Dawson’s directions

What types of channels do you manage?

Peter Dawson (PD): We range from high value-add, high visibility, authorised dealers in communications and document systems that are very Panasonic committed to the other end with our IT components business where we work directly with distributors and deal with much higher volumes and much lower value. Branding in that area is far less important than quick delivery, competitive pricing and easy access to product. I maintain relationships with our big customers and work directly with seven top customers.

What changes have you implemented as channel manager?

PD: What we’re talking about here is refinement. We’re trying to become better to deal with. When I joined I realised we had a lot of opportunities to improve the way we do business and make ourselves a lot more channel friendly. We’ve come a long way towards that in the 10 months I’ve been here.

We’ve been running an initiative internally for the past six months called the ‘Ease of doing business’ which is designed to make us simpler, easier and far more predictable to deal with for the channel. We’ve done surveys of our user channel and asked them what they needed and what our strengths and weaknesses are. We used the surveys as a licence for change — to identify and prove to senior management where we had room for improvement in the business.

It’s a lot easier now for dealers to internally access information on products and shipments in a more efficient way. We’ve shortened the communication chain.

What other internal changes has Panasonic undergone recently?

PD: When I started at Panasonic, it was made up of small silo businesses where there was little interaction — they almost ran independently. So we’ve made some internal structural changes to make it a more vertically integrated organisation. Before, we weren’t running at the coalface level as we should be. Each guy was running his own business. As a result of the integration, we’re selling a lot of products in different channels — there’s a lot more crossover sales opportunities.

What’s the most difficult aspect of managing channel partners?

PD: In a larger organisation, the difficult part is always aligning all the people in the organisation with the channel that works for the organisation — aligning the expectations and understanding from both sides. On the one side you’ve got a group who are company people and focused on company needs and objectives. On the other side you’ve got the channel that wants to help the vendor with that, but also has to pay the payroll on a day-to-day basis and can’t afford to take a holiday while the vendor gets its new product to market. In a large organ­isation you have the luxury of time, you don’t in the channel. One of my challenges is to make sure the internal communication and visibility is high enough so that it doesn’t become an issue.

What are your business objectives for 2004?

PD: To grow the Toughbook business. Ruggedised notebooks represent the most unrealised potential in Panasonic because of the size of the market and lack of competition. We are constantly tapping new verticals with the Toughbooks. We’ve now got garbos using them and we have dealers specialising in Toughbook mounting systems so they can be used in harsh work environments.

You’ve been working closely with channel partner networks for almost 25 years. What have been some of the major milestones in your career?

PD: When I worked as the national marketing and channels manager at Epson, I was charged with completely rebuilding its channel. At the time, Epson was a single-tier channel company with about 500 dealers. Distributors were only dealing with software at that stage, nobody had thought to use them for hardware because I guess the industry, until then, hadn’t been big enough. Epson was unable to manage the size of its dealer network plus printers were becoming commodity items so I talked two distributors into taking on hardware and cut the direct dealer network down to 40.

The other major milestone I achieved at Epson was to create the first retail ready-to-go PC package for Harvey Norman in 1986/87. It was wildly successful.

What are some of the most valuable lessons you’ve learned in your career?

PD: Working with dealers networks gave me a very strong dose of realism and made me pragmatic about business — when you’re dealing with channels, you can’t put too much spin on what you do and you’ve got to find solid reasons why your product is better than somebody else’s. The one thing the channel does is react to the market so there’s nothing to hide behind when you’re dealing with it.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

PD: If you look at my background, I’m a business builder. I’ve always been a person that takes a small business and turns it in to a bigger business. In this case [at Panasonic], I’ve taken over a big business and I’m trying to turn it into an even bigger business, so the opportunities to multiply the business by two or three times like I’ve done in the past don’t exist.

What I’ve discovered is that a lot of my knowledge is applicable across a lot of different parts of the business. It’s gratifying being able to make a contribution in a lot of different business areas.