The industry has been quick to pay its respects to Office Club Managing Director Mark Austen who tragically passed away last week at the age of 59.
Members of his dealer group, customers, former colleagues, fellow BPGI members and even competitors have all responded brilliantly to OPI’s request for thoughts and recollections of Mark – a character who certainly left an impression on all those he spent time with.
Please find their tributes, memories and anecdotes below:
Mark was tirelessly engaged in the national and international office products industry for many years. As one of the founding members of Euroburo, he was amongst the first to set the trend towards the future of independent dealers and their dealer groups. With the changes in globalisation, he then supported the merger with BPGI.
In BPGI Mark was both a committed and humorous colleague. Whatever the situation, he was always available with his helpful and supporting manner. Later as Chairman, he never tired in the battle for independent dealers. With his razor-sharp mind he always supported the big idea of BPGI and what it could achieve for the independent community.
With the death of Mark, BPGI has lost one of its great figures, as has the independent dealer community, and we will miss him dearly.
In this time of sadness and reflection, we wish his wife Kim and their children all the strength they need, and ultimately peace in the time to come.
Former CEO, Spicers
It is always very sad when someone of his age dies and my deepest sympathy goes out to his immediate family who must be in shock as well as deep grief.
I shared several platforms with Mark over the years, in particular at OPI conferences around the world, and Mark was also good enough to allow me, as a major supplier to Office Club, to address his annual conference on more than one occasion.
I particularly remember the friendly and positive atmosphere at those conferences, an ambiance was in no small measure a result of Mark’s own style and influence.
He was often forthright in his views but always measured and prepared to listen. I think that explains the success of Office Club and its longevity.
I know I am now long-departed the industry (ten years) but still hold many fond memories of the industry that was and the characters who populated it. Mark was one of those characters and there is no doubt that he left his ‘mark’ on me as well as the industry as a whole.
He will be sadly missed.
Chairman & Founder, Office 1 International
I met Mark Austen sometime in the late 1990s at an OPI conference. Everything about Mark seemed effortless: his wit, his erudition, his intelligence, his charm, his entertaining presentations and, most endearingly, his self-deprecating nature.
With time I came to admire the hard work, determination and absolute dedication to his dealers that belied the easy exterior.
I last met Mark in Paris to study a possible collaboration in e-commerce. I had called to share some ideas and he interrupted a family vacation to check whether they might benefit his dealers. In the end, nothing came of it as we were both too independent.
I shall miss Mark and the memories, and wish his family the best in preserving his life’s work.
Managing Director, Nemo
Mark Austen was one of the real characters in our industry and will be sadly missed.
One of the first times I met Mark was at a BPGI meeting in Amsterdam. It was a boat trip with over 100 senior execs and suddenly the boat, which was a large cruiser, vied to the side of the river bank.
Everyone looked to see what was happening. Had we hit something? Had the boat broken down? No, Mark was being dropped off – he was off shopping!
Mark had a tenacious personality and was a very effective business manager. If he didn’t like you, he was guaranteed to let you know. I for one think that life is enriched by people like Mark – RIP.
Managing Director, Stewart Superior
Mark Austen was one of life’s true characters.
It was with genuine shock and sadness that I heard the news. Mark was a great supporter of his company, staff and the industry.
He was never afraid to be controversial and he always did what he felt was right for his business.
He was also a dedicated family man and my heart goes out to his family as this most tragic of times.
Former President, TriMega Purchasing Association
Mark was a passionate force in the independent dealer community and influential in the formative years of BPGI when independents partnered across continents for the first time.
He had a knack that all of us appreciated for livening up meetings which few others could match. Mark also provided leadership and insight that has contributed to the success and entrepreneurial spirit of independent dealers over the past 20 years.
My thoughts and prayers go out to Kim Austen and the entire family.
Managing Director, Superstat Dealer Group
To say that Mark and I were close friends would be misleading; we were in fact fierce competitors and have been for over 20 years. Having said that, I would like to think that over that time we developed a mutual respect for each other and would like to state that it is most certainly the case from my side of the battlefield.
