Weston-Comstor has not been immune to the rolling shake-ups that have gone through Kiwi distribution-land over the last couple of years.
Despite that, managing director Dave Rosenberg says things are looking bright.
After a bit of a stint in Aussie, Rosenberg has been back in NZ for just over 12 months and has been working to ensure Westcon keeps its place as a leader in the value-add distribution market.
He and I sat down for a quick coffee that ended up turning into a deep dive into how Westcon is right now, how he and his team managed to get exclusive deals with some big names, and how Rosenberg is feeling about the future.
Here and now
“We had a pretty good financial year,” Rosenberg tells me during the interview at Westcon-Comstor HQ in Albany, Auckland.
“We’ve had some good growth, some new vendors in the business… We’re heading in a great direction at the moment and we’re looking forward to a strong FY19. Last year we added four new vendors. We’re not looking to add many more - we’ve got one or two this year - but we’re really looking to bed in what we have.”
However, what he seems truly proud of is the development of Westcon-Comstor as not only one of the biggest names in distribution but a company that looks after its people.
Rosenberg scrolls through his phone to find the data from the latest staff engagement survey, the results of which reflect his positivity.
“It was around the pace of change and people identifying with our values. Do we act on what we say we do? Does the business provide opportunities and career paths and role expectations?” he explains.
“The last question was ‘Would you recommend Westcon-Comstor as a good company to work for?’ and 80% of staff feel they would recommend us to a friend, which I think is an awesome result. Culturally, we are headed in a really good direction.”
Westcon-Comstor has made waves over the last few years by signing exclusive distribution deals with some big brands.
The most well known was Cisco (although it retains some distribution through Spark-owned Telegistics) and more recently Pure Storage, but how and why these deals happen is still something of a curiosity that Rosenberg is able to shed a little more light on.
“I don't think it's necessarily about exclusivity, I think it's about the size of the market and the investment... We don't go out there to find exclusivity but we've obviously got a model which our vendors like,” he explains.
But how does that conversation go? What is it that convinces a vendor like Cisco to give up the status quo and go exclusive with something new and untested?
“They wanted change and New Zealand is a good place to change. Think about the approval processes they went through. They parted company with one of their global partners and a local partner in Australia/NZ, and I'm sure both of those companies did reasonable jobs for them. I think they ran a very good RFP process, like all the vendors we've dealt with, and they made a decision based on who they felt would give them the best outcome. We didn't know the outcome, we didn't know if they'd go single, dual or do nothing.
“You always have challenges in a business but I would say the lion's share of our vendors are really happy with what we do.”
Rosenberg points out the fact that distributors don’t tend to produce technology of their own and what they have to offer is a positive and supportive experience.
He says that within the business, they refer to this as customer obsession.
“I’m very big on creating advocates. Whoever we partner with, or with internal relationships, we want to give everyone a fantastic experience,” he explains.
“Whether it's people delivering lunch or vendors, we want people to walk away and say 'wow, that was great!'. One of the things I've resisted for many years in automated phone systems... Isn't it nice when you have a person answer the phone?"
But it doesn’t seem to just be lip service as Rosenberg outlines the recent goings-on that are focused on boosting partner engagement.
“Our renewals simplification is a really big move for us and a huge benefit to our partners. Our cloud is not just about the marketplace but also the analytics and we're doing some really neat stuff around licensing management within that as well. We are very much driving back to a local focus, as New Zealand is really paving their own way.
“We're also helping our partners out with a new services arrangement we have and it's purely adding value to their business. We've got our own financial services as well… We can convert a traditional buying pattern to consumption for partners. We can finance services, which is not normally done."
What it’s about, he says, is creating complementary services that can help partners grow and provide quality service to their customers.
Learnings along the way
Rosenberg is not shy about admitting that there have been some issues in the company’s past but believes that owning and learning from those mistakes is of paramount importance with the way the industry is today.
“I've learnt in all my years in distribution that if you pump yourself up, tell a great story and then not execute, it's going to end in disaster. In NZ, our IT industry is very relationship driven, your reputation is critical in this market. That's not to say we haven't had learnings along the way. We've had vendors terminate us before, big vendors, and I think you become stronger out of those decisions and changes provided you are willing to learn."
Between a financially successful year, a rethinking of the approach to partners, and some new and exciting vendor relationships there is plenty for Rosenberg to be optimistic about.
There is also a lot of work to be done and, no doubt, there will be greater challenges down the line but the Westcon-Comstor managing director is not only ready to face these head on -
“I'm excited for the road ahead.”