My best teacher

9th June 2000 at 01:00
I went to King Edward VI Five Ways school, in Birmingham, a grammar school, where my most influential member of staff would have to have been Tony Clements, who ran the computer department. He ran an after-school computer group, and he was also my maths teacher for O-level.

Tony was known as AFRC - his initials, though I never did find out what the FR stood for - and his reputation was that of a really harsh disciplinarian. He was a few minutes late for our first class together - no doubt intentionally - and we all sat in silence, not daring to speak.

That feeling of nervousness turned into respect when he did a deal with us. He said: "My job is to make sure that you learn the subject, pass your O-level, and do well. Which you will. Your job is to work hard, pay attention, listen in class and do your homework, and then I guarantee you will all pass comfortably." He said it with such certainty and conviction that no one dared do anything else.

I sailed through O-level. All of a sudden maths became easy, and explanations were clear. He said, "You do this, and you'll get that". He expected a very high level of discipline, and got it. The classes were well run, logical and organised, and he respected us as individuals. I got a B, and was disappointed not to get an A. I could answer every question on the paper. But Tony said: "No chance. You're far too careless."

I joined the computer group in the fifth-form. It was as well run and organised as his classes, and I suppose I spent my entire time in the sixth-form in the computer room. I didn't skip classes or anything, but I got completely absorbed. I'm sure I'd be described as the classic computer nerd if anyone was remembering me from that time.

Probably because of this, I failed maths A-level and left with just an A-level in economics. I suppose that all through the upper-sixth I had known there was this potential job for me in the company Tony Clements had started, which was writing educationalsoftware for primary and secondary schools. I think I finished school on the Wednesday and was working there on the Friday.

From 1982 to 1989, I was Tony Clements's employee. The business grew from 10 people to 50, then went down to two when the bottom fell out of the market. Tony moved to Scotland to start another business in 1984. I was left running things, and in 1989 he asked me to buy him out. I jumped at the chance.

I renamed the business Burra Burra, and now it's called, and we have two strands. One is being an Internet solution provider, and the other is selling hardware and software in the business-to-business market. We aren't in educational software any more, although we do still run a help service for Heinemann software packages. We launched on the Alternative Investment Market this year, and now we're worth about pound;23 million on paper. I've never applied for a job, I've never gone for a job interview, I've never changed jobs, but I'm completely fulfilled in my work.

Tony Clements is a great motivator. He's got a logical mind and is very analytical. He's been a customer since I bought the company, and we keep in touch. I can say to him: "When your company got to this size, what did you do about x?" But I'm mainly self-motivated. Computing tends to be like that. If I want to know about something, I just find out about it. I've got contacts who will give me advice if I need it. I can also afford to pay for it now!

Mark Abrams was talking to Hilary Wilce.


1964 Born in Birmingham

1975 Attends King Edward VI Five Ways school, Birmingham

1982 Leaves school with one A-level and joins Tony Clements's company, Five

Ways Software

1983 Promoted to post-production manager

1984 Promoted to project manager

1989 Buys out Tony Clements and renames company Burra Burra

1998 Renames company

2000 Floats on AIM, valued at almost pound;36 million

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