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Celebrating Success

01 Oct 12

Dave Rosenberg reveals a few secrets to Heather Wright as he talks Westcon, leadership and the importance of family.

Starting out his working life as a Novell network engineer often stands Dave Rosenberg in good stead – and provides a little added enjoyment to his day.

The Westcon Group managing director says with most people in the industry unaware that he has a New Zealand Certificate in Engineering – he can surprise them by dropping unexpectedly technical comments into conversations.

Being involved in the tech sector wasn’t actually Rosenberg’s dream. He was initially aiming for the skies, wanting to be an Air New Zealand avionics engineer. Age put paid to that. Having taken a gap year after his sixth form studies, he was told he was too old to get into the Air New Zealand training programme.

Ultimately, his stint as an engineer would only last four years – “I don’t have the patience to be an engineer”  – before he ‘fell into sales’ and roles as account managers, primarily with distributors. Then, in 1999 he was approached by Datastor to see if he would like to run the sales business. Nearly 14 years later, he’s still with the company and has seen it through the transition from a private New Zealand business to part of a global entity, with Westcon.

“I love what I do and I love the people too,” he says. “A lot of the people I work with have been there a long time and it’s nice to see them come up through the ranks.”

Changing business

The transition from private New Zealand business to part of the Westcon global entity has been ‘a massive change’.

“It’s very different, the challenges are quite different. As a locally owned business dealing with large vendors, even if you’re quite large as a New Zealand company you just don’t have the profile globally. And cashflow and finance are always an issue for small business.

“Now we’ve got the might of Westcon behind us internationally, and their resources when it comes to things like marketing and management. The cashflow piece has been taken out and we have the funding. Now we have things like forecasting and compliance issues to deal with, and overachieving [sales] has ramifications just as much as underachieving.

Leadership lessons

When it comes to his role in the company, Rosenberg says he’s a big believer in leadership, rather than management, though he acknowledges that there needs to be a blend of both in companies.

“Leaders inspire while managers get things done,” he says.

“I’m absolutely a leader. The traditional management process is not my style. I know the areas that are not my strength and I surround myself with people who are better than me and have the qualities or experience we need,” he says.

It does present some challenges, however, and Rosenberg says one of the hardest things for leaders to learn – himself included – is to delegate.

Learning to communicate with people in the way they want to be communicated with, rather than the way you want to communicate, is another key principal in leadership, he says. “And you have got to be consistent – that’s really important.”

A willingness to accept feedback and be open to change and willing to improve are also crucial, he notes. “And you have to find mentors to help develop your skill set.

“I try to learn something from someone every day, whether it’s people I work with – and I always use the term people I work with, I don’t believe in saying ‘staff’ – or those outside of the business.”

A year in Israel

Another little known detail about Rosenberg: he spent his gap year on a Kibbutz in Israel. “I spent the year picking almonds, working in the gardens, driving tractors, helping in the electronics factory.

“It showed me a different life. And it made me more grounded, gave me values and settled me down. I needed that, because I wasn’t settled, I didn’t know what I wanted to do.”

On his return to New Zealand he met an Israeli woman, Edith, who would become his wife. “She’s far smarter than me,” he says. “She’s got a Masters in Pharmacology. She’s the rock. She brings me back when I wander off on wacky ideas.”

He has a son, Daniel, aged 10, and daughter, Abby, aged ‘almost eight’, and glows with pride as he shows a photo and reminises about taking his son to the semi-final of the world cup.

“It’s one of the biggest highlights of the past 12 months for me,” he says. “It’s really rewarding to see their smiles.” A similar memorable moment followed when he took Abby to the recent Silver Ferns versus Australia netball game.

Rosenberg says family, and a supportive partner, are crucial for his job. “Without a supportive family and partner, you wouldn’t be able to do this job. Your partner enables you to do the job, with all the travel and entertaining. If they’re not supportive, something has got to give.

“This is a tough industry and it’s tough to get balance. There are some things I commit to doing every day, such as taking my kids to school. You don’t get that time back with kids. And weekends are for us, I put my notebook aside on Friday night and don’t open it again until Sunday night.”

He does, however, admit to ‘first in, first out, quick responses’ on his smartphone, saying the always-on society where there is no demarcation between work and non work hours, is ‘not necessarily bad’. “It enables a more flexible lifestyle. I can go to see the kids sport during ‘work’ hours. It’s no longer a nine to five environment.

“But it has to be fair. There’s got to be give and take. I firmly believe in working smarter, not harder.”

Despite his love of technology
and social media, there’s one aspect of social networking he’s happy to do without, at least for now: Facebook.

“I absolutely love social networking – LinkedIn and so on – but I refuse to be on Facebook. I’m stubborn and I prefer the personal touch.” He jokes that when he does take the plunge, he’ll probably love it. “I’ll become a Facebook stalker,” he says, laughing.