Building a channel business with your hands

NetApp partner director, Scott Morris, is passionate about channel development. He spoke to ARN about his distribution and vendor heritage, working outdoors and helping staff reach their potential.

What was your first job?

As I went through university, it was all outdoor labour stuff – fencing and roof tiling. I worked with the guy who lived next door to us, on a 50-acre property outside of Brisbane. There were eight of us in the family – I’m the fourth – and my family moved out into the sticks at that time, 25km out of Brisbane, so it was dirt tracks and bush.

What did you study at uni?

I did a Bachelor of Informatics, so a pure IT and science programming degree. My father, who was a doctor, had a friend at IBM doing core programmer and he got into computers very early from a GP point of view. Together, they wrote an accounting system for the practice, and every holiday I remember him bringing along the computer and program all night. As I grew up around it, I had an interest in it.

How did you progress to where you are today?

I understood IT, so I went and did the degree and things clicked. While I have never applied the pure computing side – I majored in artificial intelligence – I have used that logic discipline on the sales side and can sit outside myself and look at a logical path of decisions to achieve a goal. My first job out was doing Unix support as a helpdesk operator for Peter Elliott, another doctor who was big in the Unix scene and got into IT distribution. The company was called Q Unix at the time and changed its name to Release 4. They were selling SCO licences. My talent was selling.

I moved up the business ladder until Peter decided we’d go national, but he went broke in a short space of time. As more people left, I took on all kinds of jobs. When it was my time to go, I rang up our competitor, Micro Unix, and started as their Queensland branch manager.

From there, I moved to Sydney and became national sales manager, then general manager, then ran another business covering frame relay networking. An opportunity arose at Silicon Graphics when they were releasing their Intel chips and starting a channel business. I did channel marketing and programs there before getting poached by Compaq, who were looking for a NSW channel manager. I did four years with them then went to Dell after that, which was interesting because all of my background before then was channel. I moved to NetApp to set up the channel.

What do you like about the current job?

It’s a broader responsibility from a business management side, and taking something that was nothing but scorched earth and making it into something. It was nice to start from ground up. NetApp has an awesome culture and you have the freedom to build things yourself.

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What do you dislike about the IT industry?

I still think there is a stigma around value versus low-cost expectations – it’s the most highly discounted industry. The industry needs to be held accountable for that.

What’s your focus for the New Year?

For us, it’s an iteration of the same – we will consistently drive to be the number one open systems storage player in the market. For my part of the business, we’ve already shown our relevance by being channel aggressive, so we will continue to define relationships where we can be mutually beneficial to each other. I can’t manage hundreds and hundreds of resellers effectively, so I’d rather do a good job with a few, not a bad job with everybody.

Will the state of the market affect how you approach sales?

If anything, it brings more relevance to how we approach the market – we have been born out of tough times and were nearly brought under by the tech wreck. One of the challenges Tom Mendoza [NetApp vice-chairman] has spoken about with our leadership is that many haven’t been through the tough times with our organisation. That’s the test of our leadership and our culture. The good news for us is that we hired our entire headcount for this year at the beginning of the year. We will have more value to offer when belts are tightening – we’re about using less storage, having better TCO, so all our value propositions play to a recessive market anyway. I think more doors will open for us.

What’s the next big thing in the industry?

There are cycles around consolidating and expanding. The things that are really starting to drive from a technology point of view are these massive social networking offerings, particularly for data storage, which is driving more requests for information and storage information. This high density capability will start to become available on a user-pays model. I don’t think cloud computing has a true definition yet, but the next most logical big thing will be utility-based computing. And to me that’s whatever delivery mechanism you choose that gives you access to that piece of software and you pay on a usage basis.

Computing power will be about the value of the applications and managing that. You’ll get the PC on a zero-dollar plan.

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

I’m not an IT aficionado at home and have two young daughters, so I don’t have the time to do that. I usually spend the weekends building something as I am a DIY person.

I also ride my Harley and play golf – I’d love to play more golf.

What did you want to be when you were younger?

If I asked my parents, they’d say I wanted to be a brain surgeon. But I didn’t really have a particular view and nothing stood out. I thought I’d be out in a trade.

What’s your biggest ambition?

The biggest kick I get is from the number of individuals I have met or hired who still ring me up to this day and say they’re glad I took the interest in their career.

They have been successful in their own right – I have an amazing network of people I’ve worked with and have left every organisation on good terms. It’s a tough industry, but being able to have had a positive impact on so many people is what I like doing.