IN THE HOT SEAT: Playing the game

In a break from the norm this week, the manager of Ingram Micro's component division, Danny Kwoh, takes a turn in the hot seat. He chats to Brian Corrigan about his background, the whitebox market and his plans for world domination.

What is the history of Ingram Micro's components division?

Danny Kwoh (DK): I think it's fair to say that business was inherited from ERA. Ingram bought two companies when it entered the Australian market - ITG, which was a systems business, and ERA, which was a very traditional components business.

What is your background?

DK: I joined ERA in September 1997 as a purchasing assistant and have been involved in this side of the business ever since. Before that I worked as a computer sales assistant in a Bing Lee retail store. But even when I was at school I was always interested in the IT industry and passionate about computers. I did a computer science degree but eventually found that my love was for hardware rather than software.

What changes are you seeing in the whitebox market? How is it evolving?

DK: For distributors and resellers the market has changed significantly during the past few years. Back in the late 90s, anybody could pick up a screwdriver and make a profitable business from selling hardware. But as time has progressed, people are no longer satisfied with having a PC - they want to do more and are looking for complete solutions.

So what do you think a whitebox builder wants from a distribution partner now?

DK: Whitebox builders are competing with the multinational vendors and with each other but they are all looking for the same thing - how to stand out from the crowd. At Ingram, we have more than 20 component vendor partners and one key strategy at the moment is to bring more products into the mix. Big names like Logitech, Asus and Samsung have all been have been moved into our component division now. That has given us more firepower to offer our resellers and helps them drive business.

Which markets do you think offer new opportunities for the whitebox channel?

DK: We are starting to carry LCD televisions, which takes us into the consumer electronics market. There are so many products such as MP3 players and DVD players in this space that whitebox builders can use to add value to their business. The multimedia business is evolving and there's room for it to cross paths with the traditional IT channel. Most new apartments have a digital signal now and when a customer buys a PC there are opportunities to sell things like set-top boxes instead of just concentrating on how big the hard drive needs to be. The PC is no longer the focus - it's just the starting point.

What can we expect from your division as the digital home market continues to evolve?

DK: We like to think of ourselves as the complete division rather than the component division and I'm happy to carry anything that will help resellers build their business. We are looking to add more peripheral vendors in the digital home entertainment area.

What are the key drivers in building up the digital home market?

DK: I think Microsoft's Windows XP Media Centre addition will be important because it will enable people to link their LCD televisions and stereo systems together through a wireless LAN. The falling cost of having broadband at home has also helped to take these consumer technologies forward and will continue to do so.

ARN is running a whitebox seminar in conjunction with Ingram Micro at the start of September. What do you hope this will achieve?

DK: It's about time somebody organised a group event because there are so many players in this market and we should be sharing our experiences. The channel is a community and has a single goal but for every success story like Optima there are many more who are finding it difficult to grow their business. Efficiency, flexibility and speed to market separate whitebox builders from tier-one vendors but there must be ways we can keep innovating. Instead of focusing purely on building PCs there needs to a transition to a value-added services model that can put some margins back into the market. The seminars are a platform for all of these discussions.

What do you do when you are not running Ingram Micro's component division?

DK: I'm a computer gamer and spend a lot of time playing online. It's very enjoyable to compete against other players rather than following a pattern like you do when playing against a computer. You have to develop strategies if you are going to be the best. I have a gaming lounge at home and like nothing better than inviting some friends over - we basically hook up the laptops and kill each other.

What is your favourite game?

DK: It would probably be Age of Empire. It's a civilisation game that a lot of people in the industry play. I haven't achieved world domination yet but I'm working on it.