Going back to the future

Going back to the future

In a recent conversation with Kaz Group founder, Peter Kazacos, he was quick to deny any interest in returning to the company. He used cars as an analogy and questioned why anybody would buy one back when somebody else had been driving it around since they sold it. The argument was that you don't know how that person has treated the car and what kind of condition it would be in when you got it back.

Last week, the founders of Cellnet, Stephen Harrison and Mel Brookman, announced that they had done just that - gone back to manage a company they handed over responsibility for almost two-and-a-half years ago. That came as something of a surprise to me - if anything can still be considered surprising at Cellnet - because then CEO, Mark Bloomer, and company chairman, Reg Clairs, were emphasising the need for stability only last month. It seems likely they are the latest casualties of boardroom infighting that has plagued the Brisbane-based distributor pretty much since Harrison announced his initial departure.

So what now? Received wisdom suggests you should never go back to the scene of former glories because success is very difficult to recreate. It is difficult to be objective and there's a tendency to employ the same strategies when, in reality, the world has usually moved on in your absence. Such changes happen quickly in the technology industry.

In public, at least, the IT vendor community has broadly welcomed the return of the old guard. This is not surprising given that it was Harrison and Brookman who convinced many of them to work with Cellnet in the first place. But behind closed doors there must be concern that the company has again made senior management changes.

The weeks ahead will see Harrison and Brookman in discussions with its IT vendors, with intentions to put more focus on its telco heritage no doubt near the top of the agenda. As Harrison told ARN last week: "We were a telco company and we made lots of money. We got into the IT space and started to lose money."

Concentrating on telco makes a lot of sense because that part of the Cellnet business is still profitable in Australia and across the Tasman. But its major IT vendors will be looking for reassurance that this will not come at the expense of their product lines.

Cellnet is viewed by some as one of the few viable alternatives to Ingram Micro in broad-based hardware distribution, so vendor partners will look to prop it up as much as they can but their patience is not endless. Harrison has already made it clear that his return will be short-lived so that illusive stability doesn't seem to be getting any nearer. As a listed company, Cellnet's washing is always done in public and its competitors will be quick to make the most of the ongoing trials and tribulations. Cellnet needs to paint a clear picture of its strategic direction in a hurry and then stick to it. Trust is a major factor in business decisions and supplies must be running low at Eagle Farm. But the industry needs choice so let's hope Harrison et al can right the ship.

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