My abiding memory of Mark was created very early in our relationship before Superstat had launched. I was the managing director of an office supplies distribution company called 1st Choice. In this capacity I visited Mark with the intention of becoming a supplier to his group.
Office Club was very new and at the time was located in serviced offices which included a canteen. We met for lunch and had what I thought was a very productive meeting. Not being familiar with the canteen etiquette, I left my plate on the table and walked out expecting the canteen staff to clear it away.
To my absolute horror, Mark stormed back to the table and cleared my plate away protesting as he did so that he was the customer and I should be clearing up after him. I forget whether or not I received the business, but I will never forget the telling off I received for not following the canteen rules!
Managing Director, Wiles Greenworld
Mark started his adult life as a school teacher. In 1992, he formed Office Club and I was delighted to be a founder member. Mark was a football fan through his local club Watford and also a qualified referee. I do spot a theme: teacher, referee, boss of Office Club – Mark clearly liked to be in control.
But his two abiding passions were dealers within the OP industry and most of all his family. Whilst he tended to separate his work and private life, he did have a reputation for attending trade events by being the last to arrive and the first to depart, heading home to his family.
He was a private man, quite aloof and often misunderstood, only showing the real Mark to a few. I consider myself honoured to be amongst those.
I understood just how passionate he was about our industry; always with integrity, honesty and generosity, always interested in and wanting to do his very best for those dealers he worked with.
He has consistently been an innovator and leader of change, demonstrated entrepreneurship and innovation, and inspired me and fellow member companies to adapt, change and thrive. In short, a champion of the independent sector.
I continue to be a member of Office Club and my business has been helped in so many ways over the years. I regularly surprise myself with the many useful and valuable aids Office Club provides my business – things that often become taken for granted.
Most of all I will miss Mark’s wise counsel, companionship and advice; I doubt a month would pass without us having a long telephone conversation, both opinionated but both infatuated with the OP industry and the part of the independent.
Next weekend I was to have joined him for his 60th birthday party; last Wednesday he was with me, facilitating a meeting between myself and a fellow member.
I remain shocked at this sudden and sad event and my thoughts go out to his wife Kim and his children Amy, Lucy and Jack.
EVP Purchasing, TriMega Purchasing Association
This is indeed very sad news. Mark was an engaging and warm person with a lively sense of humour that added a lighter side to his passion for the business.
He was a genuine leader and innovator and brought those qualities to BPGI. He had the talent to make meetings and conferences both more enjoyable and more productive.
He was a loyal and steadfast friend and colleague and the independent dealer community has lost a real friend and champion.
He leaves big shoes to fill and will be sincerely missed.
Chairman, Advantia Business Solutions
I first meet Mark, when I was working for ACCO and he was in the process of setting up Office Club. Many people thought that Mark would never get his venture off the ground, but he was very focused and passionate about Office Club and it was because of this drive and enthusiasm that it became successful.
In all the years I knew Mark, he was the “champion” of the independent dealer channel and was always prepared to look at new ideas and initiatives to grow his members’ businesses.
Mark will not only be a big loss to the members of Office Club, but also to the whole industry.
CEO, Independent Stationers
I am terribly saddened to hear of the loss of our dear friend Mark Austen. Mark and I served on the BPGI board for many years. We had spirited debates but always shook hands and afterwards enjoyed a fine bottle of wine.
I will miss his occasional call and candid advice. A professional at heart, a wonderful husband, father, grandfather and friend.
Managing Director, Stationery Cupboard
The sudden and untimely death of Mark was a great shock, having known him for over 20 years both as a supplier to Office Club and a member.
In the early days of Office Club he put in place great initiatives to help dealers with sales and marketing. One great idea was to employ John Coleman of Coleman’s to visit members and produce a report on how to improve their business. In our case, this resulted in doubling our sales within two years by moving to new premises in the centre of our high street.
The annual Office Club Conferences were a must-visit event. Mark’s leadership delivered not only a fantastic weekend in a 5-star hotel, but an opportunity for manufacturers and dealers to meet up and purchase great deals. A true partnership that still works today.
