Outlook: Computacenter

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The Independent Online
CHARITY MIGHT begin at home, but where should it end?

Shareholders in Computacenter might well have felt a tinge of warmth that the money they paid to buy shares in the computer services group 15 months ago did not all end up in the pockets of founders Philip Hulme and Peter Ogden.

Instead, Ogden and Hulme generously donated the bulk of their windfalls from floating Computacenter - some pounds 56m - to charity.

But while Britain's charitable institutions have thrived on such generosity, Computacenter shareholders have seen the value of their holdings fall by 20 per cent. Worse still, 3,300 of those shareholders are also employees of the company, and it can hardly be motivating to work all the hours god sends only to see the value of your stake fall.

Hulme, who remains the chairman of the company, and his chief executive Mike Norris are beginning to wonder why the City is proving so uncharitable towards a business that is growing and posting profit advances of 30 per cent.

The problem is not that Computacenter is a bad company.

Nor that its founders handed such high-profile dollops of cash to the do-gooder brigade, though the City still tends to greet most company bosses sporting social consciences with gritted teeth. Computacenter just has a dull image, saddled with the epithet of a "box-shifter" alongside its whizzy peers in the information technology sector who promise websites that make tea and other wonders of e-commerce.

Computacenter does the boring stuff of installing and servicing PCs for corporate clients such as BT, Credit Suisse First Boston, and the Halifax.

But as everyone knows, the real money is to be made from fixing the technology when it goes wrong.

This Computacenter is very good at, and fortunately for investors does not view such work as part of its charitable remit: profit margins are privately estimated to be in the region of 40 per cent.

By expanding this servicing business, currently benefiting from the trend among large corporates towards outsourcing everything that is not nailed down, Hulme and Norris will be able to lay to rest any rumour in the Square Mile that they are not in business for the money.

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