Piloting through turbulent times

Piloting through turbulent times

Interview with XSI CEO, Glenn Gray

XSI CEO, Glenn Gray, has been a stable force within the storage integrator since it was established 20 years ago. He speaks to MATTHEW SAINSBURY about a start in accounting machine sales, the growing importance of ROI, and the pointlessness of GPS systems in golf.

What was your first job?

Many years ago, after I left school, I worked for a retailer called Waltons as a trainee in accounting. I quite enjoyed their training program which covered not only accounting but looking at their retail business, and at that point I was quite interested in the selling side.

I was able to work in management fairly early, in my 20s. After moving into the senior accounting area within the group for a couple of years, I saw an advertisement in the paper to sell accounting machines, and I thought to myself that it was a good opportunity to combine some of my accounting skills with some of the other skills I’d developed in terms of selling, so I became a sales person.

How did you progress to your current position?

I tend to work for a long time with different companies. The company that made the accounting machines was called Remington, and with them I progressed from accounting machines to the computers part of the business. There was a company Remington was looking to purchase, called System Industries, which was left field at the time in terms of selling compatible disk and tape systems into the digital and HP market.

My manager started up the System Industry division of Remington, and later offered me the opportunity to move into that division, where I worked for three years. After that, Remington was bought by a company called Pitney Bowes, who was then looking to offload the computing parts of the business. The System Industry division had been quite profitable, and there was a management buyout by 11 people, who did the usual thing of mortgaging houses and the like to fund the buyout, which is how XSI was formed.

What do you like about the current job?

It still has a family atmosphere. We work very hard, but we believe people respond well if we treat them well, and will go the extra mile for us when we need them to. From that perspective, if we treat everyone fairly and preserve the work/ life balance, then we have empathy for them, and they have empathy for what we’re trying to achieve as a company. If you look at the overall term at XSI, the average tenure of our employees is over eight years, which is unusual for an IT company. That is important to us as it means we’re able to retain a lot of skills people build up with the organisation.

What is the biggest achievement of your career?

I’ve been lucky in that I feel I’ve achieved a lot, but the biggest achievement I take personal satisfaction from is that I can talk to any customer I have sold systems to over the 20-odd years, and feel very confident we’ve done the right thing by that customer.

Is there anything you dislike about the IT industry?

There are times we see people come into the industry and go. Those people can make a fl urry for a while, and may sell very cheaply, which affects everybody. As an organisation, we need to make a profit to stay in business.

What do you think will be the next big thing?

The biggest change in these difficult times, is that people are looking at return on investment. As a result, things such as virtualisation and cloud computing are playing a big part in the technology space. This will continue to be important going forward. The other key area that needs to develop is the network. In Australia, we still have challenges around our bandwidth. This will need to improve for us to get the performance we’re looking for from those kinds of technologies.

What’s the main focus for XSI this year?

Doing everything we can to provide the right solutions to our customers – our vendor independence from both a hardware and software perspective, positions us to tailor the right solution for our customer, rather than being bound to a single vendor.

What do you do when you’re not at work?

I like to play golf. Over the last two or three years, or since my children have left high school, and on Saturday mornings where we used to have school sport, you’ll now find me on the golf course hitting a little white ball around. I play off a handicap of around 15, but I’d say my handicap was more the person holding the club than the number.

Do you like gadgets?

I’m not a gadget person, it’s something that’s never taken my fancy. I have friends who use the latest gadgets when playing golf, such as GPS systems that track where their ball is and how far it is to the pin, but that’s never been an area that has appealed to me.

What did you want to be when you were younger?

I wanted to be a pilot. I’ve been with XSI for around 20 years, but found it most interesting because it changes every year, which is exciting, and that’s really of interest to me.

Did you ever take flying lessons?

No, I didn’t. The furthest I ever got was having a couple of friends who were doing it. I went along to see if I liked it, but at that point I had developed other interests which took precedence in my early 20s.

What is your biggest ambition?

To run a profitable company. If we run a profitable company, then we have employment for x number of people, so if I can continue to do that, and keep the people employed, and keep delivering the right solution, then I think I’ve done a pretty good job.

    XSI was founded in 1985 as a supplier of disk and tape solutions for Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), Data General and HP computer users. It is now an advisor and partner to open systems information technology users for storage, management and protection of data. XSI is part of the UXC Group, an ASX top 300 company.

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