Barry Young Interview (New Computer Express)Peoples Cpc Staff
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Amstrad's British boss, Barry Young : "We're going to be a key player worldwide"

Thousands of you already have, and thousands more will. He's Barry Young, Amstrad's UK managing director and he's steering the firm through some troubled times. Colin Campbell chatted to him about PCs, PCWs, Spectrums, CPCs, STs, Amigas, depression, Beastie Boys, mints and, of course, Alan Sugar.

Barry Young is tired. He's spent the day in dozens of meetings, he's sorted out hundreds of problems, and he's dodged London's psychopathic drivers in order to get to a press interview in Leicester Square. And he's extremely unhappy with the public conception of Amstrad being a bunch of cynical money grabbers. It's time to set the record straight. After a nice cup of tea he's ready to be ‘honest and open'.

What do you do for a living?

Hopefully I sell as much product as possible to every customer that we can service.
I implement marketing policy, customer services, warehousing, UK distribution, heads of departments, management meetings, more meetings, lots of meetings...

What's the most difficult part of what you do?

If I'm honest I suppose it's absorbing all that's happening at the moment. With a company this size there's so much to absorb, and, as you can imagine, with so many products there's a lot to know. We're running six months ahead, so it's difficult. Something happens which changes everything, and that doesn't make things easy.

Amstrad hasn't had a brilliant year, and it has come in for a lot of stick from the press. What's your feeling about that?

It's been going on for more than a year now. First we had the chip shortage, which was very frustrating for everyone. We had the computers sold but we couldn't supply them. There's nothing worse for someone in business - everything is geared up but you're not able to supply, and people are screaming at you from all quarters.
Then we had the situation where stock did become available and we had the hard disk problem on the PC2000 series which had to be addressed. And then the profit problems were announced and that had an effect on people's morale in the company.
All in all, people have taken a bit of a battering. Now we're getting things moving again and morale is higher. We're now getting an awful lot of support and loyalty, that pleases me.
We're seeing people working long hours again because they want to. They're determined and enthusiastic.

When you all come into the office after a poor profit announcement and read all about it in the press, is there a black cloud over everybody?

Yes. As a high profile company whatever we do gets into the press, and the press seem to love to capitalise on the bad news. It affects everyone
We wouldn't be human beings otherwise. I go home praying that no-one will mention it and say “Have you looked in today's papers?”. But they do, and all I can do is get depressed all over again.

The City seems to give you a hard time as well. Why?

Yes, that's probably true. Alan Sugar has always been a very truthful man and he doesn't try to hide anything. He's not the sort of guy who goes out on fancy lunches in the City. He works from 8.30 in the morning until 6.30 in the evening. If a City analyst calls him up he'll tell the truth - and often that causes us a few problems.

Is he trying to be more cautious now?

No, I would hope not. The success of the company is the man. That personality is part of him as a human being and to stop that might stop him being so creative in his thoughts. I don't think he should change just because the City doesn't like him.

Do you have a chuckle when you about the Brentwood Beastie Boys' ?

No. Frankly, it means nothing to me. The only thing that upsets me is when something is printed which isn't true. There are wrong interpretations of various situations and we get tagged with something which isn't true.
People should just talk to our customers - they are the important ones. They don't turn round and call us Beastie Boys.
We're tough to deal with but no tougher than, say, IBM. It's just a very busy company with a real sense of urgency. If we want something done we don't leave it until next week, we'll take the decision now and we'll sit down until it's all sorted out.
Ninety-five per cent of the time we'll get it right, but because decisions are taken quickly we'll get it wrong five per cent of the time. The benefits of taking a fast decision far outweigh the disadvantages.
Maybe that's why people who see us get the impression that we haven't got time. We haven't got time because we're too busy - we're running a business.

What about really important decision such as launching a new machine?

We have a separate division called the Group area. They'll talk to all subsidiaries such as the UK and France about a new product. Each country will be given a menu of specifications and you select which one you want for that country. In the past we just said, “Well, here's the product and everyone has to sell it in every country”. It's not working like that any more.
It goes back to the earliest days of the company. We've always shown a remarkable awareness for what the public wants and how much they are prepared to pay. As we expand into worldwide markets this doesn't work so easily. Every country has its own quirks.
The life cycle of our products is just unbelievable. Take the word processing side for instance. When we launched the PCW 8256 it went off like a steam train, then the 8512 came out and everyone said the 8256 would be discontinued. But it wasn't. It's still selling well. When the 9512 came along with a daisywheel printer everyone said that it was the end of the other two. I think in a lot of companies those products would have been discontinued, but every month we can predict fairly accurately how many we're going to sell.

