Laser country manager Debbie Maher trained as a preschool teacher in her home country of South Africa for four years, then spent three years teaching in Cape Town.
But when she had children, the career became far less appealing.
“Having children at work and at home was enough to drive anybody insane. In South Africa you don’t earn much money as a teacher, so it is financially not a viable career.”
Her move here three years ago was also prompted by Maher and her husband’s increasing concerns about their children’s safety.
“In New Zealand we have relative peace of mind that we’re safe and there is nothing that is going to potentially harm you.”
The move has also provided a positive lifestyle change for the family and Maher now enjoys boating with her husband.
“We’re planning on getting out there and enjoying the lifestyle that we moved here for. My husband reckons there won’t be enough room in the freezer for all the fish he is going to catch.”
She also enjoys camping around the country.
“We’ve been to Lake Taupo and next on the list is the Coromandel. We haven’t ventured to the South Island yet apart from on business so that is going to happen,” she says. These trips are fitted around the work they are doing on renovating their house.
The ongoing house renovations are part and parcel of Maher’s agenda, but she is tackling this project one room at a time.
Like many South Africans, she is a passionate rugby supporter, although she is considering becoming an All Blacks fan.
“It is going to be tough picking a side. Some of our friends are coming over [from South Africa] next year so we’ll catch up.”
After leaving teaching in South Africa, Maher joined a services company called Cleancore, which operates in the cleaning, hygiene, security and gardening sectors.
She was promoted to sales director after only three years.
“I was at the company for 11 years and that was where I gained a large amount of my sales experience.”
Maher capitalised on this experience when she moved to IT distributor Axiz.
“In sales, it is about relationships. From a sales manager point of view it is that [people] mentoring which is the part I really enjoy. Those skills can be taken from one position to the next, regardless of the industry you are in.”
She admits that she had no idea about the IT industry and applied through an employment agency for a position at Cleancore.
Maher went through what she describes as a gruelling day-long interview process. “That was my first introduction as a sales manager into IT. Fortunately, they were looking for someone who had more of a sales background.”
Axiz had 120 vendors, so Maher was selling a wide range of products.
“Initially I started off as a sales manager looking after the enterprise team. We went out and serviced the top 10 customers of Axiz across the range of products.”
Maher then moved to a newly-created channel manager role.
“Axiz felt that a lot of the different departments within the company were not aligned and as a result there was a breakdown with the customers.
Her role was to align the internal departments, the customer, sales people and bring it all together.
After emigrating to New Zealand, she joined local distributor Ingram Micro, saying there was quite a difference in the way decisions were made at the company compared to at Axiz.
“Because I reported to the CEO of Axiz I was involved with the company as a whole and a lot of the decision making. At Ingram Micro it was spilt into departments, so I was part of the product marketing team and that was where the influence stayed.”
However, Maher says learning about the role of Microsoft business manager and product marketing was valuable.
“I had a team whom looked after Microsoft on the Xbox software and hardware side. As business manager I had to keep Microsoft happy and grow the business.”
Maher finds the local market laid back compared to South Africa.
“Some of the retail guys in South Africa are full of nonsense, whereas here they are down to earth, normal people who want to get the job done.”
Moving from distributor Ingram Micro to Laser was a chance for Maher to take a leadership role.
“I felt that I had been part of a large corporate environment for a very long time and I wanted to take on a challenge, where I could make a difference on a day-to-day basis.”
Maher is enjoying the interaction with retailers, too.
“I can go to retailers and say `what is it that you want?’. I can go back to Laser Australia and nine times out of 10 they will be able to put a solution together that is going to match that need.”
She also likes working with a small team as Laser only has a country manager and business development manager in New Zealand.
“My focus is to look after the key retail customers and motivate the team to get out there and go for the untapped opportunities. Some of the products I’ve been exposed to are amazing, but for me it is about the different people that I meet. I still deal with Ingram Micro and I am out there talking to the retailers.”
Maher says the channel side of Laser’s business has been unexplored. “There was a huge retail focus that will continue to be, but there is a space in the distributor channel for a value brand.”
“I am absolutely loving Laser and don’t have that feeling on Monday morning thinking ‘Oh God, I’ve got to go to work’.”