Michael Bosnar: The ultimate businessman

In a career-first in-depth interview, Bosnar discusses his milestones and achievements, his lessons learned, and his company game plan going forward
Michael Bosnar

Michael Bosnar

Michael Bosnar, long-time IT veteran, is the quintessential entrepreneur. Not only has he been in leadership roles across the channel including stints at vendors, resellers and distributors, but he also invests in start-ups and helps fuel innovation in the ICT industry.

In a career-first in-depth interview, Bosnar, who has held the managing director role at AppSense since 2011, sat down with ARN to discuss his milestones and achievements, lessons learned, and his company game plan going forward.

As he delved into his experience, Bosnar looked back fondly at his early days in IT, which he described as “an unbelievable place”. As he highlighted his 30-year journey in IT, Bosnar was full of respect and pride at everything from being involved in the grassroots phase of various start-up companies to being able to help transition the channel programs and initiatives at well-established ICT players. JENNIFER O’BRIEN reports.

What was it like to be involved in the IT industry in the late 1980s, early 1990s?

Michael Bosnar (MB): I had a Porsche when I was 30 years old. I had gold chains around my neck and a silver suit. This was 20 years ago. I was a sales manager at 25 years old. I was earning a significant amount of money at a very young age. The IT industry was making a load of money, not like what it is today. I travelled on four or five trips a year. I was this 30-year-old guy driving around in flashy cars.

How did your path lead you to IT and what is your background?

MB: My brother-in-law was the managing director for Digital in Singapore and it was the early 80s. There was a real explosion going on in technology and he strongly directed me in that path. My first job was selling photocopiers for Alcatel Datakey. It lasted for a year before I was transferred to their computer division. After three years, I moved over to be the sales manager for AMS, which grew up to become Volante and then Commander.

After AMS, I was given the opportunity to set up a company called Prion Technology Distribution, which became quite a large distributor business. It was taken up by a company called Siltech, where I worked for another year. I then set up my own company called Exeed Distribution. It went for three years in Australia and unfortunately had to close down when there was the HP takeover of Compaq. We retained the New Zealand business. I sold out of NZ and resigned from the board about a year-and-a-half ago. I have also worked at Sybase and CA.

What was the channel like in the early days?

MB: The early days of technology was so fast moving and there was so much more margin to be had. You could afford to make mistakes without having huge repercussions and it was still a bit of a black art. It was a bit of a mystery.

In the early days, where I got a lot of my background, the channel was really immature. There was multi-tiered distribution where there was sub-distribution, grey marketing, all sorts of terrible behaviour was occurring in the distribution market in my early days of distribution. Over a period of time, when the bigger players came into the market, they stabilised a lot of that. And also the vendors took a stronger role as well. The vendors were responsible for some of that behaviour, but then they took more accountability as the market grew.

What was distribution like?

MB: Distribution in the early days was only a small part of a vendor’s business. It was mainly through resellers or direct, so as the distribution business grew the vendors realised there was a mechanism for them to push most of their business through that and with that came processes, disciplines and all of the other things that needed to take place.

I had grounding from a system integrator perspective (AMS and Alcatel) and then moved into setting up distribution business. I knew nothing about distribution, but that didn’t seem to matter in those days, and we grew that to be a $250 million business in nine years, that was Prion, and it was sold for a significant amount of money at that time.

Looking back, what are some of the big trends to sweep the industry?

MB: Big trends are dramatic margin decline as well as significant new players coming in and players disappearing – with some really big players disappearing. Vendors now have a better understanding today than in the early days regarding business acumen. They didn’t understand what it was to run a business. They just thought it was a mechanism to move more product. They used to do a lot of channel stuffing in the early days – millions of dollars’ worth of channel stuffing. A lot of that has disappeared now with better systems. The B2B commerce, the evolution of that, has helped dramatically as we’ve grown the businesses.

A lot of companies that have seen failure over the years have been disorganised and gone too many different ways. The successful ones stay focused. There is still a lot of revenue and profit to be made in technology. A lot of the organisations, especially the SIs, these companies, they haven’t evolved dramatically over the last 20 years with regards to their business practices and how they go about it. It is different product, but if I looked at any of them I would say it is very similar to what we were running at AMS 20 years ago, which is surprising – I would have thought there would have been a lot more evolution. There seems to be a lot more emphasis around larger SIs from the market, but they struggle with the same issues: they are spread too thin, issues with hiring the right people, alignment to the customer versus the vendor, a lot of instances vendors try to direct them in their backyard.

What are some of your major achievements and milestones?

