dislike about the IT industry?
It’s brutal, there’s no doubt about that. I think it’s a really volatile business to be in, and you’ve got to have your fi nger on the pulse the whole time.
What will be the next big thing in the industry?
A continuing big thing will be a push towards managed services, shared environments and virtualised environments. They are the hot buttons for the foreseeable future, particularly with the marketplaces of today. I don’t think we’ve seen the real downturn in the Australian industry yet; it’s coming, we’re 6-12 months behind the US.
What will happen to the industry once the downturn hits?
Even if the IT spend drops by an enormous amount, there will still be a lot of business out there, so I see strong opportunity for companies that are fi nanced well enough to be able to take advantage of it. We’re not going to see too many small companies survive. I don’t think there’s going to be consolidation through mergers and acquisitions, because there’s just not going to be debt around to transact those types of deals. But we’re going to see the strong get stronger organically.
What do you do when you’re not at work?
Too much golf. My wife and I decided years ago there’s two things we don’t do well together. One is work together – we tried that and it was awful, and we’ve also tried to walk the golf course, and that doesn’t work either. I’m a golf tragic though, and that consumes my Saturdays. I love spending time with my son on the golf course – my daughter is nearly 18 and she’s an animal nut, so we’re looking forward to seeing her occupy her years doing things she loves and looking after animals. And my wife and I do share a love for all food and take a delight in going out to restaurants.
Any tips for good places to eat in Sydney?
I’d always found Sydney’s Italian restaurants to be very ordinary, but I think that prejudice is running out of legs, because Pendolino in the Strand is a terrifi c Italian dining. In fact it could very easily exist in Melbourne which I think is the Mecca for Italian restaurants.
Not a sales person in the IT industry that’s for sure. It’s a conversation I have with my kids, and I tell them not to worry too much about trying to be that organised at an early age. I often say that I’m 51 now and still don’t know what I want to do. I see youngsters today putting a lot of pressure on themselves, trying to come up with a defi ned career path. Outside of dreaming of being a professional footballer or golfer, I didn’t really have anything in mind, and just followed my nose.
What’s your biggest ambition?
On a personal level, it’s to be a single handicap golfer. But also seeing the kids really happy in what they do in their lives, would be my biggest ambitions.
What’s your handicap now? 12, and it’s going down so I’m knocking on the door. Like every reasonable golfer though, the spectre of a nightmare round is never too far away.
- Frontline Systems is an IT integration company focusing on managed and professional services as well as enabling infrastructure.
- Clients include Macquarie Bank, Toll Holdings, St George Bank, Australia Post, Telstra, Optus, Fosters, Patrick, Merrill Lynch, Amcor and the NSW Department of Mineral Resources.
- The company has offi ces in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra as well as a datacentre in Sydney, with another being built in Melbourne.