Monthly Archives: January 2017

The Hard Decision carsales had to Make


Very early in in the founding of carsales.com.au, it’s founders had a pretty big business decision to make which had an easy option and a hard option; the answer would have a material effect on its life span.

Here’s a little snippet that I believe is a great example of sound business decision making.

The rise of carsales.com.au was no accident and showed how the leaders at Dealer Management System provider Reynolds & Reynolds (R&R and now Pentana Solutions) were/are extremely astute business people who used business nous and previous learnings to make the right decision to forge what has turned out to be an incredible journey.

carsales grew out of R&R back in the late 90’s leveraging the DealerLink network between it’s dealers to seamlessly collect used car information.

R&R had a choice to make between two alternatives very early in the life of carsales:

The Easy Decision
Was to partner with one (or more) of the biggest media players in Australia to supply inventory as the infrastructure was already in place to collect the inventory and it really was just incremental revenue for not doing a real lot as well working with some of Australia’s largest and most well known brands, which could have been attractive to a small(ish) software house in Mt Waverley.

The Hard Decision
Was to go hard with carsales.com.au which was going into the unknown of competing against these media giants (at what they considered was their “bread & butter”) as a small software services provider.

Here’s my take on two important decision points that drove R&R to making the Hard Decision to turn their back on the media giants and compete against them with carsales.com.au:

1. “If it is this f&@king hard for us imagine how f&@king hard it is for them.”
This quote has stayed with me for nearly 20 years now. R&R had been trying to get dealers to list their cars on carsales.com.au for a little while and the process was a difficult sell even though there was a seamless, automated inventory feed from the dealer’s computer system to carsales.com.au. So when the big media players and newspapers came looking for (exclusive) inventory data deals, the leaders at R&R realised that if it is so hard for us to get inventory with our setup and relationship with the dealers, just imagine how hard it is going to be for them. They realised they had something of real value to build on.

2. They were quick learners.
R&R US acquired DealerNet.com in 1995 and was one of the first automotive sites in the US list used cars (cars.com and Autotrader.com started in 1997). In 1997 R&R sold DealerNet.com to The Cobalt Group so that it could focus on it’s non-equity strategic partnership with Microsoft’s Carpoint.com which was launched in 1996 (an excerpt from Automotive News, 1 December 1997DealerNet was a pioneer in providing dealers with Web pages in the early 1990s. But Reynolds wanted to sell it to focus on its relationship with its new partner, Microsoft CarPoint. ‘With CarPoint, we’re better able to fulfill our mission of linking dealers to buyers,’ said Kevin Distelhorst, Reynolds director of online services).

Fast forward a year to 1998, R&R US knew they had given up something that was potentially huge and missed their first mover opportunity (imagine their grief now, 20 years on when they see carsales.com valued at ~$2.6b). Generally speaking the US market is 2-3 years ahead on the take-up of new technology and/or processes which gives us in Australia an opportunity to learn.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing and it’s easy to say now that the right reign was pulled when the wrong one could have been so easy had the media companies in Australia actually got their act together.

I take my hat off to the leaders of R&R who made it happen.

Note: All views are my own and not those of carsales.com Limited or Reynolds & Reynolds (now called Pentana Solutions)


Careers – Why did you leave?


9 January 1986 marked an important day for me – it was my first day of my working life after leaving school.

Just recently I “relived” my journey from that day and the decisions I made along the way; holidays are good for that (sometimes). More on these decisions further on.

It just happened to be exactly 31 years later on 9 January 2017 when I was sitting in a restaurant with friends including three 17 year old boys (including one of my own) while on holiday in Broadbeach on the Gold Coast when talk turned to what these kids were going to do in life.

With the three of them heading into their final year of high school this year, the discussion turned to how big a year it is for them, that they get a decent VCE score that will enable to have more choices in what they can do at university and/or in the work force, etc.

They asked me how my final year in high school was, what I studied at university, what my first job was and finally how did I get to where I am today.

