Graham Harman’s boss at Dunlop Australia called him a fool. A fool, that is, for wanting to leave the company’s trainee management program and become a teacher. He told Graham he should pull his socks up and get trained as an accountant with Dunlop.
“As it goes, I have a hell of a lot to thank that guy for,” said Harman, 45, and now working for printing technology company Oki Printing Solutions Australia, where he has been general manager for the past two years.
“I was 18 years old and had not had any real defining career aspirations. Teaching seemed like a reasonable option, following a dull stint at Dunlop. But when I came to resign, the boss managed to talk me out of it by telling me that I had potential for the commercial world.”
He was right. Harman successfully completed the accountancy training, gained his credentials during a further five years of management at Dunlop and then went on to help manage his family business, a dealership specialising in printers and PCs.
It was the start of a long relationship with business and technology, something which Harman said has been greatly aided by his accountancy training. “Although I never practised as an accountant, the training has always held me in good stead as a platform for building any commercial environment,” he said.
“Early on, I just thought that bottom line net profit and loss stuff was just words on a page, but now I can’t overestimate how much it has really helped throughout my whole career. Having recently just implemented some ERP systems in our business, for example, has made me realise how useful accountancy training is.”
Harman said he prides himself on being able to impart knowledge to dealers, which he has gained through working on ‘both sides of the fence’.
“We have around 170 dealers at Oki right now and sometimes they will come to me and say how glad they are that they can talk to someone who has worked as a dealer themselves. Because of this, I like to think that I understand pricing issues, how to help them grow their business, their pains and opportunities and where they’re coming from when they want price protection from Oki.
“This is a very tough market here in Australia and accordingly, some dealers have the resources to grow very successfully, whilst some find things a little more difficult. Being able to share information and ideas that I have gained through working as both a dealer and on the vendor side is important. Many channel managers may have not had this experience and are not able to empathise in this way.”
Harman said he takes his hat off to Australian Oki dealers, describing them as a “very courageous bunch.
“Being a small, competitive market – and much more so than in Europe – dealers are bidding for a relatively small market share. If they can make money here – like many very successfully do – then they can make money anywhere.”
But he is not oblivious to the sometimes extreme financial hardship that some dealers have faced. “I would describe many of these guys as fearless entrepreneurs and whilst I have great respect for them, I have seen that many have gone through difficult situations, whereby they may have lost some serious money or even have put their houses on the line for the sake of their business. It’s certainly not always easy.”
Full of admiration for this entrepreneurial spirit, Graham admits that to an extent, he regrets not taking his own personal businesses to greater limits. “These sorts of challenges are very exciting for me as a person, and of course when one works for themself, their destiny is very much in their own hands. Maybe it is that cautious inner accountant in me which has held me back!” he laughs.
Asked whether he has taken any great risks in his life, Harman shakes his head. “Only calculated ones! In true accountant style, I think I need all the facts and figures right there in front of me before I am able to make any big decisions … I am not very exciting in that way unfortunately. I think Oki dealers are much more courageous than I am.”
And that is, said Harman, where his opportunity lies. “Now I have the chance to grow a business which is what I love. Oki Australia has huge potential as we are currently looking to increase its market share to a similar level to that in Europe.”
On that side of the world, he said, the company is the number two in colour printing solutions, with that now being what is aimed for in Australia.
Nowhere near that positioning at the moment, Harman remains undeterred. “With one of our A3 machines being number one in colour in 10 countries, I know that we certainly have the product and the potential to achieve this.”
Apparently the problem (or the challenge as Harman prefers to put it) lies in the Oki brand positioning. “It’s all about driving up the marketing,” he said. “We have the USP of the dramatically superior colour; now the challenge is to get the marketing out there in the same way as in the US and Europe. Educating the channel (both the direct and indirect partner sides) is a major part of this and so we are looking to create ‘Oki Evangelists’ who will be focused on this message and publicise it succinctly to our customers.”
Harman said one of his own key strengths lies in coming up with new marketing concepts. “I have had the advantage of being able to spend other people’s money to position product and influence end-user demand. And compared to other vendors, we do a lot more one-on-one marketing with our dealers – creating marketing concepts that can produce strategies that are real lead generators.”
Despite not having taken his entrepreneurial life just that little bit further, Harman does not have any major regrets over the way his professional life has turned out.
“I am very fortunate in that I have had some truly fantastic times travelling the world – staying in some hotels that I certainly wouldn’t have paid for myself if I hadn’t been there for work, and now I have even more opportunity to look forward to in expanding the
Married to Leanne for 23 years and with two children, Samantha, 18 and Joel, 16, Harman admits that maybe family and friends fell by the wayside a little during the pursuit of work.
“The past 10 years have been incredibly focused for me. If you had caught me on a beach at any time, I would somehow have still managed to turn the conversation to business at some point!
“But I have no major regrets really. I am a futurist, not a historian and also like to think I am an optimist. My favourite quote is: ‘Success is not a measure of a man, but a triumph over those who hold him back.’
“I think it’s true that there will always be those people who rain on your parade. Going back to the times of working in a dealer group, which was incidentally a very ‘political’ environment, I always found that there would be certain people around who would be jealous of those who had the courage to stick their necks out to make great achievements. I think it is just the way of the world that there will always be people like this around. The trick is in being able to deal with it and not let them drag you down. You can never be all things to all people.
Away from the pressures of work, Harman said he is happy to while away the hours on his cruiser boat around the shores of Sydney, along with Leanne, the kids and his dog, a Tibetan spaniel called Toby. Always content to be the skipper, he is also happy at relinquishing the long-held role of his children’s taxi driver. “Thankfully, now that Samantha is 18 and can drive, I can ask her to drive herself to sports fixtures and even drop her younger brother off,” he laughs.
Aside from boating, Harman, a committed Christian, said he and his wife are active with their local church. “The kids are in and out of church life, which is fine by us,” he said. “It’s really a personal thing which is ultimately up to them. I was never pressured by my own family into doing anything I didn’t want to do, religious or otherwise, and that is the way we have chosen to bring up our own kids.
“Passion comes from within.”