Mark built up a fantastic team at Watford who are always ready to help dealers with programmes that enable them to compete with the biggest competitors.
As a person Mark was always very caring. When we experienced major problems two years ago, he made sure that we were able to refocus the business; his skills, experience and guidance won the day.
His lasting legacy is that he leaves Office Club in a great position to continue to make a difference for all the members.
Independents have lost a champion. Mark Austen was borderline irrational in his support for independents which, of course, appealed to my best hopes for family-owned OP dealers, especially my own.
I found the practical side of me often debating what Mark saw as the upside for independents; debates that I was certain to lose as I invariably got caught up in Mark’s infectious passion and optimism. It’s very difficult to win a debate against someone who is intent on lifting you up.
I worked with Mark both inside and, in later years, outside BPGI. Our work together covered all aspects of supporting independent dealers on both sides of the Atlantic. My goal was programmes and services that had the dealer’s future modestly up and to the right. Mark’s goal had the independent dealer straight up and to the right. For him, dealers would own the world. Sadly, we can’t know the outcome but we do know that Mark was hard at work on it.
My sincere condolences to his wife Kim and his immediate and extended family. We may have lost a champion, but they’ve lost a husband, father, friend and more.
By virtue of these many writings, I hope they know the high esteem our industry holds for Mark Austen. He will not only be sorely missed, but will be impossible to replace.
I only really came across Mark in the past three years, but in that time he certainly made an impact upon me.
Some say he was a bit like Marmite, but once you got to know him better a clearer understanding of the varied character emerged.
Colourful, yes. He would always have an opinion on everything, be extremely funny at times and have a passion for networking and knowing everything going on in the industry.
Mark never really conformed to the stereotypes, but underneath that sometimes-controversial veneer was a person who was certainly very clever and smart, very supportive and I would deem a great family man where his loved ones were concerned.
You could see in the whole process of what he did just how important Kim and his children were to him and whenever he could include them in his work environment, he would.
In terms of BPGI, he was probably the greatest supporter and ambassador it could have, and his commitment to the collaboration of the independent community was unquestionable.
Not everyone would agree with his views, but I also found at times he was prepared to change his viewpoint after some reflection. As undoubtedly we will hear he had a very funny side to his personality and that often played out well with the differing nationalities within the BPGI group.
He also knew however when it was important to be serious and certainly played an active role with his responsibilities within the BPGI family.
My sincerest thoughts go out to his family, staff and friends, and that peace will come for them soon. Even though they say time is a great healer, I suspect it will be a long time for that healing process to happen when such a character in life and this industry has sadly departed.
He will be missed and I personally will miss his support and challenging guidance.
Rest in peace, Mark.
Managing Director, Dundale Associates
Having been responsible for bringing Mark into our industry (I can still remember the interview at The Sun public house in Hemel Hempstead – he was so nervous he smoked at least ten cigarettes!), I have watched his progress in our industry with both pride and admiration.
We had many conversations in the 1980s about forming a dealer group, and Mark had the bravery and vision to create a totally inclusive group that has ensured the survival and growth of many dealers through some very tough years.
Mark, above everything else, was a family man and my thoughts are with Kim and his family at this sad time. But he was also a very complex character who was loyal to his friends and had a very kind side to his personality.
My fondest memory of his kindness was when he heard that my then 16-year-old daughter had developed cancer. Mark contacted me and asked if she liked Whitney Houston, and took us both to a concert at Wembley with hospitality.
He will be very much missed by our industry.
Sales & Marketing Director, Focus7 International
It was a real shock to hear that Mark had passed away at the age of only 59 – my sincere condolences to his family, who must be devastated.
I had known Mark for more than 20 years, as we both entered the dealer group community at the same time. Our paths would cross at industry conferences and events and we would always share a few words and a drink. He was witty and insightful in equal measure.
Others knew him far better than me, and their personal experiences with Mark will mean more. From an industry perspective Mark was a deep thinker and an influential leader who will be sadly missed.
