IN THE HOT SEAT: Business with a conscience

IN THE HOT SEAT: Business with a conscience

What can you say about a guy whose Christmas present from his daughter is agreeing to financially support five African babies for World Vision?

It is a Friday afternoon and who wants to talk shop for this profile, when what matters more is the man behind the man.

David Henderson spent part of his childhood in Glasgow, before coming to Australia 40 years ago, and is grateful to a country that has given him what he calls a fantastic life.

Henderson has been working in IT for 25 years, putting his feet under desks at major companies such as 3M, 3COM, Tech Pacific, EMC and the former AST.

Henderson started out at 3M, training with the company at a time when businesses were happy to invest in staff long-term, he said. 3M took him across Australia and trained him in finance, operations, everything.

Clash of cultures

“3M was fascinating,” Henderson said. “It was a pioneer of the sophisticated channel mode. Most of its work was industrial but I worked in the home sector dealing with audiotapes, videotapes and disks.”

Seven years as general manager at Toshiba followed, a job that involved a lot of travelling. In the mid-1990s, he joined AST as managing director, as the former number five PC company in the world crashed into oblivion.

“There was a clash of cultures between a Silicon Valley company and Samsung [its new Korean owner],” Henderson said. “They [also] picked the wrong processors. They went cheap as opposed to fast and were left with too much inventory — the deathknell of any IT business. The true success of Dell is their supply chain management [avoiding this].”

Further economic realities followed at 3COM, where as Asia-Pacific marketing director, Henderson faced two more years of endless travel. He put on 15kg jetting between Bombay, Manila, Tokyo and Sydney.

“It is an insult to brand Asia as just Asia when there are so many different cultures,” Henderson said. “It is great to work in an environment of understanding. In Korea, the company had to sack people, but the Koreans [who have no unemployment benefit] settled for paycuts instead.

“Maybe we have it wrong. Maybe there is logic in keeping your most valuable resources through the bad times as well as the good. Korea had nothing just after World War Two but is now rich,” he said.

Moving to distributor Tech Pacific Australia as director of catalogue, buying and marketing, handling its relationships with 68 vendors, Henderson recalls fours years of great fun.

Such a role, he said, gave you knowledge of how the business was doing. Distribution was the last touch to the customer.

Distribution staff are young, many teenagers, hardworking and energetic in an often overlooked part of the business.

“You become a mentor and coach to the staff,” Henderson said. “It’s a rewarding environment. I would advise people to start in distribution as it’s an area where you get responsibility quickly and you experience the spectrum of the industry. You soon get an empathy for the channel.”

The Tech Pacific role also gave access to 68 business plans.

“You become astute as to what’s going to work and what will not,” he said. “You will ask about a business plan and may reply it won’t work.

Some people get very angry when told this.”

Henderson claims that in most cases, success comes through stamina and hanging in there. Cisco succeeded by becoming known for its consistency and predicability over 10 years. The Internet also created a demand for its hardware.

Multi-layer approach

For the past 18 months, Henderson has helped EMC build partners, aided by the company bringing in other outsiders from the channel to give it credibility. Within two years, EMC’s channel increased its sales from 20 per cent of total sales to 60 per cent. Over time as software and services becomes more dominant, thanks to software purchases such as Legato, VMware, and Documentum, the share from direct sales will further decline and the company will have a more traditional distributor-reseller channel model.

EMC Australia employs 300 staff of which about 17 service the channel — four channel managers, five commercial sales staff, five telemarketers and three in pre-sales support.

EMC employs a multi-layer approach. The company has global relationships with Unisys, Dell, Fujitsu, Dimension Data and EDS.

Such partners were typically solutions-orientated systems integrators, handling projects with a nine-month sales cycle where EMC was part of the solution, Henderson said.

Underneath, come national accounts, effectively distributors. There are two — XSI, a relationship formed in December, and Commander, a broad-based business supplier.

Partners are highly-focused specialists such as Tripoint, Logitech, In Store, Telstra and Tiss.

EMC is still waiting for the distributor model to work, claiming it needs to learn more about distribution, so it is happy to sell to these partners who sell to other companies.

But as it moves from storage to software and from the corporate to the SMB space, its potential customer base will rocket from 300 to 300,000 and a traditional channel will evolve.

“There’s nothing more exciting than taking a company with a specific outline and moving it to something different,” Henderson said. “You make a difference, you make a change and climb new mountains. I think the industry over the next three years will bring a lot of rationalisation. The change and dynamics will need people with experience as well as energy.”

But this is no plug for himself. While he admits IT is a good industry to make a living in, Henderson claims his bank manager said he was still too young and too poor to retire yet.

Nonetheless, the former Scotsman eyes the distant future, recalling his daughter’s Xmas present and how a friend at Tech Pacific, on becoming a millionaire, donated the money to the Malaysian village he grew up in.

“The industry has given me an awful lot — travel, knowledge, education ... It would be really nice to give something back,” he said.

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