arbitrary stuff that comes to mind: whenever I feel like thinking aloud

Saturday, September 4, 2010

A Tale of Two Ties

November 1986.
It's an age of an age ago, yet it sits clear in the memory.
At the time I had been working for the QPac group of companies, then the owner/developer of the most widely used payroll system in the Western world, and after many years there I headed up the Financial Software division, QFin. QFin held the agency to the leading Financial Software Package of it's day, and our customers were a who's who of South Africa. When we held our user conference, 85 of the top 100 companies on the JSE were represented by their Financial Managers, Directors and Management Accountants … there wasn't a sector of Business that we did not straddle. SAP and Oracle would come later, but that was later. And on the Payroll side we ran even deeper. The model of pay-for-usage with affordable implementations kept our eye firmly on the goal of customer service and the pot-of-gold was a flood of recurring income.
Another company in the IT Sector was rising. Data Trust was the pre-eminent Software consultancy, and in the months leading up to November the two companies were locked in merger negotiations: my boss Des Gers led the Q team and Piet den Boer the Data Trust team. With the final talks done, the due diligences completed, the 2 companies were merged into a single entity called QData, and the success story of the SA IT world was underway. In its heyday the Q group employed 4500 highly skilled IT staff and even today, after many changes and re-arranges, BCX continues the tradition. In 1995 it was the winner of the Top 100 award and remained in the top 3 until it merged with Persetel.
In the Boardroom chosen for the day, all the Q and DT directors were gathered. Piet and Des had brought us together to meet: the listing had been a success, and QData was stretching it's wings. It was a curiously muted occasion, and what with the predominantly Afrikaans speaking directors from Piet's side and the largely English speaking Q people, the difference in language and culture held us back a bit: but we shared a common culture with regards to our view of the customer and this would pull things through later.
Brief introductions, a handshake, followed by an exchange of ties. That's them up there in the photo, the original ties from the first joint operational meeting of the newly formed QData Group.

From the Q side, a QPac tie and aQFin tie.
From Data Trust, their signature Blue and Red ties.
We came away from the meeting believing that the future was bright, but Piet came away wanting a whole lot more. He wanted to own IT is South Africa, and he near as dammit did: driving us all forward and extending the company's reach. He did it all from a little notebook that he used to keep in his shirt pocket, along with his cigarette box. We used to joke that the perfect design, perfect system, perfect anything could be described sufficiently on the back of a cigarette box, because that was as much as Piet ever needed, and look where it took him! Not too many people called him out, and survived it. I know one such, we met up in Sanlam's offices towards the end of 2009.
René's Story
She tells this story of Piet's comeuppance. She was a Business Analyst back then, and had been given a Business Case to work with. "Who wrote this piece of crap?" she asked. Piet's head popped up from behind a cubicle. "I did" he said.
So René, as one of the few people who has crossed Piet and survived, will now get one of those original ties :-). I guess she deserves it.  Two of the original set of four, one from each side, is enough for me, after all.
QPac was founded in 1967 by Des Gers and Ron Warren
Data Trust was founded on April Fools day in 1981 by Leen van der Bijl,and Bushy Bester ~ Piet (as I recall) joined them in January the following year.
Together in 1986 they were to be the driving engine of the most successful IT company in South Africa’s history.


Anonymous said...

Whatever happend to the other two directors of Qdata in the Nineties. I remember working closely with Ron Warren, Ian Mcclaren and the other one who I can't remember his surname but his name was John ... He reminds me of the actor John Lithgow from 3rd Rock From The Sun.

ilink cs said...

Hi Anonymous, little late to reply, somehow the notification passed me by. Sorry for that. The QData board was quite big back in those days. the names you mention were all Payroll ~ Only Des Gers, Ron and Ian were on the main board at the time I left in the late 80's. The other big name was of course, Leen van de Bijl from DataTrust. He left the Group some time ago and is currently Chairman of Xpedia.

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