A leader that advocated values and reciprocity

The Australian IT industry mourns the loss of Mike Clarkin.

Michael Fitzgerald Clarkin, 1941 - 2008

Mike Clarkin is recognised as one of Australia's great IT leaders and innovators.

Having successfully established the New Zealand subsidiary for Wang Laboratories (US), Clarkin came to Sydney in 1977 to take charge of the company's $8 million Australian operation. Within 10 years Clarkin transformed the small company, built primarily on WP and small DP hardware, into a $100 million information and networking systems powerhouse.

Long before it became a corporate mantra, Clarkin advocated the primary importance of values, and the principle of reciprocity, to growing a business. In applying these ideas he built a fiercely loyal employee culture which enabled Wang to work outside of its office systems 'comfort zone' and into markets dominated by giants such as IBM.

"Mike hated IBM," recalls Steve Chambers who Clarkin recruited from the record industry to help build the Wang brand. "He thought their products were boring and their culture robotic. In many ways Mike set out to create an opposite to the industry leader, when most believed you had to copy them - or accommodate them - to survive."

The pivotal year for Clarkin's plan was 1983 when the Department of Social Security (now Centrelink) put up a massive $63 million networking contract on the table.

Everyone thought it would go to IBM because it had already proven it could handle such a large scale network and, in those days, "nobody got fired for buying IBM." Clarkin went for it. He flew to Wang's Boston headquarters to get reassurance from the company's founder, Dr An Wang. The feedback was positive. The Dr said go for it. So he did.

Winning the blockbuster contract - to supply the DSS with VS series minicomputers, workstations and other peripherals - meant Wang would cement the number 2 spot in the Australian marketplace from the incumbent International Computers Australia Ltd.

True to his principles on reciprocity, Clarkin initiated a massive investment program back into the Australian industry and community. Over the following 5 years, over $10 million was poured into Australian sports and innovative art organisations such as the Sydney Dance Company, The Playbox Theatre, and the company also further strengthened its considerable commitment to local R & D and manufacturing.

"It's impossible to define Mike and the impact he had on the lives of people who worked for him: he was this talented, kind, and irrepressible energy, who would be as genuinely delighted to run into a Wang receptionist down the street as he would be for the MD of his biggest client" says Chambers.

Clarkin was always buoyant. He enjoyed a laugh. "He was larger than life. All round good guy," said Ray Gibson, who worked as a finance manager at Wang in the late 80's.

He would also be the first to say the party has started.

In the early 90's, as the international Wang business restructured to be more of a service and support company, Clarkin parted ways. He became highly sought after in the Australian and New Zealand business communities, occupying chairman and director roles with several major organisations.

Towards the latter part of his career, Clarkin's health deteriorated. Following a series of debilitating illnesses, he had a leg partially amputated, and was wheelchair bound.

To celebrate Clarkin's achievements former Wang Australia staff organised a 30 year reunion in November last year.

"Over 170 ex Wang employees attended the event to honour Mike. Not bad considering the company folded over 10 years ago," said reunion organiser Sandy Tischmann. "He was a remarkable visionary, who's support and encouragement resulted in tremendous loyalty from his employees and great success for Wang Australia. He was an inspiration to many, right through to the end."

Mike Clarkin passed away last Friday at the Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney. A Requiem Mass to celebrate his life at the Mary Immaculate Church in Manly will be held today -- Thursday, April 10 at 10.30 a.m.

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