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Beyond the nerd and his slide rule

Beyond the nerd and his slide rule

Frank Ollie came to New Zealand planning to retire. Things didn't quite work out that way

Frank Ollie returned to New Zealand in 1996 in order to retire. Somewhere along the line that plan got put on hold and, instead, he spends his days managing the business of different international vendors in New Zealand, through his company Packet Technologies.

Perhaps it is because he is so passionate about what he does that he sees his work as being directly linked to his happiness. “I believe that the definition of happiness is to have as little separation as possible between your work and your play. Unfortunately not everyone is able to achieve that but I have been lucky I guess. Having fun and making money do go hand in hand for me,” he says.

From his office and lifestyle block in Whenuapai, West Auckland, Ollie manages Packet Technologies — often referred to by the shorthand Pactec — which has a unique business model. “We are a specialist IT company that acts as the vendor for companies not located in New Zealand,” he explains. “Our Team consists of seasoned sales personnel who work within the Packet Technologies framework and on behalf of the vendors.”

According to Ollie, this business model is a “magic formula” that works well in smaller markets. He adds that the company currently has a waiting list of vendors wanting to participate. In fact, getting more Pactec- thinking people on board and expanding the franchise beyond New Zealand is the company’s focus for the year that has only just started.

For the general manager, focusing on business in general is “for the mainstream”. Instead, he chooses to look for the next big thing and advises people to do the same and invest in it so “you won’t have to worry about troubled times ahead”.

Another key to Ollie’s success is always keeping succession in mind, “whether it be for a company, or just an idea”.

“No matter how good you are or how young you are you just might need someone else to complete the job,” he says.

Ollie's career in IT started back in Canada, where he hails from. "Denzil Doyle,"the grandfather of high-tech in Canada", in 1965 saw past the nerd in me and started me on a career selling computers," he recalls. His professional path had "many forks on the road" and took him through the US, the UK, and Australia, as well as New Zealand. His arrival in the country wasn't exactly a long term plan of his but more of a matter of circumstances. "I was working in the US and they were about to start drafting 'aliens' (I was Canadian) for the Vietnam war. A good time to get out. My employer DEC (Digital Equipment Corporation) offered me a start up position in New Zealand and I took it," he says. "From that point on I became more involved with the New Zealand IT industry and then back overseas. When I returned it was supposedly for retirement but the opportunities were still there so I took them and eventually ended up at Pactec."

As a kid growing up in Canada, Ollie had dreams of becoming a rocket scientist. "I designed them, built them and had a few successes as well as one or two near tragedies. Ended up working on the Canadian Alouette Satellite programme where I was introduced to early computers. The Alouette 1 was Canada 's first satellite, and the first constructed by a country other than the USSR or the United States."

His dreams of a career related to space were eventually set aside in favour of IT. When asked what makes him stay in this industry, Ollie has a forthright answer: "Quite simply [IT] remains as the easiest (legal) industry to make money in."

Q+A

Where do you live now and where did you grow up and have lived before?

I live in Whenuapai in West Auckland. The property is 6.5 acres and on the Upper Harbour. We have owned this property since 1978 although it doesn’t look like it did back then. In the early days we practiced self-sufficient farming but today it is more about lifestyle. I was born and grew up in Ontario, Canada and later lived in the USA (both coasts), New Zealand, the UK, Australia.

Are you married? Kids?

Yes, married 45 years this November to the same woman! LM Ollie, “Ollie,” is an author of four novels and helps with the company. Our only daughter Alicia is pursuing a career in forensic psychology and criminal investigation and is currently doing a masters degree at Liverpool University.

What are you currently reading?

I am a fan of Historical Fiction. My particular interest is the 1940s, 50s and 60s, although I know a lot about medieval history - compliments of my wife. I have just finished reading Stephen King’s 11/22/63which is about a time traveller who attempts to prevent the assassination of John F Kennedy. I'm now reading Child 44 by British writer Tom Rob Smith, based on the crimes of Ukrainian serial killer Andrei Chikatilo, also known as the Rostov Ripper, in the Stalin-era Soviet Union. Both come highly recommended.

Do you have any favourite sports?

I’m not really a sports-minded person although I have played a few. However I am interested in technology-driven sports such as yacht racing.

What's your favourite gadget?

To me it would have to be the slide rule. Long forgotten to many, it is a mechanical analogue computer that is used primarily for multiplication and division, and also for functions such as roots, logarithms and trigonometry before the days of the digital computer. I still have a collection of them and it seems hardly anyone knows how to use one anymore. I was told that the original Boeing 747 was the last aircraft designed with a slide rule and let’s not forget the Apollo space programme.

And your favourite website?

WIthout a doubt my personal (family only) page on Facebook. Here you can learn all about Frankie. Frankie at an A-bomb test in the Nevada Desert; Frankie holding up traffic in Red Square, Moscow; Frankie in thelion’s cage at a circus, etc, etc. Sorry, but I am not accepting any friend requests.

What's your drink of choice?

Give me a New Zealand pinot noir any day.

What do you think has been the single most important advance in technology?

The digital computer. Without it I would still be a nerd with my slide rule.

If you weren't in technology, what would you be doing?

Not sure. I failed at everything else I tried. As a result I kept turning to technology. It made my music better but I couldn’t make it as a musician. It made my art better but in the end it wasn’t good enough for me to make it as an artist. Technology was always my crutch and still is, so without technology I was going nowhere.

How do you keep the work/leisure balance?

I believe that the definition of happiness is to have as little separation as possible between your work and your play. Unfortunately not everyone is able to achieve that but I have been lucky I guess. Having fun and making money do go “hand in hand” for me.


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