IN THE HOT SEAT: Of mice and men

IN THE HOT SEAT: Of mice and men

George Saad’s career may have started on a Harvey Norman’s shopfloor in Chatswood, but Logitech’s ambitious channel manager of retail now has his eyes set on the world. Saad wants to be a regional manager — say for the Asia-Pacific or even Europe — having a taste for travel gained perhaps from jetting off to California, Florida and the like, as a representive of the world’s biggest producer of mice.

This is no cheesy claim. Logitech is a growing 23-year-old Swiss company, which this month reported annual sales of $US1.3 billion (up 15 per cent) and net income of $US132 million (up 34 per cent).

Such success apparantly has no holes. The peripherals manufacturer claims to sell 500 million mice a year and expects 10-15 per cent growth this year, fuelled by a fashion for its webcams.

In Australia, four staff represent the company from the Sydney seaside suburb of Dee Why, aided by its distributors and resellers, but it points to annual growth of 22 per cent, with sales topping $10 million.

Saad said Logitech was a world leader in computer periperals, particularly the cordless variety, including mice and controllers for Sony’s PlayStation and Microsoft’s Xbox.

It also made speakers and other audio devices, with plans to introduce new products like digital pens. The convergence of consumer electronics with IT technologies in the home, fuelled by the use of wireless Bluetooth-enabled devices also promises new markets.

In 2000, Logitech bought Labtec, a leading audio and webcam equipment manufacturer. Logitech wanted to be a leading audio manufacturer too, so it took over Labtec’s infrastructure and technology to create its own branded products.

Logitech calls this a two-brand strategy. Labtec was used for the affordable products and Logitech for the premium. Saad, as retail channel manager, handles the Logitech and Labtec accounts that go to the retail sector, with Tech Pacific and BJE Enterprises as distributors. He also handles imported licensed Sony products for Logitech, which are distributed via Sony distributors.

Logitech and Labtec also sell to OEMs, but this time using Synnex and Ingram Micro and a different channel manager. Everything is sold using the channel, nothing is sold direct.

“Because we are a small operation, fulfilment through distribution is much more efficient for us,” Saad said. “Not having direct staff keeps our overheads lower. Having two different distributors also helps keep the market competitive. The customer has the choice of using one distributor or the other.”

Logitech looked at shifting to a direct sales approach but found no gains or savings could be made this way. It could have had more distributors but found two was the right number to avoid complications. BJE has been its distributor for 15 years. Tech Pacific joined three years ago, replacing Dataflow, which collapsed.

He started at Logitech in 2001 as national account manager, becoming channel manager a year ago. Prior to that, he was national account manager at Creative Labs and he used to manage the Chatswood Harvey Norman store.

The move to Logitech fell into his lap after Saad had resigned from Creative Labs, another webcam producer, and was introduced to Logitech general manager, Mario Manera, at a trade fair.

Saad said he was interested in the diversity of the brand and in Logitech being an innovative company. It did not have a national manager at the time, so Saad was able to bring to a channel focus that never existed before. His role also saw the company move to the mass market for the first time. Logitech could also be more strategic, sitting down with distributors to help them both work in the right direction.

“Rather than just shoot bullets, we are able to target where we shoot the bullets. We gain an overall picture. We have more direction,” Saad said.

By dealing with major issues like strategy, forecasting, the phasing in and out of products, the smaller, less important stuff fell into place, he said. Looking back, Saad said there were few issues or problems, just the common one for all businesses. That was being elastic and flexible enough to work with other businesses. If Harvey Norman implemented a new strategy, Logitech could work within it.

Saad advised people to treat customers as partners, sitting with them to plan and work with them.

He said if the customers’ goals were met, so would the organisation’s be. Every day also presented a new obstacle and people should prepare for it.

Despite being happy in his day to day role meeting vendors, distributors and the odd journalist and trying to get out of the office as much as he could Saad said the challenge of the unknown was the best part of the job.

Sitting in a Leichardt restaurant, Saad had recently arrived from an event in San Francisco, would be off to a gaming convention in Los Angeles in the near future, and then a distributor event in Florida.

“I started off on the retail floor,” he said. “Right now I look after retail in Australia and New Zealand. I would like to run a region like Asia-Pacific or Europe. Logitech might want a country manager for Hong Kong. There’s definitely interest for me [in such a job] — a two-year objective,” he said.

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