ARN talks to HP ProCurve's Mike Pritchard
What was your first job?
I worked within the in-house printing operation at Esso. Everybody used to have those before desktop publishing and I got into printing and graphic design that way. It was 1984, which was the year the Apple Mac came out. So it was an interesting time.
How did you move into IT?
As an early casualty of desktop publishing. The printing outfit had been proudly coming in under budget for about 20 years as they had last bought major capital equipment in the early 1970s. The team went back to management in the mid-1980s and asked for $1 million to complete it all. Management had said to them: 'Are you kidding? Why would an oil company want a printing department?' And, of course, the Mac was coming out. So in 1986 they bought their first PC-based command-line driven computer graphics systems to make presentations and I was moved across to head office. It was my job to help get the systems set up. The company that installed them, Dimension Graphics, then made me an offer. I went from printing guy to junior technical consultant. We used to sell digitising tablets and motion capture stuff.
How did you wind up at ProCurve?
I went from junior consultant to technical consultant before my boss suggested I take a sidestep left into sales because customers loved buying stuff off me. For the first six months it was an enormous challenge trying to turn my head around and then something just clicked. I ended up the top sales person that year. I gradually moved into sales management then took over some marketing responsibility. After nine years I went to Tech Pacific and picked up the pre-merger HP product portfolio. All of the traditional PC/server products were only $300,000 per month and I got them to $3 million per month in less than two years.
After that I threw it all in and went backpacking around South America and Turkey for a few years, then worked in the UK for about three years. I worked for a distie and two vendors selling dotcom- type software: ColdFusion, Oracle database, Netscape. I then came back to Australia and had a couple of jobs with small disties and resellers here before joining HP three-and-a-half years ago.
What do you like about your job?
It's an enormous challenge. The scope is just insane and it's a huge amount of fun. Mainly I'm there to recruit new channels; assist my distributor [Ingram Micro] to grow the business in everything, from the back-end and marketing to process and execution; and new product introductions. It's the variety in the job, as well as that sensation of being an underdog with a challenge ahead.
What's the biggest achievement of your career?
This is the second time I've built the business at HP and I think this time it's harder because we have a single, monolithic competitor. It's more difficult having one large competitor than carving out something in the PC industry against many smaller players. But I have to say the pivotal point in my career was that first year in sales and making that reasonably successful.
What do you dislike about the IT industry?
It's probably true in several industries but in IT it's certainly true and I'm a tragic: our 'macho' long hours culture. It's a hard one to explain to the family. Another thing I've found a bit hard is the reality of riding peaks and troughs. It's tough going when you think you're doing everything right but things just sag because you're part of that industry.
What will be the 'next big thing' in the industry?
I think the most interesting thing happening right now, which is actually outside of networking, is printable, e-ink. A dynamic display you can wrap around any surface is the most mind-boggling thing with about nine billion potential applications. I think it's going to be incredible. Everything from e-books to point-of-sale in supermarkets, to dynamically updated price tags on shelves. And it's not too far away. HP is doing some fundamental research in that area, along with Xerox and a bunch of other companies. In networking, it's video. All sorts of video applications on the network are absorbing our partners' time. Don't get me wrong, voice is still booming, but the next one is video.
What is the main focus for your company this year?
Consolidating our number two position by increasing the mindshare and volume through our current partners as well as recruiting more. We're introducing a lot of products this year. We have already brought out many and some of the most exciting stuff is still to come. The other one is improving internal processes. HP is a big organisation: You have to carve out your piece of that and incrementally add efficiencies while growing the market.
What do you do when you are not at work?
I've been doing a lot of DIY stuff around the house. I'm currently building my shed.
What's your best personal achievement?
I have two wonderful boys and I think we're doing a reasonable job of raising them. But check back in 15 years' time! My best personal achievement would have been pulling the plug on a successful career in Australia and going to the UK. It was great fun - I recommend doing that to everyone.
What's your favourite travel destination?
South America. I've been there twice and would go back in a heartbeat.
Do you like gadgets?
For somebody who has been in IT for a number of years, I have the most simple phone. My favourite gadget is actually my stereo. I like fossicking in secondhand audio shops - I don't buy any of it new. So I have a state-of-the-art stereo from 1991 and I love it.
What did you want to be when you were younger?
Any number of things, but the first one that stuck came up when I went and saw the QE2. I was fantasising what it would be like to be a chef on the ship. I drew my inspiration from an uncle who had been a cook in the German merchant navy years before. He could cook anything. Then I discovered how much work a chef really has to do.
What's your biggest ambition?
It's not necessarily my biggest ambition, but I have always wondered what it would be like to be country manager for a niche vendor. You could run riot - there's so much opportunity out there. My biggest personal ambition is probably more travel - I could easily work overseas again.