Leading executives within the Australian channel united under one roof for the first time in 12 months as ARN launched a market-leading agenda at the inaugural Influencer Network.
Playing host to more than 150 business leaders – spanning partner, vendor and distributor organisations – the event outlined key initiatives during 2021 and beyond, spanning EDGE 2021, Innovation Awards, Women in ICT Awards (WIICTA) and Emerging Leaders Forum.
The launch of Influencer Network marks an evolution of the Judges’ Lunch concept, first introduced to officially kick-start the awards season while outlining core judging requirements. In recognition of an expanded line-up of industry initiatives, Influencer Network now encompasses the entire channel events calendar, continuing ARN’s role as the leading voice of the local ecosystem.
“ARN continues to bring together this network of leading figures of influence within the channel, helping strengthen the power of the ecosystem to bring ideas to impact,” said Cherry Yumul, vice president of Strategic Partnerships and Innovation at ARN.
“We are proud to once again play host to Hall of Fame inductees, industry judges, thought leaders, innovators, Emerging Leaders, entrepreneurs and subject matter experts - an incredible network of minds, talent and participants who convene to build a sticky, engaged and productive community. Indeed, our collective success is the sum of each individual’s influence in creating value and consuming value.”
In bringing together all market initiatives – from Emerging Leaders to Hall of Famers – Yumul acknowledged that while ARN continues to engage different aspects of the network in “different ways for different purposes”, Influencer Network represents the annual opportunity to come together as one ecosystem.
“ARN sits at the intersection of the network and the various tribes within it, serving as the connective tissue across Australia,” she explained. “Our role is to enable the community to thrive because we believe in the power of diverse ideas and inclusive coalition building.
“We take great pride in this but with this pride comes the humility to self-reflect often, because while we will not get it right each time, we certainly should and can do better, always. You, our readers, newsmakers, business partners, critics, and advisers – the channel community – are front and centre to what we do, why we do it and how we do it.”
Honouring industry leaders
A central part of this executive network is the Hall of Fame, representing the highest level of peer recognition for an individual’s contribution to the channel in Australia.
Launched in 2007, the Hall of Fame recognises the influence and significance of contribution - both individually and collectively - to the health of the ecosystem.
“Congratulations to Fiona Brown, Hall of Fame inductee in 2020,” said Yumul, offering the first in-person acknowledgment since Covid-19. “Fiona has been a central figure in the Australian channel for more than four decades.
“She has been a champion of the IT distribution landscape since co-founding one of the most widely recognised brand names in the local market, Dicker Data. Since the late 70’s, Fiona has helped to guide the company for which she is a director from strength to strength, at the same time helping partners and vendors continue to progress alongside."
Also during the virtual awards ceremony in 2020, Rod Lappin was posthumously inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Honoured on stage by close friend Matt Codrington - managing director of A/NZ at Lenovo - Rod was a charismatic and energetic leader who boasted a wealth of senior management experience spanning decades, following roles at Lenovo and Dell across Asia Pacific and beyond.
As a local Australian, Rod worked extensively across the world and lived – and raised a family – in Japan, Singapore and South Korea on multiple stints, before passing away in early 2019.
The event also paid tribute to Nick Russell – another friend of the industry – who passed away last month.
Honoured on stage by Rhody Burton – head of cloud partnerships and alliances A/NZ at Google Cloud – Nick was managing director of Katana1, a business he co-founded with close friend Ross Ogilvie. But Nick was also much more… a husband, son, brother, friend and fearless leader.
Following close consultation with Nick’s family - and with the support of Hall of Fame inductees – Nick will be inducted into the Hall of Fame during the upcoming Innovation Awards ceremony in the second half of 2021.
Power of influence
Aligned to the core theme of the launch event, deep-diving into the power of influence was a panel featuring leading executives across partner, vendor and distributor organisations, moderated by Moheb Moses as co-founder and director of Channel Dynamics.
Speaking as head of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning at DXC, Nikita Dhami acknowledged that while the concept of influencing is most commonly associated with popular culture and social media, within the context of technology, the definition is somewhat broader.
“Influencing in our industry is about the experiences we share with people and how we’ve affected them positively or negatively, which ultimately determines whether we will be able to influence their actions,” Dhami said. “This is centred around experiences and perception because influence is all about emotion - I remember that someone made me feel good, not necessarily the words they said.”
