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Forget six degrees of separation. If you’re in information technology in Australia and want to meet someone, Rachel Slattery’s your woman. She’s probably no more than two degrees away from anyone in this business; a flesh and blood version of LinkedIn.

Malcolm Turnbull’s partly responsible for her technology bent. After university Slattery went into publishing, and eventually found herself handling a book list that included titles such as Turnbull’s Spycatcher.

By that time Turnbull had become a significant investor in internet service provider Ozemail, which was trying to encourage ordinary Australians to sign up for internet accounts  by offering start-up disks that allowed people four hours’ free trial. Turnbull arranged for thousands of the disks to find their way to his publisher with the hope that they would then wend their way into schools and libraries, and seed demand among the then internet-illiterate hordes of Australia.

Slattery could barely shift them in the early 1990s. Her book reps were returning saying that no-one really seemed to want the disks, or was interested in the internet.

In less than a decade however the world shifted on its axis and demand for new technologies and the internet caught fire.

Along the way Slattery was introduced to Mitch Davis, who was at that stage handling strategy for Encyclopaedia Britannica. He was and is, she says someone “who could sell ice to the eskimos - he taught me a lot.”

Slattery and Davis worked together on a series of models for how Britannica could survive and prosper. At the time it made sense and Britannica liked the models, but as Slattery candidly acknowledges they never saw Wikipedia coming.

Davis went off to the US with Britannica, leaving Slattery to run with some other projects including writing reports about technology and the still nascent internet sector. (Davis meanwhile went on to establish Massive, the company that developed the technology allowing advertisers to insert products into computer games – a business that sold to Microsoft for a reported $US400 million).

“I was getting paid to know stuff about what was happening. It was about talking to people, asking what people were doing,” says Slattery. Eventually she secured a deal to produce a weekly newsletter, the foundations of The Watch which survives today - condensing the week’s big news into bite-sized chunks that offered insight and value to stockbrokers.

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Beverley Head

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Beverley Head is a Sydney-based freelance writer who specialises in exploring how and why technology changes everything - society, business, government, education, health. Beverley started writing about the business of technology in London in 1983 before moving to Australia in 1986. She was the technology editor of the Financial Review for almost a decade, and then became the newspaper's features editor before embarking on a freelance career, during which time she has written on a broad array of technology related topics for the Sydney Morning Herald, Age, Boss, BRW, Banking Day, Campus Review, Education Review, Insite and Government Technology Review. Beverley holds a degree in Metallurgy and the Science of Materials from Oxford University and a deep affection for things which are shaken not stirred.

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