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Reseller profile: Server Central: Surviving tragedy

Keeping customer needs top of mind has helped Server Central overcome business challenges and market conditions. SPANDAS LUI reports.

Customers are crucial to every business but keeping them loyal can be an onerous task. Brisbane-based systems integrator, Server Central, knows this and puts client satisfaction at the forefront of its priorities list. It must be doing something right. Out of the 70 clients the company services, many of them have been with Server Central since the very beginning.

The company was founded in 2003 by David James Ertel, who was affectionately known as Jim. A New Zealand native who came to Australia in the 1980s, he worked at Mitsui Computers before eventually moving to IT reseller, Shore Bridge.

“He was a bit disillusioned with the larger IT providers losing sight of the actual customer and customer requirements,” Server Central managing director, Andrew George, said. “He started up Server Central to get closer to the customers and be a customer advocate, rather than a sales person.” George joined Server Central in 2006 after a 10-year stint with Sun Microsystems but had been close friends with Ertel since their days at Mitsui Computers. George started off as the business development and marketing manager.

“I was looking for an opportunity to be in a smaller company to develop into a larger company,” George said.

“I knew Jim quite well and it seemed like a logical fit.” The first vendor to jump on-board was Sun Microsystems, George’s former employer.

Server Central’s sweetspot rests in the mid-market but it has the capacity to service enterprise businesses. With the arrival of Geoff Hughes as the technical services manager in 2007, the integrator started gearing up its managed services play with a focus on data management. The integrator now has eight staff on-board. “Hughes brought a lot of technical expertise into the data management side of the business so we were able to concentrate a lot on that particular side of IT,” George said. “A lot of companies tend to focus on applications and when servers go down, whereas we concentrate on how the data is managed, backed up, restored and we go up from there.”

Tragedy

Just as the path to expanding Server Central’s managed services segment was being forged, a tragedy shook the company to the core. Founder, Jim Ertel, lost his life in a car accident in December 2008. He was 54.

“It was the single most challenging hurdle for us to overcome professionally and emotionally – the company is still not over it,” George said.

While George and Hughes had to cope with the lost of a dear friend, the show must go on and they both scrambled to keep Server Central fully operational.

As Ertel had been sole proprietor of the business, ownership of the company had to be arranged. Server Central was eventually split between George, Hughes and the Ertel family as its three major shareholders. “Hughes and I wanted to make sure the Ertel family was still part of Server Central in the future,” George said. “We have a five-person board so we have a lot of direction and strategy planning.

“It was all part of the grand plan, which was obviously accelerated when Jim passed away and, in the long run, I think the company has come out of it a lot stronger.”

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Customer alignment

George and Hughes were determined to progress the business and preserve the legacy of Ertel. As an example, Server Central continues to perpetuate Ertel’s intentions to be a customer advocate first and foremost. “We make sure the customers are always first,” George said. “When dealing with vendors and distribution partners, we really reiterate with them so they know when we need something, it’s for our customers and it’s not because we think it’s the latest and greatest product.

“When customers come to us with problems, we make sure we are their advocates to product manufacturers and distributors so they don’t have to know every technical detail about the solution; that’s our job and we just have to make sure it works.”

Given customer relations are at the forefront of the business, it’s not surprising the integrator prides itself on its high customer retention rate.

“The key is there isn’t anything too small for us,” George said. “If it’s a small cable they can’t get anywhere else, we track down the source for it anywhere in the world.

“That mentality stretches to the largest server and storage infrastructures. We have the skills to handle the big things as well.”

Server Central’s sales revenue hit $2.56 million last year but it has ambitions to up that by almost half. Its strategy this year is to develop its managed services revenue supported by professional services as well as traditional systems integration.

“We don’t want to just leave the customer once the implementation work has been done, we want to stay on and assist them,” George said.

Company profile

  • Server Central was founded in 2003.

  • Its sales revenue for 2009 was $2.56 million.

  • The company has eight staff and 70 customers on-board.