R&R is key for Kevin Swainson. But we’re not talking rest and relaxation.
Connector Systems general manager, security and telecommunications, talks to Heather Wright about the importance of relationships and respect in the November issue of The Channel magazine.
Moving on from his early days, as reported last week, Swainson stayed with Datamatic 'pretty much until it closed it's doors', then moved to Renaissance, starting the networking division.
Margins were 'pretty tough' even then. Swainson delights that while Renaissance was doing 'millions of dollars revenue on Microsoft and HP' it was the networking division – handling D-Link, Network Associates and a small modem brand – that made the most money for the company.
“Not so much revenue, but margin, bottom line. We were making more money for them out of the networking brands than all of what Microsoft and HP were doing.”
In 2001, Swainson headed to Network Associates, establishing their Kiwi office and growing the team to four staff.
When it sold off its security and network analyser products – offerings Swainson had been 'very partial too' – and reverted to being an antivirus company (changing its name back to McAfee), Swainson departed.
He headed back to Renaissance – the local McAfee agents – joining Mark Dasent's Renaissance Brands team. “I stayed there until things changed very much when Paul [Johnston] and Clive Lewis left.
“In my first meeting with [new CEO Richard Webb] he said he was going to create a direct business. He was convinced it was going to work. said it was never going to work, why would a reseller buy from you when you've got a direct team trying to go against them?”
While Webb tried to sell Swainson on the idea, Swainson decided it was time to leave. Dasent left just before him, and they looked at setting up their own distribution business or starting the Kiwi arm of an Australian distributor. They spoke to several Australian distributors, then talks began with Connector Systems.
“Dale [Smith] had bought the business in late 2010. We said we wanted to come on board, but not just as employees. We wanted some skin in the game.”
A deal was struck and the rest, as they say, is history.
Over the past three years the company has made three acquisitions, expanding into Australia with the acquisition of Techplus. “For us, it has been a very good three or four years. Connector Systems has changed a huge amount, it really has. Its product portfolio, its way to market...
“Our goal is about growing the business and growing the value back to our partners.”
Going from employee to business owner, wasn't a huge change. “I've always treated the work I do as if I was an owner of the business. Now it is, I don't really do things differently.
“Obviously, there is a different side of the business, about making money and growing the value in the business. We want to make sure it is a good place for employees to come.”
During his last few months at Renaissance he saw a lot of staff and managers 'flogged' in front of their peers and staff, then expected to perform and give 110%.
“Do you really think they're going to get up and deliver? You've got to give people respect and make them feel they've got control to make decisions. You want people to feel it is their business too, that they can make a difference. And when you do that, you get good results – people try a little harder, go that further mile, maybe work a little longer.
“But life is about give and take. They can also take time off when they need to as well.”
He says he encourages staff to make their own decisions. When reps ask if they can do a particular price for customers, he lets them know the cost price and lets them make the decision themselves.
“If you need to give some of our professional services to a reseller to add to a system [or something], it's over to you. They're responsible for the account and the numbers that come with it. I just give them some guidance and try to foster a good team environment where they feel they can make a difference.”
Professional development opportunities for staff, through training or developing into new roles are also 'absolutely critical', he says.
Of planes and dance music
With Swainson's two daughters and son–aged 23, 21 and 18 –now spreading their wings, there's more time for him and his wife to indulge another passion: music.
“I'm a very keen, avid fan of music, including modern dance music. We have a few DJs we know who mix music for us, and we're out most weekends.”
He sold the last of his radio controlled planes several years ago. We're not talking minor league small planes either, with some reaching wing spans of 2.5m. “I was probably more of a builder than flyer. I did successfully fly them, but I suffered a little with co-ordination and distance and depth perception, parking them in trees,” he laughs.
To read the first part of Swainson's exclusive interview with The Channel, click here