BEN SHIPLEY: COMSCENTRE

Written on the 12 January 2011

BEN SHIPLEY: COMSCENTRE

IT took an ASX-listed e-commerce underperformer to teach Ben Shipley how not to run a business, but since founding the telco Comscentre in 2002 he expects $17 million revenue this year.

“I learned a lot of lessons as a director of eGlobal as I was very young when I first started with the corporate life, at the peak of the dotcom boom – a business needs to be sustainable and not reliant on existing in boom mode,” says Shipley.

“On a personal side I learned you need to choose your business partners carefully. The managing director wasn’t a nice person, so for a future business I knew that it’s not just about the transactions and what you’re supplying to customers, but the people around you.

“I got here through failing previously. Maybe ‘failing’ is a harsh way of putting it in the sense that it never went bankrupt, no one lost any money, but if it’s not going anywhere, that’s not success.”

As for Comscentre itself, Shipley hopes for it to be the leading one-stop corporate communications company in Australia in the next five years, providing solutions for internet, phone and a variety of communications technologies.

“The great thing about telecommunications is that no matter what happens people will still use phones and I got into that industry with like-minded people,” he says.

“Comscentre has grown over the last five years. The first three we were just a ‘holding company’, but since then we now have 60 staff, five offices, we have $35 million under contract and expect $17 million revenue this year.

“The business is based on ensuring staff are happy and that we don’t over-promise and under-deliver, and that’s a difficult road in some ways because we’re working on the leading edge of technology.”

The business was actually founded in Sydney, but Shipley moved the Comscentre headquarters to Brisbane for personal reasons.

“The true story is that my ex-wife and I broke up and she moved to Brisbane with our 12-month-old daughter at the time and I didn’t want her to grow up without a father. I was 29.

“At the time it wasn’t too hard for me to move here, it wasn’t a difficult decision to make – Brisbane is a great place to get committed people, Brisbane workers are very good.

“Another thing when starting a business is to have good underlying contracts that will stand up in court, as your business has to be protected as well as your staff. Our staff have very good wages and we have a big responsibility to them as they’ve got families.”

Shipley divides the business into two areas – telecommunications which is cyclical, and unified communications which is at the cutting edge of technology and changes with economic cycles.

With 480 sites and 15,000 devices around the country, he claims the company is intimidated frequently by competitors, but he just lets it slide.

“Our biggest competitor Commander is no longer in the market, and the likes of Telstra and Optus are competitors, but because we offer a whole business solution it’s quite unique,” he says.

“It (intimidation) happens fairly often from other companies in our field, mostly foreign companies in our game that want to cut pricing below cost, spread bad rumours and won’t understand lost deals. They don’t like to lose to Australians.

“We just ignore it. Usually it’s a bit of a compliment.”

For a full profile list on Brisbane’s 2010 Young Entrepreneurs, including interviews with all of the finalists, get a copy of the special annual edition of Brisbane Business News – out now in more than 500 greater Brisbane newsagents.


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