Mac Academy crashes

Fleur Doidge
15 May, 2008
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The Academy Store has been in turmoil with the departure of high flying Ben Morgan. Channel commentators have been a-rumble in recent weeks with news that one of the most colourful characters on the scene may have ejected. News recently hit the presses that the axe had fallen on Academy Store — as well as owner Ben Morgan’s once-seemingly haloed head.

Morgan was in the vein of brash young entrepreneurs perhaps more familiar to Silicon Valley than Australia, with its persistent tall poppy syndrome. He was managing director and owner of AppleCentre Taylor Square from the year 2000 when he was just 21, taking the retailer on as a less than stellar business while and turning it into something of a bellwether for the channel’s fin de siecle successes.

When the battle seemed better fought in other directions, he cut his losses and started up Bondi Junction’s Academy Store as a new way of supporting Mac sales —with the emphasis even more heavily on service, training and support. Raising eyebrows — and hopes — in an often (at the time) pessimistic Apple channel as he did so.

The Academy Store, which rose from the ashes of AppleCentre Taylor Square in 2006, was one of the flagbearers in Australia’s Apple channel for in-store support and training ahead of the opening of Apple’s own stores in this country. Morgan believed the channel must do more than simply "regurgitate Apple". Customers, he said, often told the reseller they wanted to know how to do more with Apple product — so Morgan’s team and store decided to deliver.

The Academy Store was initially believed to be in the process of passing to some new owners, in the wake of interested parties rumoured to be checking out the store — in a prime retail location by Bondi Junction’s large Westfield Mall development — as a possible investment. However, this week the news came out that receivers had been appointed.

McGrathNicol, the receiver, has so far refused to comment but, probably, if buyers cannot be found, the Academy Store business will be liquidated.

Questions had been asked in the media about store’s financial viability following a 2007 ramraid that found Morgan’s business may have been only lightly insured, although it is not known whether the ramraid contributed to the store’s entering receivership.

At its opening, the store was one of Australia’s biggest Apple outlets, including a hands-on lab, training rooms as well as retail floor in a three-storey, glass-fronted location.

We spent several days trying to ring Morgan on the last known numbers we had for him, but to no avail. At times we thought we got lucky, only to receive a network outage message. It’s a pity, because Morgan was rarely lost for words and we have no doubt he would have spun us a few wheels and thrown a few spanners in the works as well.

Morgan may have got rapped over the knuckles occasionally, over the years, for his outspokenness — but it was aviation that really got him going. When we profiled Ben Morgan and the Academy Store for Australian Macworld in mid-2007, he spoke about taking delivery of a Bede BD-5J, a hatchback-sized jet, with the intention of participating in air shows with a friend from the Sydney Aerobatics School.

Years ago, Morgan had started commercial pilot training, but found his commitments to his business — and elsewhere — intruded and he had not managed to complete the required flying time when last we spoke. Never one to give up at the first (or second or even third) sign of difficulty, though, he took off again, flying other planes and even hang-gliders. Crashing occasionally.

Ben, you’ll be missed. But this isn’t meant to sound like an obituary. We’re all watching the skies.

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