There are some bold predictions being made in the PC market these days. 34th-in-the-market Siemens Nixdorf says it's going to be among the top five PC manufacturers in Australia by 2000; and AST has a similar goal, albeit a shorter distance to travel.
New AST managing director David Henderson says his firm - currently vacillating between 8th and 10th in the PC market, according to IDC - will be top five within two years.
"Two years from now I believe the top five PC manufacturers in Australia will consist of two American companies, two Japanese companies and AST," was Henderson's somewhat cryptic pronouncement. (Even with a much-needed influx of cash from South Korean giant Samsung, AST remains US-owned.) However, it's that investment by Samsung (the company has taken a 49.9 per cent equity stake in AST) that is fuelling AST's revival. Without it, the company would likely be in deep trouble. "I think it's safe to say our fortunes have waned in the last couple of years," he said. "We're in a turnaround phase now, although profitability is still a couple of quarters out." He said Samsung's investment in AST provides the company with "the critical mass we need to accelerate our growth".
Referring to AST's PC market goal, IDC's Bruce McCabe told Australian Reseller News, "It's certainly not impossible [that AST will be in the top five PC manufacturers two years from now]. I think AST turning its attention to the channel will probably serve them well."
Crossing the channel
A key component in AST's planned resurgence involves redressing the company's relationships with resellers. Henderson acknowledges AST has been criticised for its inconsistent policies with regard to direct vs channel sales and says changes are in the works. "We've had a foot in both camps and my experience tells me you're either 100 per cent in the channel or you're not there at all," he said. Henderson attributes much of Toshiba's success during his tenure there to its commitment to the channel and says AST will plow a similar furrow. "We're committed to selling through the channel," he said.
"The next 12 months are going to be a bloodbath in the marketplace," Henderson said. "In a sense, it's good that we've bottomed out. I think a lot of other manufacturers are staring into that dark abyss wondering when it's going to end."
Henderson declined to name new distributors with whom AST will work, but has words of praise for CHA, Prion and Dicker Data for "their focus and their ability to deliver products at a low cost. Some of these companies may not have a massive profile, but they do an excellent job," he said. Henderson also outlined AST's appointment of Darren Besgrove, formerly AST's marketing manager for Australia and New Zealand, as regional marketing director, Asia-Pacific Middle/East region. Besgrove will be based in Irvine, California.