Immediately I didn’t want to talk about it. I didn’t want them to know that I didn’t do my final year in high school and didn’t go to university (until much later anyway). Why? Simply for me, I believe the professional world has changed and finishing high school with an eye to further education is much more important for these kids; I didn’t want to give them an out.

I didn’t want them thinking “if you didn’t do it and have done ok then it can’t be that important”. So what did I do? I preceded to tell them the whole story – why I left school, why it was different then, what I did, what steps I took and what chances I took.

Did it help them? I hope so. Did it help me? Yep. I actually found it very therapeutic to trace back my steps from my last days in high school, exactly 31 years to the day.

Today with LinkedIn it’s pretty easy to get a quick overview of someone’s work experience path but what we don’t always see and appreciate is the decisions or reasons each takes in each “fork in the road”.

Here’s a quick snippet of some of my big decision points:

Leaving school
I didn’t mind school, my marks were good and wasn’t looking to leave after Year 11 but dad thought that since he left aft Year 11 and had done ok then maybe I should. A job as a trainee computer operator was up at a company a friend of his was at and he “strongly” encouraged me to apply.

I got the job at Idaps Australia and started 9 January 1986 when I was 17 years 42 days old. As a comparison, my son was 17 years 75 days old for the chat described earlier (my older boy was 20 years 44 days old on this day, has completed high school and two years at university).

I must point out that although I started as a trainee computer operator my interest level and/proficiency in computers and technology was very close to zero.

Leaving Idaps
Life as a trainee computer operator (on IBM mainframes) at Idaps was great – 3 weeks of shift work, 2×12 hour shifts every 4th weekend and then 7 days off, again every 4th week. It was during 1986 however, that I found myself at Richmond Football Club at about Round 9 playing in the U19s which then led to me being appointed Captain in 1987. Juggling shift work with U19’s football was ok but as I entered the Richmond senior pre-season I had to make a decision.

I left Idaps (or more to the point I left shift work) after nearly 2 years so I could train properly for football and during 1988 I undertook a Diploma in Computer Programming at the Control Data Institute. This was a 6 month “intensive” course which I finished in August 1988.

On 10 October 1988 I started life as a computer programmer with Reynolds & Reynolds under the tutelage of Greg Roebuck. I was still only 19 years 316 days of age.

Leaving Reynolds
I spent over 10 1/2 years at Reynolds helping to develop, support and grow the best Dealer Management System in Asia Pacific. I got to spearhead some of defining products for the company including parts priority orders which became the building block for us to build CLERA, real time automated parts ordering between dealers. The technology used here then led to real time automated vehicle uploading and not long after that, carsales.

This was around me turning 30 though (this was significant to me for whatever reason) and I was fighting with two lessons from my dad – 1) keep loyal and you will get looked after and 2) if you want get anywhere do it yourself.

It was at this time that a colleague probably saw that our skills matched to do something ourselves. He didn’t talk me into leaving but I highly doubt I would have left without his influence. During May 1999 we started Digital Motorworks in Australia (DMi as it was known) and left Reynolds.

Leaving DMi
Like Reynolds I learnt an enormous amount running DMi from startup. The first 4 years saw me looking primarily after the technology side but with high interaction in deal making. We were acquired by ADP and then my partner left the business meaning I was CEO from July 2003 through May 2009.

DMi grew top and bottom line healthily each year but investment was drying up and we were servicing primarily a legacy environment so I completed a Masters in Business Systems as “personal insurance”. During 2008 I started talking with Greg Roebuck about a range of opportunities at carsales including partnerships, JV’s, etc and finally he said “come and work for carsales”.

I started at carsales on 9 June 2009. Greg Roebuck has announced his retirement this week and Cam McIntyre steps into the chair. I’ve worked directly for Greg for over 18 years so it feels like the start of a new journey and I have lots of unfinished business with carsales under Cam.

In reality, the decisions I’ve had to make in relation to may career have been pretty straight forward compared to many. I’ve never jumped around for more money, there’s always been much more to it. I like it that way.

NB Please don’t associate this post as anything predicating me leaving carsales.