In safe hands - Lenovo's Alan Munro

In safe hands - Lenovo's Alan Munro

The computer manufacturer's local boss tells ARN why he never made it to South America

Alan Munro has been the local managing director of Lenovo ANZ since IBM sold its PC business to the Chinese manufacturer more than two years ago. As he tells ARN's Brian Corrigan, he's doing a much better job of that than he did of keeping goal for the school soccer team.

What was the first job you ever did?

I had a milk run as a kid growing up in Dunedin, New Zealand. In winter it used to get so cold because the milk was bottled. You had to push big carts up hills and after being out there for about three hours your fingers would be swollen so you had to put them in hot water before you went to school.

How did you end up in the IT industry?

Through my brother, who worked for IBM in printer sales. I had been backpacking around the world and stayed with him when I went back to New Zealand. He said there was a job going at IBM but I didn't even know what they did. He told me they sold computers and set up a couple of interviews, which I went to in clothes that were borrowed from him. They agreed to take me into the graduate intake and I started the next day. Before I went backpacking I had trained as a teacher and taught phys ed in New Zealand and England. I also did a ski instructor course and taught skiing in Europe and the US. When I joined IBM, the intention was only to work there for a year because I wanted to do some travelling in South America but 21 years later I've still never been there and I'm still in the industry.

How did you progress through the ranks at IBM?

It was a good opportunity in the late '80s and I started in Wellington through the graduate program and went into sales before transferring to Christchurch, which was where Telecom NZ was headed at the time. That was our biggest customer. I did an Asia-Pacific job out of Auckland in the distribution and retail sector before getting the opportunity to come and run it for Australia and New Zealand. I went through about five different roles in the next seven years as part of the leadership team. I was in marketing for a while and started in Australia. After running the PC business for about 12 months I was taken into a little room and told that we were going to be working for another company. That was exciting actually because a lot of the things that are core to a PC company are not core to a [broader] large organisation. I've had a lot of opportunities for career advancement through IBM and never turned any of them down. Lenovo has been the same and we've had a terrific ride during the past couple of years.

Was there an opportunity for you to stay with IBM or were you sold as part of the furniture?

We were all part of the furniture but you make a choice to grab hold of it, resist or just stick with it for a while until you can get yourself out of that situation. From day one I have seen it as a fantastic opportunity to run a company in this part of the world that is on a steep growth trajectory. There aren't too many opportunities like that.

What do you like about your job today?

The industry is fast-paced so there's no downtime and you don't get bored. We have built a team of really good people and the energy level continues to grow. We are a small business and we do a lot of things together. We are picking up share and are in good shape whichever way you look at it.

How difficult is it to build a team when we are going through a severe skills shortage?

Half of our staff has come into the organisation during the last 12 months. We're investing in new areas and people are starting to make up their minds about whether they want to be with Lenovo. I'm OK with them deciding that they don't because this is a dynamic marketplace but, when you look at the turnover rates, we believe we are in line with the market. We want to be an employer of choice that offers work/life balance. It's a high-paced industry and some people can't hack that, but for those who can it's an exciting place to be and pretty rewarding.

What is your focus for the next 12 months?

To continue building the brand. We've been pretty happy with our recognition in the market but we will be leveraging the Olympics [sponsorship] which will be big for us. We need to continue executing on the transactional business, our relational business continues to be strong and we are building a services business. We hope to launch another corporate responsibility program soon and all of these things are about building brand recognition. As we grow you need scalability within your organisation.

You mentioned work/life balance. What do you do when you are not at work?

My family is very important to me and I drop my girls off at school every day. I never miss that. They all play a lot of sport so Friday night is rugby, Saturday is rugby, netball, tennis and basketball, and Sunday is soccer. Between all that I keep fit so I go surfing as much as I can, I have just come back from a skiing holiday and I exercise five days a week.

Do you like gadgets?

Not really but my daughters do. My notebook is never away from me but the simpler the better.

What did you want to be when you were growing up?

It was always something around sports. There was a guy called Mervin Jaffray who grew up not far from me and was a flanker for the All Blacks so he was my idol. My nickname at school was Mervin because of Mervin Day who played in goal for West Ham. On The Ball was the only sports program we used to get every week in new Zealand. I played rugby and soccer on a Saturday and was in the second XI for the soccer team. The first XI coach rang me up one Saturday morning to play in goal for them in the afternoon. It was a top of the table clash and they hadn't lost but the goalie was sick. I'd never played in goal before but the coach said I played rugby so I'd be alright. We got beat 7-0 and the next day West Ham were on TV and Mervin Day let in about six goals. Word went around assembly on Monday that we'd been thrashed and I was the goalie so the name stuck. Even my best man called me Mervin and he never even went to school with me.

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