With pleasantries barely exchanged, water glasses still empty and the tape recorder yet to be switched on, David Gage addressed the elephant in the room.
“You know, there’s no doubt that we have to win back partners.”
And as the new managing director of Westcon-Comstor Australia, he was correct. For the distributor has endured a difficult period of internal restructuring in country, dominated by an arduous SAP rollout.
It’s a process most distributors endure — think Ingram Micro in 2011 — and one that can result in months of in-house work to bed in new systems and processes. Westcon-Comstor’s demanding deployment was relatively low-key in comparison to its competitor however, and will not be remembered in the annals of channel history.
Yet it sapped energy, redirected resources and created a distance between distributor, vendor and partner.
“SAP rollouts force you to reengineer your processes,” Gage acknowledged. “It’s always going to be tough for any distributor.
“In any project, you have a dip and productivity decreases, which creates a temporary drop off in morale because people feel like they are going backwards. But then you come out of the other side and as with any good project, your productivity, morale, staff engagement is actually higher than when you started.
“It’s fair to say that it was a difficult process for the business but now it’s full steam ahead.”
With a wealth of channel experience, Gage is no stranger to instigating change. Having previously held executive roles across distributor, vendor and partner organisations — at Express Data, Microsoft and Dimension Data respectively — the industry veteran is well versed in establishing refreshed go-to-market strategies across the industry.
Since taking the reins in mid-March, Westcon-Comstor has proved no different, with the distributor now at the end of Gage’s 90-day plan.
“Often when you come into a business you undertake a business review which is conducted by the leadership team," Gage explained. "But that generally doesn’t unearth a lot of new ideas.”
In being new to the business, Gage naturally had fresh ideas of his own. But experience has taught him to widen the net in terms of sourcing internal feedback.
“I wanted our review to be broader,” he said. “So, we invited individual contributors from across the business to participate. We encouraged cross-pollination which allowed staff to be involved in other work streams which generated fresh ideas.
“A lot of organisations talk about empowering their people, but they actually rarely do.”
Consequently, Gage has implemented a range of “quick and simple” initiatives across the organisation, designed to generate momentum, momentum which can be translated into delivering new levels of value for partners and vendors.
“It’s no secret that for a couple of years we were too inwardly focused,” he said. “But we’ve also spent time with our partners and vendors because they are best placed to outline pain points and challenges.
“The good news is that the channel wants Westcon-Comstor to be successful because they want choice in the market. In an environment where distributors are looking increasingly similar because of mergers and acquisitions, they want a true value-added distributor and an alternative offering that provides good service.
“Partners are happy and are coming back.”
After sourcing industry feedback, Gage outlined a common consensus around a need for Westcon-Comstor to revert to “distributor 101”, specifically around operational efficiency.
“I think we had let down some of our partners 12–24 months ago but I wouldn’t be re-engaging with them if I didn’t have a high-level of confidence that we’ve got it right now,” Gage acknowledged. “And they are not just re-engaging, they are having a good experience also and we’re delivering on our promise around the simple stuff.
“But we’re also moving beyond that, we have high levels of technical capabilities and resources available to the channel.”
A new take on value
Inducted into the ARN Hall of Fame in 2014, Gage was previously director of small and mid-market solutions and partners at Microsoft, a role he held for over two years before exiting in November 2015.
Prior to his time at the tech giant, Gage was CEO of Express Data, overseeing the distributor’s business locally until November 2013, before it was acquired by Dicker Data for $65.5 million in February 2014.
In addition, Gage also held management roles at Dimension Data in Australia, covering licensing and learning solutions divisions for the IT solutions provider.