In heading up practice operations for DXC across Australia and New Zealand (A/NZ), Dhami took home double ARN honours in 2020, recognised in the Innovation category during Women in ICT Awards (WIICTA) and acknowledged for Technical excellence within the 30 Under 30 program at Emerging Leaders Forum.
“If I had an interaction and I felt good coming out of it, I’ll understand what that person was saying and grasp the concept meaning I’m likely to take the advice given,” she added. “It’s not so much about the exact words being said, more so how I felt leaving that conversation which goes back to 20-30 years ago and why communication remains the core tenant of influence.
“We can relabel this perhaps but ultimately, communication is key. Within technology, machine learning, AI and analytics are reinforcing what I already believe and what I am already emotionally connected to. In a way, technology creates a wider gap in society as we move towards extremes.”
Building on Dhami’s opening observations, Alison Freeman - director of Partner Ecosystem across A/NZ at IBM - linked influence to culture and trust, recognising the positive business benefits of following such an approach.
“I was driving my 14-year-old daughter to school this morning and asked what influence means to her? She responded, food,” Freeman recalled. “But I’m more related to culture and how as a leadership team, you can drive culture to drive performance which is heavily connected to trust.
“I look back on two strong leaders during my career, before social media, who I consider as influencers. Some test you, some make you feel uncomfortable and some put you in roles you don’t think you can do. But some also allow you to run things your own way, to make decisions on your own and provide the flexibility required to achieve the results that need to be achieved.”
In looking back on a career spanning more than 20 years, Freeman recognised the value of leaders driving change outside of traditional comfort zones, but also accepted the downside of influence from a management perspective.
“You can negatively influence which can have a real impact on people, usually by adopting a more authoritarian approach,” she added. “Especially during Covid-19, a positive response is instilling confidence in your team to allow them to make decisions and get things done.
“Yet someone can completely change a whole organisation by how effectively they manage during uncertainty and how they set the agenda and support the team."
Building on Freeman’s sentiment, Dominic O’Hanlon – CEO of Rhipe – cited the importance people as a core influence in his own decision-making process, irrespective of seniority or stature.
“I’m influenced by great people that I’ve worked with,” he said. “But when thinking about negative and positive connotations, negative influence tends to have an immediate impact while positive influence often takes a lot longer.
“I look up to people regardless of where they sit within an organisation but if we look at the broader society outside of technology, everybody is now a journalist, everyone has a soapbox and everyone has an opinion. And that generally is causing lines of division that we haven’t seen in the past, primarily driven by social media which clearly does influence people."
In leading an ASX-listed distributor, O’Hanlon was quick to stress the fundamental difference between corporate values and corporate behaviour in terms of building trust within a business.
“Culture is incredibly important but everyone says that and everyone has values posted on the wall,” he outlined. “My opinion is that it’s more around what behaviour you will or will not tolerate in a business and ensuring you hold people accountable for their behaviours.
“A business might value integrity or trust but what does that actually mean when someone steps out of line? What does that mean when someone sends an email to another colleague saying ‘just do your job’?”
Under O’Hanlon’s leadership, Rhipe has rolled out a program based off the work of Patrick Lencioni, viewed as global expert in organisational culture studies following the publication of books such as The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.
“One of his books is called The Ideal Team Player and focuses on the three core requirements to being a team player - be humble, hungry and smart,” he added.
Delving deeper, Freeman cautioned that as business leaders, influence also extends beyond the boundaries of an individual network, especially when driving change at multi-national corporations.
“We all need to be conscious of those who we influence that we may not even know, perhaps people attending an all-hands meeting,” she advised. “When you’re looking at an email that you might send – which will land on the desk of someone you don’t know – is the tone of that message correct? We must be mindful from an influence point of view to realise that while we may not know someone personally, our words and actions can have an impact.”
While in agreement with both Freeman and O’Hanlon, Dhami also emphasised the importance of balance in ensuring that positive influence also leads to positive business outcomes.
“For organisations too focused on perception, that can sometimes lead to inaction,” she observed. “That’s been my view of working with teams so focused on the management of perception that the experience of action is lost.
“There has to be a balance between ensuring someone is feeling good about what you said but also, you being informed by the individual if they didn’t. That creates an opportunity to have an honest discussion allowing both sides to explain perspectives and move forward. Silently observing, having an opinion but not saying anything is not being a team player.”