MB: I was part of the AMS team that grew significantly from a very small base out of Queensland to become a $500 million player within 10 years across the SI business, across the distribution business. I was one of the execs on that team. Growing the Prion business from zero to $250 million, being profitable all year long, was quite strong. We never had debt or equity or loans, it was all funded out of our own business. We funded our growth out of our own business, which is something pretty rare nowadays. Another milestone was starting Exeed. Even though we had the mishit here in Australia, Exeed in New Zealand has just turned over $200 million and it is the second biggest distributor in NZ. So that was quite exciting.

How would you describe yourself?

MB: An entrepreneur in a word. I know that gets used a lot, but that excites me. To be able to build something and grow it, which is why I’m excited about AppSense. I’m excited that I’m pretty much left to my own devices here, effectively running our own business. I’ve grown it 300 per cent over the last three years. It was only a small business when I took over the helm. Appsense was a mature start-up when we took over; but now, not only have we grown it, but we have some of the top customers in this region. We deal with large banks, large government bodies - our biggest customer is defence.

What was your goal when you came into run AppSense?

MB: The first thing I noticed about the company was we were a point solution - people just saw it as a line item in a proposal. So the focus was around building the value around our product, and part of that it was a solution sell and that all things go with it.

We had a very disjointed channel. Any channel partner who stocked AppSense was given a contract and agreement. And to them they couldn’t see the value. So we changed that and started a model that is more focused.

Now we’re working very closely with large SIs, HP and Fujitsu and Accenture. Those three are onboard with our technology and what we’re doing. We’ve been able to build that channel as well. We have a very strong professional services division, which we didn’t have before. Professional services is generating a significant amount of revenue and deliverables for our customers, so having that structure around the business.

Last year we grew 30 per cent; this year it will be over 50 per cent.

What are the company plans going forward?

MB: The priority for us is to build that channel. A lot of people say that, but we have a three-pronged approach. Firstly, we need to build our delivery partners. We are not hiring any more professional services people because we have built such a big professional services business it is now starting to make a dent in the licensing business.

We are looking for partners who can deliver our solution into the market. That is the first thing. We have done some good work on that, but there’s a lot more to do in that area. That gives us bandwidth and capacity to address our customers. Next we need to enable our global system integrators better. It is ensuring that they understand our technology and implement correctly – and there’s minimal touch on our part as possible.

The third thing which is probably the hardest to work on is building up the local partner. We have to work with partners to sell and implement our technology and that’s probably the biggest area that we’re focusing on and that needs attention.

What does user-centric computing mean? Where and how does AppSense fit in?

MB: Users today want to access their applications and their data from any device, within reason, whether it be a tablet, a laptop and information from their phone. They want to be able to access information in a consistent way, be able to print that information, be able to analyse the information in a secure fashion. To do that involves multiple device platforms, and multiple operating systems across multiple vendors - where applications are boundless. We have the glue that sticks between a couple of these major vendors, especially in the VDI and the desktop space, whether it be Microsoft, Citrix, VMware. We fill in the gaps that they’re not able to deliver.

What are your growth plans for the next five years?

MB: I want to get the company to a certain stage and continue to grow that whether we do that through acquisition or through growth in Asia - and we are already doing significant opportunities in Asia now.

In the next five years I’ll be in a situation where I will be looking at setting up a venture capital company for myself; investing more in IT. I have already done two so I will be looking at doing more of those. I am looking at a large telco in Singapore called (I’m one of the early investors in that). It connects to the fibre network in Singapore and they have just launched in New Zealand and it is going quite strong.

I am involved in another company, Cracker Systems, which focuses on the sporting industry and they have signed up Swim Australia. It is providing data collection performance metrics and communication amongst coaches and the great number of members (about 100,000). My intention is that at some point I want to have the capital to invest in a number of these smaller IT start-ups, whether they are level one or state two with regards to their evolution – and that will take me on into the next few years.

What are your interests outside of work?

MB: I surf. I have a classic car that I’m very passionate about. A 1966 Mercedes Pergoda Convertible, which is something I drive, not something you race. I drive it when it is sunny, never in the rain. I race a Lexus ISF, which is a 50-litre, and I take it to Phillip Island to let off some steam. Family also takes up a lot of my time.

What are your lessons learned along the way?

MB: In business, contingency planning has been absolutely critical. Another thing is focus, which is absolutely key and fundamental. Both those things have put me in good stead. Having quality people around you is important. I have taken great pleasure in seeing a lot of people evolve over the years and have their own companies and do lots of other things, which is fantastic. And have fun and make money, and those two can go hand in hand.

What is your leadership style?

MB: I am more collaborative now than I used to be. Visionary and collaborative. I encourage people to give me ideas; I challenge them in regards to challenge me. I am far less of what I used to be, which was a directive person. That was immaturity on my part than anything else. I am approachable. Anyone can chat to me. I like people to challenge me. I don’t like to surround myself with people that are ‘yes’ people. I have seen too many businesses go bust because of egos, where people sit at the top and think they know it all. You need people to challenge you.