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In profile: Dale Smith The human connection

01 May 2012

Connector Systems’ business may be all about technology, but for managing director Dale Smith, it’s the people who count. He talks business, people, passion – and technology – to Heather Wright.

Dale Smith is passionate about technology, building businesses and about his team at Connector Systems.

“I absolutely love technology and I love what it can do for businesses,” he says, animatedly, when asked why, with a background as a chartered accountant and owner of a transport company, he bought the distributor in 2009. “I’ve been on the other side of the fence. We used technology a lot in my previous business to improve efficiencies. I’m not a technology person by any stretch of the imagination, but I understand the concepts and I love the industry.”

That ‘previous business’ was a successful logistics and transport company, complete with around 200 staff, 60 trucks and four branches, which he sold in 2008. Smith then spent two years looking for a new business. “I was looking for something with a solid history, opportunity to grow, something I was interested in. This one ticks all those boxes.”

With Smith at the helm, Connector Systems has established new ‘pillars of excellence’ – product areas the company seeks to excel in – adding networking/wireless and telecommunications/security to its legacy range of cabling and industry products. “We have really grown in the pillars of networking/wireless and telecommunications/security. That’s where our growth has come from and will continue to be,” he says. The recent purchase of Australia’s TechPlus Distribution adds a further pillar of WAN/virtualisation.

But at the end of the day, even a business built on selling technology relies on people for its success. “The majority of our business is about people. You have to have the right product mix to be successful, but people like to deal with good people, so a huge thing is the people we have here.

“I’m most proud of our team – that we have an amazing group of people working with us, and not just our internal team, but our vendors and partners.”

Smith says he’s aided by ‘a really good strong management team’. “We all have different strengths,” he says adding that Mark Dasent and Kevin Swainson bring the channel focus and technical nous to the table, while Smith himself takes the ‘typical business approach’. “There’s no point growing at any cost. You need to take a sustainable approach.

“I’m glad I’m not an accountant anymore, but it taught me a huge amount about business that you cannot discount.”

Growth ahead

Smith says the TechPlus purchase offers scope for Connector Systems, not only in growing its geographical market reach, but also its product offerings. Techplus has New Zealand distribution rights for a number of products which Smith says Connector Systems wants to take advantage of and create activity around here including IGEL, a thin client offering that competes with Wyse and HP. “And as it looks like Dell is buying Wyse, there is opportunity for us to really ramp up in New Zealand,” he says.

Of the move into Australia Smith says: “We saw an opportunity to replicate our model there. It appears [good quality service and delivering value to the reseller] is lacking somewhat in that market; it’s more about order taking there, rather than delivering value.”

And he’s not shy on his goals for Connector Systems. “My goal is very much to be the leading VAD in ANZ within three years. I don’t think we’re close to that at the moment. We’ve got a lot of work to do still. And we will know [we’re getting there] when we start getting big vendors coming to us.”

Looking to five years down the track, he says he’d like to see Connector Systems ‘three to four times the size we are now in terms of revenue’ and a ‘significant force across ANZ’.

“There is a real opportunity for us to grow significantly if we maintain our service.

“We can be nimble and take advantage of opportunities quickly. That’s partly down to our size and partly because we are a Kiwi company. If an opportunity presents to partner with a new vendor or reseller we don’t need to seek approval or permission, we can just do it.”

The Kiwi aspect, he believes is an advantage for Connector Systems. “In the reseller community, business owners generally like to deal with Kiwis. It’s certainly an advantage of ours and I think as we grow the opportunity to leverage off the New Zealand owned aspect is going to increase. But at the end of the day, what matters is that we offer the right value.”

Kiwi the company may be, but Smith hasn’t ruled out expansion beyond Australasia. “We could on the back of the right business case. But we have to really achieve our goals here first.”

Give me land, sea...

Like most in the industry he admits he’s tethered to his Smartphone – though his favourite technology is “It’s an incedibly powerful engine for sales leads, customers, marketing...” – he says he’s been blessed when it comes to achieving work-life balance. “I think it’s partly DNA and I’ve been blessed with an ability to switch off. When you get home to three young boys [aged eight months and four and five years] you have to. And often, after hours there’s not a lot you can do about stuff anyway. You just have to plan well.”

And for someone immersed in technology in their working life, time outside work is family time – and time for the outdoors where he indulges his passion for jetskiing, fishing, diving, golf, touch, tennis, ‘just about any sport actually’.

While he admits to spending ‘quite a lot’ of time working, he says he doesn’t work any harder than anyone else on the Connector Systems team. “It’s pretty hard work. Everyone in our organisation works hard. You can’t grow if that doesn’t happen.”

So, does a man who lists building businesses as his background, view Connector Systems as a short term project?

“I don’t think so. I really love this industry. I’m really enjoying being here and it’s not only the technology but where we are in the industry. I don’t see myself exiting anytime soon.”