Front runner Simon Eade

Simon Eade is a van driver turned IT manager who has his pick of classy sports cars and a manager who does not mind if he moonlights. It is clearly a tough job...

Simon Eade is a van driver turned IT manager who has his pick of classy sports cars and a manager who does not mind if he moonlights. It is clearly a tough job being the IT manager of Caterham Cars, a privately owned kit car company with a £12m turnover, writes John Kavanagh

In reality, it is a demanding job. Eade has to make sure his IT department keeps the company one step ahead of the competition in a volatile industry which includes names such as Lotus.

All this is a far cry from the late 1980s, when disappointing college results led him to start his own courier company in Tunbridge Wells, Kent. Caterham Cars was a regular customer. In 1989 Eade decided to go for a career. He warned Caterham Cars that his service was ending, and the company offered him a driving job.

Eade moved quickly through the ranks, progressing to car production director's assistant, production manager, and then service manager. By 1993 he was at a career crossroads - and Caterham Cars suggested that he become the company's first IT manager.

The offer was a mixed blessing. At that time Caterham's IT consisted of two computers with 18 dumb terminals. The business was mainly documented in paper files, with management reports compiled manually.

"The business software was heavily modified and therefore inflexible, and it wasn't year 2000 compliant," Eade says. "Production was being lost because of IT problems, and stock levels and quality were poorly controlled."

Eade attacked the issue with an interest in home computing, the entrepreneurial skill he had proved when running his own company, and lots of enthusiasm.

"With the manufacturing system in dire straits and our hardware in disarray, I recommended we replace the lot, and I asked for £100,000. The company took some convincing, but I said I could recoup it in 12-18 months."

The company needed to keep better track of the 60,000 car part numbers moving around the business at the rate of up to 40,000 a day, maintain a works order database of 20 million records and a prospects database of 7,000 potential customers, and give management good business information.

The IT investment has paid off, not only saving time and money and boosting productivity but also enabling the company to move into new areas and plan for e-commerce.

Eade now manages one Unix and two Windows NT machines running business software packages and supporting 30 PCs. The business processes have been redesigned to link 45 staff in manufacturing and sales. A new telephone system has also been installed.

With his director's blessing, Eade has also found time to return to his entrepreneurial roots. He has co-founded a car import business, started a Web design firm, taken a stake in a student accommodation site, and is developing a Web site for horse enthusiasts.

Along the way he has turned 30, acquired two motorbikes and filed for divorce. So what is left?

"I'm just getting started," he laughs.

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