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Time in the Sun

For Sun partner manager, Sam Srinivasan, it doesn't matter whether you're selling books or IT infrastructure - understanding the customer's pain points and business issues is paramount. He spoke to NADIA CAMERON about his non-IT background as well as sales and cooking tips.

What was your first job?

My first job was as a chef for two years while I was growing up in India. I worked in an organisation doing social work, so I was doing social work and cheffing at the same time.

How did you end up in IT?

The big step came when I moved from India and went to Canada. I ended up living near an IT company, Geac, which used to manufacture mainframes in 1980s. They were looking for somebody to run the manufacturing part of the business and that kicked off my IT career.

Were you in a sales or management role at that point?

I did a couple of things. I actually started in sales - my first role was in India selling books to universities. But when I moved to Canada I wanted to start afresh, so I started in manufacturing and then moved to Geac. Then I got into IT sales after that. So I came to IT from a completely different angle.

When I started in IT, we had a bunch of customers acquiring software from Geac, but they weren't doing anything else with us. I came up with a plan to get them to buy their IT infrastructure from us and set up what became a successful business for Geac. Being in a new country, I wasn't sure if I would have the same level of success in sales as I had experienced in India. But I had a go and I've never looked back.

Is there a big difference between selling books and selling IT infrastructure?

There is, but I think the basics of selling are still the same. People have issues and problems and they need them solved. If you understand well enough what their problems are and help solve them, you've got an outcome. I approach IT sales from two angles: One is that customers have issues that need solving and if you can't solve them go find the next customer; the second thing is not to lie to customers. If you do you won't have a long-term relationship with them. I've carried those two premises no matter where I have sold and I've never looked back.

How did you end up in Australia?

In 1996, one of my bosses asked me what I wanted to do next. My parents were in India, and I wanted to be in this part of the world to be closer to them. In 1997, an opportunity came up for someone to start the healthcare business for Data General in Asia-Pacific. I was asked to have a go at it. I had a choice between Hong Kong and Singapore but realised neither of those two places had a Steiner school, which is where my son was attending in Canada and where I wanted him to continue his education. There was one in Sydney, so I asked if I could go there instead. I had never been to Australia and had no idea on what to expect when I came here - I went on the basis that there was a Steiner school. When I started at Data General I ran business development then ran Asia-Pacific. In late 1999 they got acquired by EMC. As part of that acquisition, I integrated all the operations regionally. After that I joined Marconi, then was hired by StorageTek to start their professional services division. After we launched that piece of the business I ran NSW, then built the channel, and now I'm at Sun.

What do you like about your current job?

Sun has an incredible passion for innovation, great people and very good business practices. One of the things I've been picky about throughout my career is working for companies where I can be honest about things and not feel marginalised. Sun is a highly ethical, responsible company and that's what I enjoy.

What's the biggest achievement of your career?

The biggest achievement would probably be how I've made my way through IT without an IT background and starting from scratch. Coming from a completely different angle and making a 20-year career out of it is something I'm proud of.

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Do you have any dislikes in the IT industry?

Often we don't take enough time to understand what the customer challenges are and come up with a solution that caters to those. We also don't take into account how difficult it is for people to adapt and change in a changing industry.

What's the next big thing in the industry?

I see two or three things as key. The open source revolution is going to change the industry quite significantly over the years and is more prime-time today than it's ever been. Customers also need to green their environment and eco-computing is top of mind. That will be the next phase creating more efficiencies. I think the other thing being underscored by the iPod phenomenon is simplicity of technology use. The industry is going to have to move to make IT much more user-friendly.

What's the main focus for Sun this year?

It's about continuing the momentum we already have in the market, driving our volume business and driving our messaging around socially responsible computing. We're also continuing to push open storage message. Another area is working with communities that enable collaboration and sharing information. I think social networking will have an impact on people's lives whether we want it to or not.

What do you do when you're not at work?

I'm the exact opposite to the way I am at work and will have my phone off if I can. I like spending time with friends and family and doing things that don't involve working in any way, shape or form. I love cooking and tennis.

Do you like gadgets?

Not really, although I like gadgets that are practical.

What did you want to be when you were younger?

When I was younger I had an aspiration to travel the world and experience things. As far as a job was concerned, I didn't have something particular in mind. Growing up in a traditional Indian family, my mother wanted me to be a chartered accountant, which I was never going to be.

What's your biggest ambition?

My biggest personal ambition is to see my son succeed in life as I feel hugely responsible for him as a person. In my career, it's always been to mentor young people and help them advance their careers.

Company snapshot

  • Sun was incorporated in 1982 by four employees: Scott McNealy, Vinod Khosla, Andy Bechtolsheim and Bill Joy. Its first workstations included TCP/IP, the forerunner to the Internet protocol suite.
  • In 1986 the vendor introduced PC-NFS technology, bringing network computing to PC users.
  • Core brands today include Java, the Solaris operating system, MySQL database, StorageTek and the UltraSparc processor.