by A. Charles Smith
Old timers are fond of saying that hard work always brings success. That ethic was instilled in Bekir Kilic from a very early age. It served him well in the long road that led to his stewardship of PRO IT. The business is one of the most significant players in the modern computer age servicing the technological support and broad-ranging IT needs of business, large, small and medium.
As it so often does, circumstance fashioned the boy, the youth and now the man, his jib cut by tough, early times. Yet he looks back benignly on those formative years without the slightest hint of self-pity, let alone a resort to victimhood.
“I didn’t think I was badly done by at all,” as he details coming to Australia the second time, an eight year old with his other siblings and a recently widowed mother, still a relatively young woman.
Going back even further, Bekir was just two months old in 1969 with two older brothers when his parents brought the boys to Australia. Turkish people are known for their strength in adversity. His parents were intent on working their hearts out for five years and returning to Turkey with enough capital for the family to start a business or buy a farm of their own.
Until he was weaned at ten months, his father worked solely for Sydney Railways, but it was extremely difficult to get ahead on just one wage. So the children were sent back to live with their grandparents.
His parents stayed on for the next four years as planned to attain their original goal. One can only contemplate the enormous heartache they felt with that decision and all it entailed, especially for Bekir’s mother.
Unfortunately, things did not work out in Turkey as the family had planned. Not yet thirty, widowed and with four children to look after and support, she decided to come to Australia permanently. Soon after the family arrived, Mrs Kilic became what is now known as a, ‘day care mother.’
“We lived in a two bedroom apartment. Without resorting to government support and housing, somehow Mum managed to look after up to fifteen youngsters within the confines of our flat. What a woman she was then and still is,” he speaks lovingly of her. “She is still working at age seventy on weekends, not in any way enriching herself materially but helping others especially needy families and worthy charities.”
He and his brothers entered the newspaper selling business. They did the deliveries and Bekir, as an eight year old, took on the role of minder of a wheelbarrow chockfull of them. All the time, he was under the watchful eye of a kindly newsagent who admired the spunk of the boys in using their initiative to approach him for an opportunity to work and establish a paper run.
Their endeavours continued for the next six years, Bekir taking a more hands-on role in distributing newspapers as he became older. The money they made went straight back into the family budget to be allocated according to his mother’s astute management.
“We were always well-fed. Mum was determined to see all her four sons educated. She managed to realise her dream but in the process, it is fair to say we exceeded even these expectations making her enormously proud of ‘her sons.’ ”
One of Bekir’s happiest memories of his early teenage years was wearing his McDonalds uniform when he started at the famous fast-food chain. “At the statutory minimum age of fourteen years and nine months,” he hastens to add. He was still going to school of course.
“There I was on the train heading to my first real job, savouring the looks and feeling on top of the world. These things you never forget.”
That experience proved a springboard to further enterprise. But before that, school. He shifts sheepishly in his chair to concede that schoolwork for him was not all that his mother had hoped.
“I didn’t do well at school,” preferring the environs of the Flemington Markets where he began work at two in the morning, making up food packs of vegetables. Here he felt at home working alongside his mother.
Still, Bekir recognised that something was missing from his attainment of real personal development.
So he worked, saved and then studied part-time at a Private Training Institute, then later at ‘TAFE’ opting to focus on computer technology.
‘The days must have been long,’ I asked. “Were they what! But I found my niche and won an internship, obtaining a position with AAP Reuters as a computer operator.”
These days, the job would be designated as an, ‘IT engineer.’ In that capacity, over time, his role evolved to one where he prepared data and electronic distribution of stock trades to all the media industries in Australia.
Then, somewhat incongruously, (since he had no bent towards the racing game) he ended up compiling form guide layouts for the whole of Australia.
“It might shock everyone to know that I was even, temporarily, a racing journalist. I actually wrote one-liners on form!”
I was loath to ask him how his predictions went, especially as he did not hold out the slightest impression that he wanted to be quizzed about them. However, Bekir was immodest enough to imply that he was never pestered by irate punters.
In the nine years at AAP Reuters, he advanced to Data Process Manager by 1994, and in that capacity, reported to the Chief Executive Officer. “At the end of my time there, I had become the Deputy Operations Manager.”
Bekir recognised that at this juncture in his career, he could not go any further there. But he was not content to fossilise or let wane an unquenchable desire to learn.
“I never stopped studying the whole time and was awarded an Advanced Diploma in Information Technology and, best of all, the TAFE version of the MBA. This was the fillip I needed and the impetus to becoming my own boss.”
He resigned and somewhat incongruously, bought into a locksmith business. He had married a master locksmith’s daughter and it seemed the inevitable step to take on the road to business acclimatisation.
“It was called, ‘National Locksmiths’, and expanded dramatically. We had some powerful clients like, P & O, Amcor, local councils and large jewellery chains.”
At this point in the narrative, Bekir became more reflective. It was an understandable interlude, for no marriage break-up is ringed with gold lace.
“Actually left the whole business, after signing it over cold and then back to Mum, with her open arms to greet me of course; what else would she do with any of her sons, turn me away?” he says with warmth, prompting the listener to feel that he would like to meet the matriarch of this household.
