It was nearly 12 years ago in November 2002 that Dominic Whitehand, his wife Sharon, and Jonathan Odria each put $1500 down on a table - and began WhiteGold Distribution.
For the first eight years or so they didn’t take a cent out of the company, constantly reinvesting year in, year out. They didn’t take even take out a bank loan. True!
Now they can celebrate, although sitting on the opposite side of a table from the trio, a mere 30 minutes after they have formalised the deal - selling a majority shareholding in their company to Exclusive Networks Group - that not only gives them financial security but takes their company to a new level of possibility, they remain almost serious. Shell-shocked, perhaps. Happy, yes. But quick to stress they have a job to do.
Sharon, WhiteGold’s operations and finance director, says it is still surreal because “the boys” are out there all the time while she’s in the background number crunching, grinding everything.
“I work hard,” she says. “I do what I have to do but it has been very hard sometimes. This deal means less sleepless nights than I’ve had in the past. It’s not an easy thing to do to grow a business from scratch.”
Her husband (and the company CEO) cuts in, “There’s no degree out there in how to run a distributor business.”
Sharon continues, “To me, this says you are doing really well, you have achieved.”
Odria, WhiteGold’s sales director, says,”It gives us a whole new team, a family we can interact with.”
Sharon: “Yes, now we’ve got a bigger extended family.”
Dominic: “It’s like we’ve called in a really, really big brother to help us out.” They all smile at that.
What they all also emphasise is that day-to-day they will be doing exactly what they have always done and so will everybody else in the company. The deal does mean the end of the WhiteGold name early next year but other than that they are quick to stress the autonomy they have been handed by Exclusive Networks Group (ENG) and the importance of not selling a majority share to a company that wouldn’t allow them to still do what they do best.
Sharon: “One of my things has been ensuring we look after the staff. I’m not one of those people who doesn’t care.”
Odria: “So there are no job losses. In fact over the next month we will be adding nine more staff. We still get to steer our own ship.”
Dominic: ”It’s a confidence booster, a validation of what we are and have been doing.”
Negotiations with Exclusive Networks Group began in January when it approached WhiteGold at a US conference. They quickly found that not only did they share a similar vendor base, they shared a similar business culture, company ideology and way of looking at distribution and approaches to market.
WhiteGold were perfect for ENG which was looking to move beyond its EMEA operations (21 countries) and into Asia-Pacific. ENG was perfect for WhiteGold - at least they were when the trio had time to think about the future.
Dominic says they had a feeling three years ago when the business really began to take-off - it recorded 38 per cent year-on-year revenue growth that year when the majority of other ICT business were either flat or noting downturns - that they should start thinking about the future.
“Then we had several years that were so busy [think 62 per cent and 51 per cent, year-on-year growth, respectively] they just flashed by, so we were kind of surprised when we were approached at the beginning of this year. Then, because we were so busy again, we took two or three months to really respond.”
Odria: ”For us this is not the end but a new beginning, a springboard into the Asia-Pac region. There’s a lot more to come. It’s exciting. We will continue to build the business to take it to the next level. It allows us to leverage our exclusive branding and make alliances we may have missed out on in the past.”
For Dominic, the initial dream of creating a sustainable business with the unified value distribution model he has championed since day one now moves to another level. And for these three people who just kept pushing and pushing and pushing, even when things were really tough, who, with every success, kept moving the goals, it’s ultimately satisfying to now be able to take their model to the world. The benefits will also flow on to WhiteGold’s 18-month old NZ business which is already profitable. “We want to add and grow that business as much as we can,” Dominic says.
The bottom line though in this success story is simple: “We get to continue doing what we have been doing all along - being disruptive to the channel. And on a much bigger scale,” he says. “And you know what’s special? We always wanted to be a model for younger people to show that you can do it. That you can start from scratch and if you work hard and keep hitting your goals you can succeed. We are all immensely proud of that.”
It goes to prove that $1500 goes a very, very long way.