Laurie Carmichael can troubleshoot a mainframe, has been to countless Comdex expos, and once had a job interview where an ambulance had to be called.
In an ICT career spanning 50 years, Carmichael, the National Manager of the Professional Partners Program at ACS, appreciated the wonder of electronics from a young age, as a teenager working in his father’s workshop making valve amplifiers.
“My father was a turner and fitter by trade and we used to make aluminium chassis and punch holes in them so we could mount transformers and valves, and then solder things like capacitors and resistors,” he said. “It’s the reason I got into the electronics industry.”
Following a 2-year electronic course at RMIT in Melbourne, Carmichael joined Honeywell on 6 March 1967 as a service engineer.
“We had six months of intensive training on the Honeywell 400 mainframe where we learned to write programs in machine language and were taught to troubleshoot to component level,” he said. “There was no solid state storage back then, so every time the computer was powered down, you would have to reload the operating system from disk.”
In 1974, Honeywell selected Carmichael along with two others to live and work in Paris, France for 12 months – a country he has returned to almost every year since – studying how to repair the new Level 64 mainframe.
“That assignment turned out to be a life-changing experience for me,” he said. “Machines were starting to self-diagnose and I suddenly realised all the fun was gone. There was no need to troubleshoot – the machine could tell you what was wrong with it. I realised I would have to change career.”
But before that could happen, Honeywell whisked Carmichael off again, this time to Boston in the US for another 12 months of training, after which he returned to Australia to train other Honeywell engineers.
In 1982, Carmichael decided he should get into sales and joined a distributor called ADE, selling mini-computers and micro-computers.
“We were seeing the advent of something exciting,” he said. “It was new technology. Mini-computers and micro-computers represented the new challenge to mainframes.”
Three years later, Carmichael got the opportunity to run his own business – C&PA Corporate in Victoria – with a partner. “We imported products from US – instrument plotters and laser printers,” he said. “Over an 8-year period, we had a $30 million turnover.”
But the business needed more capital and sought a “big brother”, as Carmichael describes it. C&PA ended up merging with GES in Singapore and began trading under the name Digiland.
“Between 1993 and 2000, I was the Australia country manager and grew the business from $30 million to $120 million,” Carmichael said. “I was going to Singapore every quarter – I made maybe 40 trips – and attended several Comdexes.” (Comdex was the predecessor to the annual monster-sized Consumer Electronics Show, also held in Las Vegas.)
With the advent of the internet in late 1995 and early 1996, Digiland parent company GES understood a wave was coming.
“GES understood the power of the internet and that we could sell without the infrastructure of bricks and mortar. But we had to teach customers how to buy from us. It saved us from hiring people to take orders over the phone, which was how things were done back then.”
Carmichael stayed with Digiland until 2000, then left to have a break. But in his absence, the Asian crisis hit, and employee numbers at Digiland went from 60 to 6, and turnover dropped from $120 million to $10 million.
In 2004, he was lured back to Digiland for 18 months to resurrect the business, and later departed in search of a new adventure.
Joining the ACS
“In 2006, I began looking for what else was on the horizon in terms of a new challenge and applied for a job at the ACS.”
The job was to set up a B2B partner program for the ACS which became known as the Professional Partner Program.
“I was interviewed by [then] CEO Dennis Ferrini, and membership director John Ridge,” Carmichael recalls.
“During the interview, John started to look very pale, not well and started to sweat. As it proceeded – about 45 mins or so in – John lay down on the floor. He then put his hand up in the air and said ‘you’ve got the job’ and we shook hands, with Dennis frantically picking up the phone to call an ambulance. It was an interview I’ll never forget.”
The Professional Partner Program went on to double ACS’ membership.
Carmichael is passionate about the program, which helps companies plan the career path of their ICT workers.
“ACS is an organisation that can help further our members’ careers, from cradle to grave,” he said. “I really enjoy the journey in technology. I can’t imagine anything more fascinating! We are changing the world.
“And as a footnote, my father who is 92 – and enjoys his classical collection on both vinyl and CD – swears that valve amplifiers still sound better than anything that’s ever come after.”
ACS congratulates Laurie Carmichael on reaching this 50-year career milestone in the ICT industry!