Managing Director, Integra Office Solutions
The loss of Mark is a sad day for our industry as he had a genuine passion for supporting the independent dealer.
Having worked closely with him for a number of years through our joint connection with BPGI, I always found him to be an honest, frank and an exceptionally bright and well-connected chap.
Our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this time.
A statement from Office Friendly
Office Friendly is saddened to learn the news of the sudden death of Mark Austen, CEO of Office Club.
Mark had been a well-respected figurehead in the office products market for over 23 years. His dedication and support to the independent dealer throughout this time was truly exceptional and one to be admired.
Our thoughts and condolences go out to Mark’s wife, Kim, and his family at this sad time.
Office Friendly Managing Director Steve Harrop adds:
“I’ve personally known Mark throughout the entirety of his industry career, initially at Esselte and latterly with Office Club.
“Mark was a compelling character with a strong personality. He was never afraid to ask the awkward questions and always fought for the interests of the independent dealers he worked with.
“He had a good sense of humour, was warm and supportive on an individual basis and I’ll miss our conversations and verbal sparring, often done in fun and mischievousness by both of us.
“The industry will miss a real character and the SME community a friend.”
Former CEO BPGI
I had the pleasure of knowing Mark since the merger of BPGI with Euroburo in 2003. Mark was an astute individual with a love of the industry and a champion of the independent dealer.
He was a talented marketer who could see the big picture as well as understand the details, and used those skills to build a successful business in Office Club. He also freely gave those talents to support BPGI. Mark also had an engaging personality that could charm you and a wit that could entertain you.
Our business also brought families together. Mark was a very proud husband and father. He loved to travel and show them the world not to mention the annual trip to Disney World. He could be a child at heart.
We will fondly remember him and all of the memories.
Managing Director, RajaPack UK
I didn’t know Mark very well socially, but from a professional standpoint I found his approach very straightforward.
He knew the industry back to front, he knew his members back to front and I have to say at the forefront of any negotiation he put the dealer first.
His direct and fair approach meant doing business with Mark was both tough and easy, but most of all very enjoyable. His group occupied and represented probably the toughest of market sectors, retail, but I for one would be more confident in business with the backing of Mark Austen.
VP of Sales Europe, Avery
Mark and I learnt our trade in the 1980s with two of the big manufacturers – Esselte and 3M respectively. We then went in different directions in 1991/2 – me to Avery and Mark starting up Office Club.
Of course, Office Club has gone from strength to strength since then, always with Mark at the helm. He was never afraid to try new initiatives and always conscious that he needed to provide a point of difference to members at a time when there was a plethora of dealer groups springing up.
I knew I could always call Mark when I wanted a straight and honest (and often unrepeatable) opinion on some aspect of business – and he would give it whatever the pros and cons for Office Club.
Like so many others, I was shocked and saddened to hear the news, and I will miss him.
Owner, Osborne Stationers
Not just the champion of smaller retailers, Mark was also the friend of many in our industry during their hour of need. This was often done silently behind the scenes. A good man, he will be sadly missed.
Managing Director, Martin Wilde Associates
I knew Mark for many years and met him many times – usually at OPI conferences. He could sometimes come across as perhaps a little prickly, but I very soon grew to learn that it was just because he was a man of integrity who was always very clear about what his personal and business objectives were and therefore could easily see whether you were wasting his time or not!
While he did not always agree with me (and why should he?), he always listened to what I had to say and would unfailingly either offer help, if he could, or point me in the direction of those that could.
The fact that he stayed for so long with Office Club in such a tumultuous era of change for the OP industry in general – and the OP dealer channel in particular – is testament both to his ability and to the fact that so many dealers trusted the success of their businesses to him.
Mark was very clearly a man of great intelligence, but he was also very thoughtful. My favourite memory of him is my arriving very late, tired and hassled at a hotel in Paris and, finding that I knew very few others at that particular OP event, having Mark come over to me specifically to make me feel welcome.
Mark was undoubtedly one of the great UK OP industry characters who was much loved and will be much missed.