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Getting down to business

Getting down to business

Cigar smoking and cognac are just some of the favourite past times of F5 Network's managing director, Christopher Poulos. He recently spoke with ARN about his passion for the environment and his business venture with flamboyant stockbroker, the late Rene Rivkin.

What was your first job?
I was a paper boy. It is where I first learnt about the power of sales and got taught to ask 'Would you also like a magazine with that?' I learnt how to handle money and blow the whistle more creatively than any paper boys on the street.

How did you end up in the IT industry?
I was a passionate greenie. I did a surveying/geographic information systems degree at the University of NSW. IBM came on campus and interviewed people. I thought it would be worth experiencing being interviewed by a large corporation, although I didn't know who they were at the time. Seven interviews later, I got a job within a special area to do with geographic information systems (GIS). After they realised I could talk, they quickly got me out of that and dragged me over the line kicking and screaming into sales. I didn't want to be a sales person - but I'm glad I did it because it opened my eyes.

How did you progress to where you are today?
I left IBM after seven years and joined another company, Lotus. Within two weeks, IBM bought them. IBM let us go for about five years and that is why I remained there, but at the end they tore it apart and I moved on. During that time I had management responsibility, and learnt about how to really get the best out of people.

What do you like about your current job?
I am building a company - the channel, people and customer sets. I have been with F5 for about a year. During that time we have tripled our staff and revenues have quadrupled. I love seeing the magic of putting all of those things into a company.

What is the biggest achievement of your career?
My greatest success - I won't attribute it to any one company - is increasing the sales of a newly appointed start-up beyond expectations. I love the magic when you put 10 people in a room and you get the output of 20 or 30 people. During my six years with Trend Micro, where I was managing director, we grew revenues from $6 million to $40 million. I really enjoyed that and wanted to replicate it. I have started at smaller vendors and turned them into medium-sized vendors and I think my skill set suits that area. I have had parallel lives as well. Rene Rivkin once gave me $500,000 to start a cigar company, which was an exciting venture because he didn't know me from a bar of soap.

How did you meet Rene Rivkin?
We were at a major IBM/Lotus channel event in the Blue Mountains, NSW. Rene was invited as a guest motivational speaker. He sat next to me and pulled out a cigar pouch and I said 'Wow, a Montecristo Number 2'. He wanted me to tell him more about the industry and I mentioned we needed a cigar ambassador for Australia such as himself. The conversation progressed and I asked him how much he paid for that cigar because I wanted to sell him a box, so that I could tell my mates I sold him a box of cigars. He'd paid $65 for the cigar, and I told him I could supply him with that cigar for $35. He then said he wanted to buy my business. I hired a manager and put together a few business processes and it was fantastic. The ABC filmed our cigar evening at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Double Bay, NSW where we had 400 people smoking in one room.

What do you dislike most about the IT industry?
I would like to improve the disparate thinking between Australia and the US. We are an Australian organisation with a US base but there's a disparity in targets. But overall, there isn't much I don't like about the industry. I like my resellers and distributors because I handpick them. The only thing I don't like is how customers know how to ask for discounts at the end of the quarter.

What will be the 'next big thing' in the industry?
With Web 2.0 there is more interaction between the Internet and us. Web 3.0 will be the same but on steroids with massive pipes, more intelligent code and better technology. From a business point of view, software-as-a-service is the next big thing. And as the world becomes more mobile, large corporations want to get their employees accessing applications anywhere, any time.

What is the main focus for F5 this year?
We want to sustain growth and have the ability to support our partners effectively. We'll also focus more on our senior and goal-based resellers and we want our distributors to work on premier and advantage level resellers. Once we get the channel model right - and we are almost there - that is going to get us to our next level of growth.

What do you do when you are not at work?
I have two teenage daughters - Olivia and Christiane. Olivia is a sports champ and Christiane is an artist, so I go to all the various events, which takes up a lot of time. I also like to enjoy a nice cigar and cognac with a few friends: it's not quite a Sopranos situation but tending towards that. We do have conversations about building empires. I do love music and am practising my saxophone again. I am also an Australian award-winning photographer, but as the world has moved into digital photography, I have moved away from that.

What photography awards have you won?
They were wedding photo journalistic awards. I've done about 700 weddings.

Do you like gadgets?
Next to sliced bread, the Blackberry is the best invention because it fills in all the cracks throughout the day and gets me out of the office. I was attracted at a very young age to anything that blinked and flashed.

What did you want to be when you were younger?
Something to do with the environment. I was a scout for 15 years, which taught me a lot about being a self starter.

What is your biggest ambition?
Workwise and in the short term, it is to have a motivated and excited team. Long term, my ambition is to replicate what I did at Trend by increasing revenues. The world has given me a lot, so I want to give things back, whether it is money or information. I am also involved in church, which is a good grounding. Life has so much to offer and I'm like a kid in a lolly shop. I want to experience the lot.


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