Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Aymever Days 2 - getting started

Continuing the story from Aymever Days 1 - genesis, Denise came up to Armidale first, while I sorted out a few things in Canberra.

Based on my policy experience, I had a pretty clear idea what I wanted to achieve.

One of my complaints in Canberra lay in the impact of fragmentation, what we would now call siloing. There were two common approaches then adopted.

The first focused on small individual sectors, so that we had things with names like the room air conditioner industry. It was quite impossible to have sensible policies at this level of disaggregation because  there were so few real policy instruments available.

The second approach was the deal with big lumps such as manufacturing as a whole. I found this approach inadequate for two reasons.

The first lay in the variety across such a huge slab. Policy always has differential on-ground effects because people and firms respond to Government actions depending on their circumstances. The greater the variety in circumstance, the greater the divergence in actual outcomes. If you base policy on averages without taking variety into account, you will always get perverse results. 

The second reason was convergence. The old models then (and now) deeply entrenched in thinking go back to the industrial revolution and a now ancient industrial past. We have primary, secondary and tertiary. We have people who make or grow things, those who provide services to them.

Dealing with the electronics, aerospace and information industries, it was already clear that  convergence meant that the old models and the policies and statistical constructs based on those models were becoming increasingly irrelevant. A new approach was required that would allow for better integration.

The following diagram taken from the Aymever brochure shows our industry structure model. Further comments follow the diagram. Aymever 10

If you look at the diagram, you can see how we tried to integrate sectors around common relationships. Remember, the brochure was published around August 1989 and incorporated earlier thinking. If you look at the block containing broadcasting and television, you can see how we are already integrating that sector with information and communications services.

We began operating out of the family home at 202 Marsh Street, using one bedroom, the study and front verandah as space.

That immediate period is wrapped in nostalgia in my mind. I remember taking Denise to the hospital to have Helen and then coming back when it was clear that the birth would be delayed. I had a sleep in our bedroom just off the study while our people worked away.

Soon after Helen's birth, Denise and I went out to dinner. Coming back, the fax was spitting out pages. We were working on a large space bid in conjunction with a UK firm and had sent them material during the day. Now the responses were coming back. There was something wonderfully exciting about this, and I settled down to do a quick response.

It's one thing to have an industry model in mind, but how do you make money out of it? Aymever 17

The next graphic shows our services diagram.

We centred our services around the sector as defined with a sufficiently wide range of services to give us a chance of commercial viability. I believed in research and depth of knowledge, so we needed a basic research function. If we were to have that, then we might be able to sell research and contract information services. Information services as such were just coming into vogue. Later, we would add training services.

In growing a new business like this, you have to define who to recruit. I chose a mixed model.

Because there were few people in Australia with the generic skills we needed, we would recruit core staff young and train them up. We would then combine them with experienced associates who had the very specific skill sets we needed to complete particular tasks. 

We started with part time research and industry analysts, with the initial training sessions around the dining room table. Because we were industry specialists, the initial training focused on the electronics, aerospace and information industries. I then added product knowledge. All training had to be done from scratch.

Every staff member whether administrative of professional had to have a core knowledge. This included a detailed understanding of the workings of government.

I remember talking to Kathy Hall's dad at her wedding.

The wedding stands out in my mind not just because it was Kathy's wedding, but because of the links with then young Helen. To let Denise sleep, baby Helen and I used to watch Rage together. By the time of Kathy's wedding, I knew every one of the current songs. Most were played at the wedding!

At the wedding, Kathy's dad commented about her growth in knowledge, about the way she could talk about things that he struggled to understand. What did we actually do?    

The company grew like topsy. In 1987-1988 we generated over $250,000 in fees. By the time the brochure was printed in August 1989, monthly fees had passed $75,000 and were growing steadily.

The next photo shows part of the team at work in our new board/conference room. The caption reads:

The Company's approach to undertaking any assignment is to assemble from its Staff and Associates a team of specialised personnel with the mix of expertise and experience most appropriate to the client's needs. Here a group is working on the Australian Industry Involvement Package of a major defence project bid.    

Further comments follow the photo.  Ayemever 1   Pretty obviously, there is a degree of puff in the caption. But it's also true.

One of our big projects was the development of the industry component of Telecom Defence Systems bid for JORN, the Jindalee Operational Radar Network. This is an over the horizon radar system still central to Australia's defence.

This was pre-email days. Our Armidale team was working with teams in Adelaide and Melbourne. Material came in by fax and went out by fax. We prepared material and faxed it. It then had to be re-keyed at the other end.

The bid was successful. One side effect was that a key staff member included in the above photo, Andrew Davis, left us to join Telecom as the JORN industry program manager. We had trained Andrew from scratch, and it was a loss. Mind you, that's not a criticism of Andrew, just a reflection on the standard of our training!

Everything seemed great, but problems were about to emerge.    

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