In the hot seat: Painting pictures of the market

UK-born Steven Mawson, Konica Minolta's general manager for printing solutions and client services, is a man of many continents. He has spent many a moon in the African sun and discovered his love of art and graphic design while living in Zimbabwe.

Moving around the globe, he landed Down Under and practiced his artistic trade in Sydney for 18 months before making the giant leap into IT. At his current post, he wants to scale up the Konica Minolta printing solutions division, attract new channel partners, and broaden the business into the SME market. He expects recently recruited regional distributors - Zeus Technology and XIT Distribution - will help the company expand its reach alongside existing national partners, Ingram Micro and Alloys International..

What's your professional background?

Steven Mawson (SM): I have been with Konica Minolta for eight years, starting as the marketing manager for Asia-Pacific. The role developed into customer support and product marketing. For the past two-and-a-half years, I've been general manager of client services. I look after all of marketing, as well as customer and technical support and product. Previously, I worked with Unisys doing IT support, and with a family business doing operations and marketing for a training company. I also worked as a graphic designer in the UK, Zimbabwe and in Sydney.

How did you make the leap from graphic design into IT?

SM: I left the UK in 1980 after a brief stint with the Royal Navy and went to Zimbabwe to follow my family. I discovered in Africa that art was my thing. In Zimbabwe, I discovered my passion for illustrating wildlife. So I went back to the UK in 1983 to study design. After moving to Australia and freelancing in Sydney, I got into design on the corporate side, designing packaging and working in the advertising space. But I found the freelance market very difficult and didn't enjoy it. So I left and moved into IT, where I eventually ended up in marketing and support roles.

What has your design experience brought to your current IT role?

SM: It brings an understanding of products and branding, and the importance of giving the product an identity. As a designer, I understand what a product should look like from a branding perspective and from an image perspective.

What products make up Konica Minolta's printing solutions division?

SM: We offer laser printing solutions. We have 11 products, ranging from entry-level monochrome to A4 and A3 colour. We are primarily a colour company. We plan to release about five products into the market in the next 12 months.

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What are your top priorities for 2006?

SM: We are predominantly selling our entry-level machines and colour into retail. We do have an SMB/enterprise focus as well. And while we have a good channel base, we need to develop it further in 2006. We also want to further push into the SME space. Sales into retail make up about 60 per cent of sales, but growth in the SME market could see the channel account for half within 18 months.

Some channel implementations we have planned next year will see us bring on new partners, sell more product into the SME environment, which is the future for our mid-range product. Today we have 500 partners.

What will the addition of new distributors bring to the company?

SM: We realised we can't cover the whole country with a few distributors. The new distributors in specific areas such as Queensland and WA will help us get more channel depth and breadth. Both Zeus Technology and XIT Distribution have good track records. They are both focused on the SME environment and on retail.

What are some of the hot trends driving the printer market?

SM: We see laser printers really challenging the traditional inkjet market, which has been about the photo quality image. Konica Minolta has been at the forefront of developing direct photo printing with its laser printers. We have done that with our laser printers in the last 12 months. I'm not going to sit here and say we have a laser printer that can do what an inkjet can do - but we're getting close.

Colour is becoming more affordable, which helps to drive the technology into market segments where it never was before, particularly in retail. The SMB and SOHO categories are other prime markets.

The all-in-one machines will also drive printer sales. Laser printers are going down that path. We have monochrome versions of that, and will be launching a colour version in February. Our competitors - including HP and Epson - already have them, and that's an important change in the marketplace within the last 12 months.

What has the combined Konica Minolta entity, introduced two years ago, brought to the company's overall printer business?

SM: It has given us a company identity worldwide and helped us get closer to the imaging division and copier divisions. When we were Minolta QMS, there was this ongoing struggle about brand identity. With the name change of Konica Minolta, it has given us the identity that we have needed in the printing division particularly around imaging.