Intel managing director, Phil Cronin, loves to tell a story, whether it be professional, personal or political. A favourite tale is the IT industry and the possibilities technology presents to society going forward.
Cronin came to Australia in 1987 after relocating from Ireland and commencing a career in IT programming in England.
“Most kids had a choice of either England, Australia or America, depending on where you could get a visa. I was fortunate to get one here and fell in love with the place straight away. It was one of those magic things,” he recalled.
Cronin spent his first year in Australia at IPL Daitron with Stead Denton, before losing his job in a company downsize.
“I was doing operations for him, and it was Stead who said ‘Cronin, you should be in sales, and by the way you’re sacked’,” he said.
The next stop was Tech Pacific, where he turned up without a suit jacket for an interview with industry veteran, David Arnott.
“Fortunately it was summer, so David didn’t notice I’d just turned up in a shirt,” Cronin joked. “I have an enormous amount of respect for David – he was running a good operation as finance controller, and I went into the operations side of the business. But I’d always wanted to manage things and make things change. He enabled me to do that over the years I spent working for him.
“I think that was my first real understanding of the complexity of channel, in that I worked for a distributor but I worked through finance and operations, sales, and then into head office doing a lot of new office openings, mergers and acquisitions.”
During 1994-1995, Cronin travelled through Asia, assisting Tech Pacific to open branches in the Philippines, Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia, before getting involved in the company’s joint venture with Godrej in India.
“It was extremely different to here – we had taken an operation here that was very lean, focused on cost-efficiency, where margin was critical and the tiered customer base was critical. And it hasn’t changed,” Cronin claimed. “The systems integration tier, even then, was very important, and then you had traditional resellers in the middle and box movers. The names changed but the style remained the same and you had to align the company to each of those markets.”
The most important lesson Cronin learnt during his time with Tech Pacific was financial management. During his years with the distribution giant, it contracted and expanded several times as it brought on vendors and realigned its customer base.
“It’s the financial management of companies along the way that has kept them in business. Even today, you see it on the wall: If you can’t manage cash flow or growth, it’s only a matter of time before you go out the door,” Cronin claimed. “Every dollar of cost you add, you have to recoup more than that along the way. That’s what David Arnott and Graham Pickles taught me.”
Only with a strong balance sheet and diligent attention to cash flow, can businesses also gain the flexibility they needed to innovate and invest in other fields. Cronin pointed to the recent spate of channel failures in Australia, which were prompted by tightening credit from banks, insurers and distributors as the global financial crisis hit.
“Every downturn cycle takes a period of time to and there will be casualties along the way, and those will be organisations with bad cash management,” Cronin claimed. “I think we have a while to go.”
After a long holiday, Cronin returned to a marketing role within Tech Pacific’s emerging networking division. He became the distributor’s inaugural Cisco product manager when the networking giant stepped into the channel for the first time, working with Liz Lawson and Gary Jackson to transition the vendor to a two-tier model.