By Chris Nicholls

SYDNEY: Harvey Norman chairman, Gerry Harvey, has spoken to about his near 50 years in retail and reminisced on major events in his career.

Starting as a 22 year-old in Arncliffe, he and partner Ian Norman opened the first Harvey Norman-branded store in 1961, but said he could never have imagined how the chain would grow.

“I never planned to have a business the size that I have now. I’d like to be able to tell you [that], but I had just turned 22 the day we started. I’d like to be able to tell you ‘Oh, one day I’ll turn over five or six billion and make hundreds of millions and be worth [the] seven-and-a-half billion we were worth on the stock market before Christmas, [but I can’t],” he said.

“I think by the time we went public in 1972, we had 12 or 14 shops. We built it up from one to 12 or 14 in about a 10 or 11 year period,’ he said.

Harvey said the other major milestones in his time included the company’s public listing, selling out to Grace Brothers, starting again in 1982 and the company’s growth over the 26 years from then to today.

“You build this business up to this stage and then someone says ‘No, start again’, so your first 21 years are not counted,” he said.

“We started off from scratch again in 1982, so you can image how much bigger we would be if we didn’t have to go back to scratch.”

He said the company would be “at least 50 per cent larger” than it its now if the sale to Grace Brothers had not occurred.

Looking forward, Harvey said his main goal was to try and double the business’s size, including overseas stores and OFIS, within “the next five to ten years”.

“It’s a huge task, but that’s the task,” he said.

Harvey declared he wanted OFIS to take 20-25 per cent of market for office products in Australia, but again acknowledged it would take “between 10 and 20 years to do”.

“It’s a billion dollar-plus business. By that time, it will be a $2 billion-plus business. But it’s a long-term plan to capture the major share of the office products business in Australia,” he said.

“And we’ll do it – it will happen. It’s just a matter of how long it takes,” he said.
Harvey also revealed he had planned to enter the office equipment game many years ago, but decided on computers instead.

“I was ready to go into that business 16 years ago until I found a computer superstore, and I thought ‘Forget office, let’s go computers. Luckily I did, because we opened the first computer superstores in Australia, at a time when other people were thinking it was years away.

“When you look at where we sit in that area in Australia- we’re miles ahead of anyone else. We’re the major player by a mile.”

While Harvey said he had no plans to retire, despite being 68, he said his wife, Katie, would continue to run the business after he was gone, as she had, at 51, “probably got a few years left in her”.