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Keep on top of everything Saturday interview Graham Wylie The founder of Sage shares words of wisdom about good health, good luck and a very tidy office with Mark Smith

GRAHAM Wylie, the Geordie playboy of Scots parentage who co-founded the accounting software giant Sage, believes he owes his success - and his multi-millions - to a combination of luck, marketing and an obsession with keeping his desk tidy.

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Sitting in a near-empty ground floor meeting room of one of his latest acquisitions, ISI Systems, in Hamilton, Wylie - a normally calm entrepreneur and gifted computer programmer - sweeps his hand across the sparsely furnished open space, which contains little more than an empty table, a few chairs and couple of folders stacked in the corner. ''To tell the truth, even this room is too messy for me,'' he says, becoming momentarily animated. ''I do believe in a clean desk and a clean office. I can't stand to see a stack of papers. ''Whenever anything comes in, it's dealt with right away. What that means is that I'm on top of everything and whatever is in front of me gets priority.'' Short, looking slightly overweight in a dull suit, and apparently lacking in the characteristic dynamism expected from an entrepreneur estimated to be worth around £ 200m, Wylie - once he gets over the tidiness thing - returns to exuding an air of Zen-like calm. Nonetheless, at 45 years old, Wylie hasn't read much Zen. In fact, he confesses to have not read much at all, beyond the racing columns of newspapers and Tattersall's bloodstock auction book while deciding what his next thoroughbred purchase might be - his latest passion. After stepping down last year from Sage's board and pocketing around £ 123m from the sale of a roughly 5.5% stake in the company, the entrepreneur admits his life is not exactly filled to the brim with work and stress. These days, he prefers shopping and fun - and he can afford both in whatever large doses he happens to feel like. During the past few months, Wylie, the son of a coal miner, has bought himself six new companies to bolt on to his latest venture, Technology Services Group, an IT services network aimed at the SME market, including two in Scotland. He also bought himself an 18th-century mansion for an undisclosed seven-figure sum and 49 racehorses - although he describes himself as ''not much of a gambler - usually no more than a £ 20 bet''. Last year, he married Andrea, his second wife, and had former Boyzone pop star Ronan Keating turn up as a surprise singing guest at the wedding. He is also the father of two teenage boys from a previous marriage. As part of his latest passion - and his business prowess - Wylie is sponsoring this year's Ayr Gold Cup, the feature race of the final day at the annual Western Meeting at Ayr Racecource today. ''I've just been lucky,'' he insists, almost apologetically. Yet beyond the luck, the belief in blanket branding and office tidiness, Wylie is a shining example of what can be achieved by being in the right place at the right time. He graduated from Newcastle University in 1980 with a degree in computer science and statistics, at a time when computers had no monitors and were shrinking from the size of bedrooms to the size of small boxes that fit on top of desks. It was the epoch of the birth of personal computing. Even a cursory glance through the bones of Wylie's story reveals just how brightly lady luck has shone on this man's life. Above all, Wylie is lucky to be alive. He also insists that his calm has nothing to do with the fact that four years ago he was diagnosed with testicular cancer, and that he promised himself to ''spend more time with my family and friends''. ''When you think you're about to die, it puts everything into perspective,'' he says. ''I'm completely clear now, but still you make sure your priorities are set correctly. It was a very scary time. ''But as for calm, I've always been like this.'' Both luck and calm have stayed with him - except perhaps when it comes to this tidiness thing. Wylie's father came from Stirling and his mother was from Hawick, in the Borders. The pair travelled first to Nottingham for work and eventually settled in the Newcastle area, where his father got a job in the booming 1950s coal-mining industry of the north-east. He describes his childhood as ''normal'' and said there was no pressure on him to be ''anything except happy''. As a high school student, too small for his age, in the 1970s, Wylie was supposed to play rugby - but managed instead to get himself into a fledgling computer class. ''Well, I'm not exactly the biggest chap,'' He says. ''And I had a choice of being kicked about and trounced on a sodden rainy playing field by players twice my size or go into a nice dry room and play with computers. ''I was lucky, because somehow I found I had an aptitude for computers.'' Wylie wrote the first piece of software for Sage while still a student at Newcastle University. A small accounting firm hired him for a summer job with a meagre government grant intended to aid businesses to take advantage of emerging technologies. He wrote a piece of software to help the company with its records, a programme now called Sage line 50, which later became the first version of Sage Accounts. He was later hired by David Goldman, a Sunderland entrepreneur with a local printing and graphics company, who used Wylie's software to estimate the price of print jobs. Goldman was so impressed, he joined with Wylie the next year to form Sage, which initially marketed its software to print companies but soon expanded. The pair grew weary of travelling up and down A1 in a Chrysler Alpine and soon established a network of resellers they could support by phone. In 1984, they made the critical decision to seek investment from venture capitalists to help them win a contract to add their software to the Sinclair QL, one of the first attempts at mass-market PCs in the UK. They didn't win the contract, but they did gain expertise and a plan to grow. ''In the early days, we spent something like 40% of our budget on marketing,'' Wylie said. ''We realised very early on that if Sage was going to succeed a key factor would be how much we got our name out there. And we wanted the name to be everywhere.'' The following year, however, the company got its software on to the Amstrad wave, allowing Sage to market its software to the growing army of home computer users. Some 21 years after writing that first programme, Wylie sold the bulk of his shares in Sage, which at the time had a valuation of around £ 3bn and was the only technology stock in the FTSE-100. Aside from his love of horse racing, Wylie's belief in the importance of marketing has also been instrumental in his sponsorship of today's Ayr Gold Cup. ''We've invested about £ 100,000 in sponsoring the race and all he associated hospitality,'' said Wylie. ''It's a way for us to say thank you to existing customers and hello to new customers.'' He had also planned on one of own horses running in the two-year-old handicap race today - and so far, of the 49 racehorses he bought earlier this year, 28 have already won races. However, the ground has gone against him and the horse will not run. Which only goes to show that Wylie's luck isn't always guaranteed. wylie's way Best moment: Watching my horse Arcalis win the John Smith's Cup. It was my first win. My children and wife will probably kill me for saying that.

Worst moment: When I was diag-nosed with testicular cancer four years ago.

What drives you: Seeing an idea and making it happen. What do you drive: A Porche Cayenne 4x4.

Favourite book: Tattersall's bloodstock horse auction book.

Favourite music: Ronan Keating, because he turned up at my wedding.

Secrets of success: I surround myself with good people that I can trust and I always keep a clean desk.

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