New Cellnet boss looks to performance improvements

Profitability and customer service will be the key focal points for Cellnet’s new CEO, Stuart Smith. The former CFO replaces founder and two-time CEO, Stephen Harrison, who stepped down after 15 months.

Originally from South Africa, Stuart’s background is largely in the telco space and includes stints with Telecom New Zealand, AAPT and AAPT’s mobile division, Cellular One. He was most recently with a public investment and development company.

Since joining Cellnet in February last year, Smith has worked alongside Harrison to restructure the business and implement new processes and systems.

“Clearly, the biggest thing was dealing with the unprofitability and making sure other parts of the business were not affected,” he said.

The most significant changes to Cellnet’s IT business has been exiting the PC and notebook distribution space to concentrate on higher-margin server and printer lines.

“The restructure of our operations is still proceeding and we’re focusing on the profitable areas of the business,” Smith said. “We’ve got a good team of people, and loyal customers and we are focusing on those and improving our performance.”

While admitting the last 12 months had been a “steep learning curve”, Smith wasn’t perturbed by his lack of experience in IT distribution.

Harrison will stay on-board as a non-executive director. He said he initially planned to stay in the role for just 12 months to get the business back on track.

“Cellnet is in a position now where we are financially sound, have money in the bank, and have a strong management structure in place,” Harrison said. “It doesn’t take too long to get up to speed in distribution, but I actually think it’s good Stuart hasn’t been in distribution for too long because he looks at things with fresh eyes.

“Stuart has proved he is capable of running the business financially. He’s also surrounded by a strong sales team, such as Aidan Fitzgerald [general manager of sales], Mike Wallace [general manager of telco], Julian Phua [general manager of products] and Elaine Schillinger [general manager of consumer].”

The director of business partners at Cellnet’s largest IT partner IBM, Andrew Baker, supported Smith’s appointment and said he would work well with his team.

“Since his comeback, Stephen has focused on establishing a good financial base, which he and his team have done,” he said. “I think Stuart will be a very good leader for Cellnet – he is a market and channel person and will be able to attack the role from a CEO’s perspective, not just a CFO’s.

“We’re taking the engagement at face value and have found Stuart to be open to ideas and very interested in the IT side of the business.”