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Finding synergies - Richard Harri interview

From travelling through 30 countries in a year to his role as an avid Rotarian, you can’t accuse Richard Harri of living life on autopilot. Heather Wright lifts the Synnex country manager’s mask.

Looking back, Richard Harri wonders if maybe he didn’t do things a little backwards at the start of his career. “I think I got the order wrong. I should have been an account manager first to build more relationships early on, then moved to being a product manager.”

Instead, as a 21-year-old Harri joined Tech Pacific as a buyer. Within a year he was promoted to product manager and two years later became an account manager, covering Auckland and Waikato. “The end result was good. I got to see both sides of the fence.”

If it was ‘backwards’, it certainly hasn’t harmed his career. By the age of 29, Harri was the country manager for Synnex, charged with setting up the company in New Zealand – something he admits was ‘pretty daunting’.

“I was 29, and they gave me a building and one member of staff and told me to make it work. The guy who hired me said he would mentor me and be there as an advisor. He resigned two weeks later.”

Harri’s previous roles at Tech Pacific, Ingram Micro and 3Com stood him in good stead, providing him with solid relationships with vendors, resellers – and competitors. “And a lot of New Zealand resellers support the underdog particularly if they’re adding value and are more flexible.

“At that stage it was very monopolistic – and it still is now to some degree. But the more inflexible [other distributors] were, the easier it was for us to grow.”

Synnex’s original tag line was to be ‘the PC component specialist’, providing motherboards, hard drives, memory, graphic cards and the likes to local system builders, all bound with ‘excellent forward and reverse logistics’. With increasing numbers of vendors bringing ready-made products into New Zealand, the squeeze was on the small local companies making computers to order. “The key differentiator was the service they could provide and we wanted to be the engine behind their service.”

He says Synnex aimed to be complementary to other New Zealand distributors, rather than trying to take on the might of the existing players as a competitor. “We wanted to add incremental business to vendors and partners. And we had to differentiate ourselves too.”

The company added notebooks to its offerings given that less than 1% of notebooks are assembled in ANZ. “So we were adding business to them [local system builders].”

Seven years down the track, Synnex employes a team of 30 staff locally, and celebrates its birthday this month with the walls at its East Tamaki premises due to tumble as it expands into the neighbouring property, doubling the size of its warehouse and offices, poised for growth.

It’s a growth Harri says is ‘consistent and well managed’. “Our head office don’t like surprises so it’s managed growth. We invest before growth.”

Having worked in companies with American, Kiwi and Asian management plans, Harri says the Asian way of business is more long term. “It’s not all about making a profit today. They have a much longer term strategic vision.”

Community serviceWhen he’s not busy with Synnex, he’s an avid Rotarian. “It’s really important to me and takes up a lot of time. Twenty years ago I went on an exchange programme with them. Now I’m on the committee for international youth exchange.”

He also sponsors children in Thailand and has been included in a range of charitable projects internationally, including painting a missionary building.

“You see a lot of poverty in India in particular. It makes you appreciate how lucky you are and how fragile life is.

“So many people go through life on autopilot. But you don’t get on the plane if you don’t know where you’re going. You have to know what you believe in and stick to your principles, but you also need to have fun.

“I think it’s important to get going on your bucket list right now, because you may not have health on your side in later years.”

Redundancies early on in his career gave Harri chances to travel. After the first redundancy, from Tech Pacific he took a year off and travelled through 30 countries, including Russia, the United States, India and across Europe.

It’s a passion that continues today. He estimates he spends 60 days each year overseas, split evenly between travel for work and for pleasure, and has recently returned from a stint in Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya.

When he’s not on the road, working, or performing Rotary duties, he admits to fairly routine weekends, catching up with family and friends. And there’s the music and movies – a cinema room at home is well used he says, and he admits to ‘a pretty good audio collection’. And his favourite movie? After much thought, he names The Rocky Horror Picture Show – “I love the musical and probably saw it live 10 times.” He’s also a Phantom of the Opera fan, quipping “I have a dark side.” In fact, should you visit his home, don’t be surprised to find a ghoul in the toilet and hanging skeletons – a legacy of last Halloween and Harri’s love of Halloween parties.

A late convert to Apple, he now owns ‘seven iPods, a couple of iPads, and I’ve just gone to an iPhone’. “It’s big progress for me. It’s my first smartphone.”

He admits he may yet be wooed back away from Apple, saying the level of personalisation in Windows 8 mean ‘it’s going to be a good rival’ for Apple.

Despite his newfound love of his iPhone, he says it hasn’t expanded his work day, and he’s not constantly at its beck and call. “A trap that people fall into with smartphones is that timeliness can not be confused with quality of response. You often don’t have all of the information you need to respond to an email [received afterhours on a smartphone], so you have to shorten your response.”

Harri’s days start at 5am with a 3km swim, and he says he often works until 7pm-7.30pm. “But a lot of my work is fun. The great thing about being a country manager is I get to focus on areas of the business I really enjoy, but at the same time there’s plenty of variety in the role, I can be working on a product launch or doing interviews with staff or any number of other things,” he says. “It’s exciting to be involved in a company that is growing and it’s rewarding to be providing jobs to people.”