When Nextgen Distribution was just starting out, CEO and co-founder John Walters received a cease and desist notice from telecommunications infrastructure provider Nextgen Networks.
The problem? Nextgen Networks wasn’t keen on another technology player in the local market trading with the same brand name.
“When we first set up Nextgen in 2011, we were about four months in and I got a letter from the CEO of Nextgen Networks. It was a legal letter saying ‘cease and desist, please change your name’. I thought, ‘woah, here we go’,” Walters told guests at the second annual Nextgen Leadership Forum in Sydney on 13 February.
Rather than letting the issue escalate and get lawyers involved, Walters simply called up Nextgen Networks and explained what his then fledgling company, Nextgen Distribution, was all about and why it would present no commercial threat to the network wholesaler.
“I decided that the best way around this, rather than having lawyers at 10 paces, was to ring up the CEO,” Walters said. “I got through the PA [personal assistant] and all the gatekeepers and spoke to him over the phone one-on-one.
“I said, ‘this is what I’m doing, I’m not using your name, I have no intention of [competing]’. He [the Nextgen Networks] CEO said, ‘put that in writing, and you can carry on with your name’. And I said to him as I was finishing, 'you’ll end up being a customer of ours,'” Walters added.
Clearly, everything worked out okay. Today, the owner of the Nextgen Networks brand is publicly-listed telco Vocus, which is one of Nextgen Distribution’s customers.
Walters shared the anecdote amid a panel discussion during the Nextgen Leadership Forum examining leadership in adversity via the theme 'leading through adversity with diversity,' with panellists including NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons; former Governor-General and Chief of the Defence Force Peter Cosgrove; and Micro Focus A/NZ managing director Peter Fuller.
The panel also included current Vocus CEO Kevin Russell, a fact not lost on Walters as he recounted his run-in with Nextgen Networks years before its 2016 acquisition by Vocus.
“Kevin [Russell, through Vocus] now owns the title Nextgen Networks, and is now a customer of ours, so there you go,” Walters said.
Walters’ Nextgen Networks episode lent itself well to one of the two core narratives of the Forum, leadership in adversity and diversity leadership.
Talking about leadership in adversity, Russell reflected on his professional journey, discussing some of the things he learned about overcoming setbacks early in his career while working for Hong Kong business magnate Li Ka-shing.
“My background is a kind of turnaround specialist, a guy who generally finds problems and throws himself into it, and Vocus is a similar animal,” Russell said. “But I had the really good fortune of working for 16 years for a gentleman called Li Ka-shing, one of the richest men in Asia, based out of Hong Kong.
“One of the things I learned about adversity [in those years] was around perspective...are things really as bad as you think they are? And among those lessons from Mr Li, back in 1995, I remember trying to sell a business for him for $200 million, which was the cost of the business and just trying to dump it.
"We couldn’t dump it, and it was a disaster. And then five years later, that business became a business called Orange, which was sold for $10 billion. And [that was due to] just time and patience and grinding things out,” Russell said.
To discuss the diversity theme were Oracle A/NZ managing director Valery Lanovenko, Bitdefender global sales and channels vice president Joe Sykora and Darktrace chief channel management officer Gary Szukalski, among others.
Asked by panel moderator Jeffery Tobias Halter, president of YWomen, what sort of changes in gender diversity he had seen among his customer base and how he was dealing with those changes, Sykora was quick to point out that there has been change “across the board”.
“In certain countries it’s a little bit different, but we had to adjust everything,” Sykora said. “We do a lot around digital, so that experience you have on the web, when you enter our website. We had to do a lot of change around that. We’ve also changed how we do events. Events like this [the Nextgen Leadership Forum].
“I’d say, in the past, it used to be more like, ‘okay, let’s go to a steakhouse, let’s get some cigars and scotch’. We don’t do that anymore. We have to do things differently. And those experiences are what drive margin. It’s not just a numbers game any more.
“We form those relationships. And it’s more important today than anything. Especially with the CISOs I detail with, because most of them are female,” he added.
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