There seems to be a shortage of some machines, such as the PC1512.

Well, they aren't that readily available at the moment. We've had a few but they're all going out. We sold to our yearly budget by the end of November.
Talking of old machines, what about the CPC? There were some rumours that it would be scrapped.
The CPC is still selling extremely well this Christmas. It's far from dead, far from it. The same was forecast about the Spectrum. Last year all the pundits were forecasting that the Sinclair Spectrum would be dead. Far from it - we've reached a situation where we've already sold all the Spec-trums we had hoped to sell this year. The experts say these machines are dead, but that's not what the public are saying.
They're like the Volkswagen Beetle. The thing was old fashioned, but people get a level of confidence in something that's been around a long time.

How many Amstrad computers will be bought this Christmas?

Many, many tens of thousands.

Is there going to be a CPC-based games console? (Express 47)

I don't make that decision. Group will come to me and say, “Here's a new product do you want to sell it?” and we'll say yes or no. [Readers can take this as a ‘no comment'. Young will certainly be aware of all possible forthcoming products.]

How easy is it to run a company which handles everything from the Speccy to 386 PCs?

I don't think running any company is that easy, especially when it gets to the size of Amstrad with its diversity of products. The knack is to have a broad distribution base to be able to support the products, and to be able to advertise properly. If we put the Spectrum on television it will sell, and the same with the CPC, the 9512 and the PC2000. Television has created so much demand it's unbelievable. We're gratified that we've had that much response.

What about the PC200? It seems to have had a poor reception.

I don't think we can put the PC200 down as being one of our most successful products. I don't know whether the concept was a mistake or whether we didn't really get behind it with the same aggression as we did with other products. Perhaps there was some confusion because, price-wise, it was bracketed in with the PC1512.
It's difficult. The only thing I remember from when we first launched the PC200 [September '88] was that all the people who were involved were tremendously enthusiastic about it and said what a good idea it was.

What is its future now?

Decisions are being made on its future. I can't talk about it at this moment in time.

Is there a chance that it will be pulled?

That's a possibility. [See Express 57.]

In the UK two machines are doing extremely well: the Atari ST and Commodore's Amiga. Amstrad doesn't really have anything in that area, why not?

I don't think we particularly see the need. When you say they are doing well; is that in units or profits? [Young is presumably referring to loss-making quarters recently announced by Commodore and Atari].

There was a lot of fuss when you exchanged the hard disks in the PC2000s. How difficult a decision was that to make?

Very hard. It was an Amstrad decision that was truthful and honest. We said: “Right, we have a problem. Let's set it right.”

Was it a successful operation?

We had a lot of letters from people saying that it was a wonderful thing that we had done. That cheered us up in the morning. Then you'd open up the papers and someone was slagging you off.
The papers loved you for a long while.
Memories are quite short. If you go back to the overheating bits on the 1512, we took a knocking in the press then. But at the end of the day people can turn round and say: “OK, they've had their problems. But, my God, they've been successful.”

What will Amstrad be doing in 10 years time?

Communications, the whole lot. That's the way things are moving. We're going to be a key player worldwide. Look at the way the machines are going, the speed. There's an awful lot to go for. People don't want to wait for these things, they want them now. We want to get to the next stage.

What about the next 12 months. Will they be good?

These last six months have been pretty good. We've taken some blows but we've moved a lot of products. I'm confident about the period January to June for the business products. That sector is more and more important to the company.

Alan Sugar will make the decisions about where the profits are. For example, I'm sure if there could have been profits in car telephones we would have been in that business. But you can almost get them for free now. I saw a packet of mints the other day with a voucher on the back for a car telephone. A box of mints!

What's Sugar like to work for?

I think he's great. Like all entrepreneurs there is something very different about him. He has presence and authority. He really gets peopie going and he can motivate people without being aware of it. If I have to motivate people it has to be conscious decision, but Alan can just call a meeting and everyone's up there. He's great.!

New Computer Express #058 (12/1989)

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L'Amstrad CPC est une machine 8 bits à base d'un Z80 à 4MHz. Le premier de la gamme fut le CPC 464 en 1984, équipé d'un lecteur de cassettes intégré il se plaçait en concurrent  du Commodore C64 beaucoup plus compliqué à utiliser et plus cher. Ce fut un réel succès et sorti cette même années le CPC 664 équipé d'un lecteur de disquettes trois pouces intégré. Sa vie fut de courte durée puisqu'en 1985 il fut remplacé par le CPC 6128 qui était plus compact, plus soigné et surtout qui avait 128Ko de RAM au lieu de 64Ko.