Kendra Ross co-founded distribution company Duo with Jackie Hatchwell 16 years ago. If an IT company founded by two women wasn’t already enough of a rarity in the industry, the distributor has the added particularity of remaining a female-only business, now with five staff and after 16 years in business.
It was not a conscious decision to keep an all-female staff but it just happened to turn out that way, says Ross. With five staff in New Zealand and two in Australia (yes, all women), the company is now looking at further growth in both markets and is currently looking to recruit two more staff for the New Zealand office and one more person to join the Australian one.
"We are very unique," says Ross. "It is part of our culture as a company. We, as females, tend to be extremely customer service-focused and we have a very good reputation for that. That said, we never played the female card. We are conscious that this is an interesting industry and we focus more on the fact that we are a family oriented business."
Ross says that everyone in the company understands the need for flexibility and for achieving a good balance between work and personal life. "We understand that more," she says.
The two company founders met when they were working together at Melco and realised they both shared the goal of becoming self-employed. "We were both working extremely hard for other people, wanted to become self-employed and saw an opportunity in the market." And so Duo was born. SimplePlus Technology was Duo's first vendor and is, to this day, the distributor's longest standing relationship.
Duo started out as a memory distributor but as since expanded into storage and security. The company distributes CheckPoint's full security suite and has also recently signed a partnership with Imation to distribute the vendor's mobile security solutions.
The company now has half a dozen vendors and it expanded into Australia five years ago. The move across the Tasman wasn't an easy one but, in spite of saying things could have been done differently, Ross believes it was worth the effort. "It started paying dividends about 18 months ago. It's a very different market. We probably did not need a physical presence there so early on, you can do a lot of it from New Zealand."
Duo has been going through a growth period over the past couple of years, having managed to navigate through recession and come out at the top. According to Ross, there are several reasons to why the company succeeded. One of them is the growth in the uptake of memory products – one of Duo’s core businesses – with more and more people having to choose to upgrade, as a cost-saving measure. "We have been very fortunate in the past couple of years. Memory has been very successful for us and we have had some big wins in security too," says Ross.
She believes running a small business, compared to a big distributor, actually works in her favour. "We punch above our weight anyway," she says. "Because we are small and hands on we can change and adapt very quickly."
Overall, Duo is gearing up for another year of growth with new staff additions and a focus on generating business for the vendors it represents, she says.
Ross's passion for the IT industry, and security in particular, led her to co-found 1stTuesday, New Zealand's first network solely for IT security professionals, in 2008. The community now has over 250 members in Wellington and Ross says it has plans to expand into Auckland in June. "A few of us from this forum have created "Keeping Kids Safe Online - KKSO", a parenting series we are taking to schools for parents to learn about the online world their kids are playing and socialising in. We teach them from a practical basis how to set parental controls, assist with privacy settings, understand how chatrooms work etc and also set good policy for at home use," says Ross.
Are you married? Kids?
Yes, I have been married or 23 years and have a ten year old daughter and an eight year old boy.
Do you have a mentor or someone you admire professionally?
Yes, I have a couple of people who I seek advice from. One is in the IT industry and the other one is in the transport industry. It is very important to me to have them as sounding boards.
What advice would you give to someone starting now in the same business as you?
Get the team right, get the process right, and make sure you have strong relationships.
Can you describe the professional path that led you to the job you have now?
I finished university and worked for Epson for five years (I was their branch manager here in Wellington). After that I worked for Orgio and Melco and then started Duo with Jackie.
When you were little, what did you think you would be when you grew up?
I had no idea but I knew I wanted to be my own boss.
Do you have a favourite sport?
I coach T-ball and love watching rugby, love biking and skiing.
And a favourite gadget?
I love my iPad. It's a real productivity tool.
Do you have a drink of choice?
I'm a cocktail girl. I love a mojito.
What do you think has been the single most important advance in technology?
I know it is a broad term but I am going to say media, in general, whether it's the internet or TV or anything else. The ability to deliver content through different media.
What do you think you would be doing if you weren't in technology?
Probably event planning. I love business, though, I love technology.
What do you like about the IT industry?
I love the people I work with, I love what we have built and I love technology. I'm also loving security now and the changes in that space.