No ordinary techies
Sarah McMurray and Mark Ternent like to think of their business partnership as a Yin and Yang dynamic. It has served their IT business well over the years. They make an interesting duo – particularly when you examine their respective backgrounds. Sarah McMurray was a pioneer female systems engineer with Fujitsu, promoted from a young age. An […]
Sarah McMurray and Mark Ternent like to think of their business partnership as a Yin and Yang dynamic. It has served their IT business well over the years.
They make an interesting duo – particularly when you examine their respective backgrounds.
Sarah McMurray was a pioneer female systems engineer with Fujitsu, promoted from a young age. An avid surfer (Peka Peka beach is her local favourite) and qualified surf lifesaver, she set up Kapiti-based GTB IT Solutions in 1999, initially to provide corporate-quality IT support “without corporate’s bad bits”.
Sarah’s goal was to eventually swap the business for an outdoor adventure enterprise – but that has yet to happen.
Mark Ternent began his career in the Navy – rising to the rank of commander in the role of director of logistics. He spent time in London where he received the New Zealand Order of Merit, before relocating back to New Zealand and the Kapiti Coast.
At age 40 he decided to put his logistics management skills to better use by becoming one of New Zealand’s first self-employed business coaches, and was so successful that he was turning over six figures in less than two years.
But when Mark’s six-year-old son was diagnosed with cancer, it was time to seriously re-focus his life. He recalls the months spent at Auckland’s Starship Hospital, coaching clients by phone from the Ronald McDonald House TV room.
It was at a 2003 meeting of the Kapiti Coast’s first BNI Group where Sarah and Mark first met and their business partnership was subsequently launched.
Mark initially provided business coaching services for GTB IT Solutions before getting more hands-on with the company. Subsequently, he took on a public role with the business, including business development.
Today a ‘Yin and Yang’ dynamic is highly evident. “We’re both equal partners and directors in the business, but we’ve taken on individual roles,” explains Mark. “I’m responsible for the overall development and running of the company, including sales and marketing.”
Sarah’s passion is looking after the delivery of services and she loves being hands-on with her clients. “I think part of our success is that our vision has stayed the same since day one,” she says. “We care about our people and about delivering the best possible service.”
Through his business coaching and his role as chief assessor for Kapiti Horowhenua’s Electra Business Awards, Mark knows how business partnerships can go horribly wrong through a lack of mutual alignment. ‘Alignment’ meaning fundamental agreement on the key aspects of the business, he explains, “especially where it is going, why, what it looks like and how things will work.
“Owners need to be completely aligned about these things. Then it doesn’t matter that one partner likes surfing and the other one tries to stay out of the sun!” he laughs.
“The whole process taught us to be resilient; and we’ve focused on essential things like systems and processes, which is so critical in the IT sector – where attention to detail is vital.” – Mark.
So how tough has the business journey been?
For Sarah, not spending enough time with her kids has been the toughest aspect. “If you’re starting a business, I reckon whatever your definition of insane is – that’s the amount of energy it’s going to take. If you accept and embrace it, you’ll love it and have the best time.
“The toughest thing for me personally was realising this job I had created, intending to spend maximum time with my kids, had resulted in me becoming a very absent parent.”
Mark recalls the difficulties the business went through five years ago. Their business advisor had told them their business was like a small plane flying into a ‘box canyon’.
“You can’t turn because it’s too narrow, can’t climb because it’s too high, and the rear wall is approaching! Smash!
“We needed to change some things before we entered the canyon.”
At the time, medical centres made up a large proportion of GTB’s income. However, the local Primary Health Organisation told these centres to stop spending because a new IT system was coming.
Revenue started declining significantly from that market niche.
Mark’s coaching training and experience kicked in. “I knew what we had to do: keep track of KPIs and consider business consequences when making decisions.”
The business was restructured and then they worked with a marketing expert to improve the brand and place in the market. “We also continued our efforts to develop market focused products that we could deliver consistently to a high quality,” explains Mark.
Today the business is reasonably profitable, and growing. “The whole process taught us to be resilient; and we’ve focused on essential things like systems and processes, which is so critical in the IT sector – where attention to detail is vital.”
Today Sarah and Mark describe GTB’s ‘sweet spot’ as looking after people who rely on their IT for their businesses. “We really understand professionals and office workers,” says Mark, “and we’ve always identified our market as servicing small to medium-sized businesses.
“Our clients’ needs are too sophisticated for the one-person [IT] bands, and they don’t spend enough for the bigger IT companies to take a real interest. GTB takes the time to understand the business needs. We’re here to deliver real solutions to actual needs, not “a great solution” to a need you don’t have.”
In 2020, Sarah and Mark plan to launch BestCloud – which they describe as the “My Food Bag” of IT cloud services.
It’s a genuine global offering, explains Mark. An extension of the more hands-on support GTB has traditionally offered. “Ultimately, a person can self-select the tools they need – whether that’s Dropbox, or Microsoft 365 – and we can help them get up and running, and provide additional support if required.”
Moving forward, the goal of both partners is to build GTB into a business that can successfully operate without their hands on.
Sarah is also keen to see more women in tech. “The gender gap’s still significant,” she says. “Thirty years after joining this industry I’m usually still the only woman in the room at tech training. This is nuts!
“Personally, I would also like to build our eco-community one day – or better yet, a series of them.
“I might be a bit creaky now to get into the outdoor adventure business, but it would be great to achieve that goal. I’m inspired by great late-starters in business and creativity, such as Gert Boyle of Columbia Sportswear, or New Zealand author Barbara Anderson.
“Everything [I’ve done] so far may be just a warm-up!”
Story by Glenn Baker, editor of NZBusiness.