Rugby is my second passion, after RM," says Welshman Lynn Moates. Now marketing director with education's largest provider of services for information and communications technology, Lynn started out with very different goals in mind.
Lynn's career began with four years in the Civil Service before part-time study led to a degree course at Leicester Polytechnic. Having grown up in Cardiff, he had no connection with Leicester but says: "They were the top rugby team at the time." Three years of studying politics and economics were followed by an MSc in IT in Business at Coventry, just at the time in the early Eighties when PCs were becoming important. "I saw my first computer at Leicester Poly - it was a Commodore Pet on a statistics course - but I wasn't particularly into it then."
Perhaps to the surprise of some colleagues - "I was never a Grade A techie" - Lynn got involved in systems design. Sponsored by a trade union, he started research for a PhD at Aston University, looking at the effects of ICT on work organisation. "Unfortunately, there were divisions between different sections of the union and I became a political football. I stopped after a year." Nevertheless, he enjoyed his five years as a student.
Lynn joined 3M as a programmeranalyst, but he and the multinational company agreed his skills were better suited to marketing and he moved to that section.
By the end of the Eighties, he was ready for a change and applied for a job advertised in The Times by a firm of headhunters. There was no indication which company it was for. "I got the job, even though I had never heard of RM - and now I've been here 10 years."
The company Lynn joined in 1989, known then as Research Machines, was very different from the RM of today. "We were still in Oxford then, with only about 200 staff. Within three months, I knew everyone. I was the person who negotiated deals with other companies such as Microsoft or Lotus so that we could sell industry-standard software to schools. Now we have a whole team to do that."
Lynn remembers how difficult it was on occasions to get sensible prices from large companies who then might not have known much about school budgets.
Moving on to become schools product manager, Lynn had a lot to do with the launch of Net LM (for networking) and the original Window Box (a PC packed with educational software that has been a huge success in schools), although he is quick to point out how many other people were involved.
"One of the good things about RM is that I've had six jobs in 10 years. That's provided me with growth opportunities."
In the early Nineties, as local management of schools became a reality, RM started selling to thousands of schools instead of a few LEAs. In response, Lynn set up the first telephone sales team. He also trained the sales staff to talk to teachers and use teachers' language. "We had no systems backup then and only 10 people. Now there's a large database and over 100 people in the team. LMS has fundamentally changed the way we deal with schools."
When he took on responsibility for the primary education marketing team, that sector made up only about 10 per cent of RM's activity. "I was a bit nervous. But now, with the Standards Fund and other initiatives, it's a very big business. We took RM from 15 to 50 per cent market share for primary (schools) in four years, and it was the Window Box that was winning us those customers and awards."
Lynn is clear why RM has succeeded. "We tried to give the customers what they needed - we recognised the importance of training and we learnt to talk about the curriculum, not megabytes. It was probably the best four years of my professional life."
Since last summer, Lynn has taken on a new challenge at RM - that of marketing director. "The company had grown so much that there was a need for a separate post at board level. We now employ over 1,000 people." The job involves a variety of tasks, but visiting schools at least once a fortnight is a vital component. "We need to constantly understand how schools are using ICT, how they want to use it and how well-integrated it is into their other activities," he says. Lynn's team also runs seminars and other events - at least 50 term, all over the UK.
Reflecting on what are the priorities for ICT in British education, Lynn says: "We need to start getting ICT more pervasive and getting it more widely used. I think the New Opportunities Fund-sponsored training will be a good thing as it will increase usage and also help teachers to know when ICT is not appropriate."
He is aware that not everyone thinks it is good that one company should be so dominant in the primary sector. In answer, he points out that much of the software on the Window Box is not produced by RM, but by other companies.
"We've put 100,000 CD-Roms into primary schools, and they're all other, smaller companies' products. In everything we do, we work with hundreds of suppliers and in partnership with the Open University, for example as well as LEAs."
He is also aware that the advent of Internet software sales could change the balance between RM and its third-party suppliers. "As we start selling online, it will be far easier for a small company to advertise. Selling and marketing on the Web will level the playing field." But he does not see online purchase as the most important educational use of the Net.
"The Internet stands or falls by the quality of content available. If the National Grid for Learning doesn't deliver good educational content, then it will fail. Despite this, I am confident that it will succeed, and we are working very hard in that area with our Living Library reference service and Window Box Online. But we have to do much more to make the services available more interactive."
Lynn is clear about where he hopes to be in five years: still at RM. "I can't imagine working for another company.
"RM is an educational company, not an ICT one. I think we will see the Web and online services become even more important. I think managed services will be very good for the majority of primary and secondary schools, but we must make them affordable and accessible.
"If we do all that, we will allow schools to concentrate on using ICT for teaching and learning." And that will allow Lynn, still high on Wales's defeat of England in April, time to concentrate on the playing field he loves best - rugby.