Bekir remained steadfastly optimistic at the time. Reminiscent of the great travel writer, Peter Fleming when he wrote, after being forced to choose between an overweight suitcase and his typewriter in 1930’s China, Better to have nothing to wear, than nothing to do, and so the proud Aussie set out to be a ‘doer.’
Although hardly appreciating it at this trying time, the dramatic change in direction in his life in 1997, chartered the footpath that ultimately melded into PRO IT.
In those days, his IT venture began with a computer sales and services business located in Seven Hills. Bekir was in partnership with a man with whom he worked productively for two years. He makes absolutely no complaint about his partner, a facility that surprised, given that when the business was about to score with a major contract, Bekir was told that he was not a partner after all. The unilateral rearrangement signalled the cessation of his association with that business and he was back to square one.
Looking back, Bekir says,”Working in Seven Hills was a ‘blessing” as six months prior to the business break up, he hired Ireena, a part-time first year university student, to work as an office administrator.
Ireena and Bekir’s friendship turned into much more. They married and proudly boast five children, the youngest being just 3 months old.
And with stability, he was propelled into bigger and more productive horizons. “There are no rewards from looking hindmost either in anger or sorrow,” he says philosophically.
He finds it hard to comprehend it all today. “There was just one customer to begin with and I started with a paltry $2000.”
Bekir derives a great sense of achievement in reflecting on that original customer. “He is still with us. That I find almost more satisfying than anything. It’s not merely the fact of doing business, but loyalty, friendship and trust.”
In 1999, PRO IT assumed substance and form and became registered. With much fanfare, its office was opened in Auburn by the local member and Minister in the Carr government.
He needed qualified people too, and remembered his early courses and studies. “Because of my training at what is now Lidcombe TAFE, I felt that anyone who had come through that regimen as I had, would be eminently suitable to work for me. So a recommendation was sought and I interviewed several applicants.”
Bekir was very fortunate in the choice he made. His first employee stayed for six years. The business kept expanding in the first few years and several more IT engineers were added to his staff.
“TAFE was my first port of call in each case when looking for recruits and I was very grateful for its co-operation. Skill levels were outstanding.”
Like any business, he found in the intervening years that there were periods of dormancy, then spurts of growth of more than 20 per cent. The finance sector has been a boon to his business.
The approach of 2000 was the defining year of change, presaging a chain of events. For the uninitiated, (and fifteen years is almost a generation in computer parlance) Y2K bug talk, aka, the mother of all Armageddon’s turn of the century was looming.
“The time was ripe to pursue business outposts. The enfilading of all technological substance created by mankind, was about to engulf us, but I would save the world,” he says with a smile bestowed by hindsight. He does not shrink from admitting that it was an opportunity to advance his operation, which he achieved with distinction.
From here on, he recalls PRO IT’s association with Bridge Info Systems, an American conglomerate with whom Reuters was also involved in the days when he worked there.
“This was a business with 1500 servers around Australia and I quoted for the tender. We were short-listed — way under-quoted, trying to outdo Fujitsu and other big names. For some reason, they took an interest in me and offered a three month trial, even upping my quote a little. ‘I believe there is a spark in you’, I will never forget one of its executives saying.”
Bekir did not rest on any false assumption that he had cracked the big-time. He headed for Melbourne in an old Corolla, importuned a mate to put him up and gathered the necessary expertise around him to fulfil his obligations. The work was replicated in Sydney and Brisbane. Back to back contracts followed.
The cliché, ‘one thing leads to another’ worked for him and he expanded into the financial market side of the IT business, an insight into which had been gained in his time at Reuters. Leveraging off from that knowledge and experience led to a five year deal worth over eight million dollars.
These were the building blocks for making PRO IT a formidable leader in the field and those companies have remained loyal customers of the company today.
The business is growing still further through international partnerships. This has seen it reach into Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia and in the last twelve months with the United Kingdom.
Bekir puts much of his success down to flexibility and a readiness to fasten hard to technological developments, “PRO IT has adapted to the many changes in the information technology environment. This is something of which I never lose sight,” he says.
Currently the company is working with Telstra connecting a sub-sea cable between Hawaii and Sydney along with the installation of switch gear. Similar connectivity development is under way with Hong Kong.
So what are the precepts underpinning PRO IT’s success? Bekir underlines the concept of ‘fairness’— to his employees, his suppliers and to the customer. Secondly, a determination to succeed has guided him.
“Give 100 per cent in what you believe; never give up and you will achieve what you want.”
He also emphasises having an open mind and keeping his ears to the ground, as well as his feet planted firmly on it.
“Don’t be cocky or rude. Your customers will always remember the personal touch. By the same token, they will never forget discourtesy.”
These are the principles Bekir applies to any jobs being undertaken by PRO IT. He adds, “Be big enough to admit and rectify mistakes. Finish the job you have promised to do. There is no more dissatisfied customer than the one who believes he has been short-changed.”
In an Australia where so many have come to expect the government to provide for them, it is refreshing to see a successful man driven by his own sweat and risk-taking.
Surely Bekir Kilic in shaping PRO IT, is a model for others to emulate in achieving their goals.