James Arnold has many passions, but after playing squash for 28 years, the sport would have to rank as one of his biggest. He plays weekly at the Remuera Rackets Club, and finds himself mixing with a different bunch of people to those he associates with in IT. In fact, he is now encouraging his children to take up the sport and pass his love of the game onto the next generation.
Also among his passions are renovating and gardening.
“There’s not much renovating to do at this place so I’m contemplating moving to an old house as it is a hell of a lot of fun doing that stuff. You spend your time painting and building. It gives you good downtime from the mental activities most of us tend to do in an office environment.”
He is also responsible for an outbreak of hedge trimmer ownership among his neighbourhood.
“I have hedges everywhere and the hedge trimmer is one of my favourite tools. The neighbours thought I was insane but now they have all bought hedge trimmers.”
Arnold is Australian and has been in the IT industry since 1997. Originally trained as a civil engineer at the University of Technology in Sydney in 1994, he says he would never return to his former occupation. But it was through civil engineering, and a father who worked in IT, that he got into the technology scene.
“I worked for Sydney Water Corporation as a strategic waste water engineer, which was all about looking at how we could recycle waste water for drinking.”
Arnold says the team he was working for didn’t have an IT person so he became the default one.
“Because I like computers and my father had worked in the IT industry since its early days, I had an affinity with them.”
He says his days in civil engineering gave him an analytical mind.
“I’ve always been a marketing and sales person but that gave me a strong basis in analytical thinking. I’ve been able to use that as part of my product management skills and can see things from a logical standpoint. I try to find best solutions to resolve those problems.”
His current role, that of SMB channel manager at Dell, came up in January and Arnold says it was too good an opportunity to pass up.
“We have had a huge ride in the first three months. I have worked closely with Paul Johnston [of distributor Simms] to sign up business partners. We had a small number of existing partners that have grown significantly over the course of those three months.”
“My job is to be the face to face contact for our distributor and all the people in our partner programme.”
This is his second stint at the vendor — he made the move from civil engineering to Dell in 1997 after being hired as a telephone technician.
“On my first day they asked me to help a couple of the presales technical guys pull apart some desktops and remove CD-ROMs to replace them with DVD drives. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing.
“While I understood software, I knew nothing about hardware when I joined. It was a very fast learning curve, but a positive one for me. That technical knowledge has helped me for the rest of my time in IT.”
He says it gave him an understanding of how computers are made and the problems users have.
After two years he became an ANZ product manager for Dell’s Latitude PCs.
“For the next three years I worked in this role and spent a lot of my time training sales reps about the product and spending time going out and seeing customers.”
This gave Arnold his first involvement with New Zealand.
“I ended up here at least one week out of every quarter seeing customers.”
It was on one of these trips that Arnold met his future wife, who moved to Australia with him.
From Dell, he joined IBM as a product manager in the vendor’s Asia Pacific group in 2002.
“The reason for that was my wife wanted to come back to New Zealand. Unfortunately, at that time Dell didn’t have a local role for me but IBM did.”
He was based in Auckland, but focused on the Asia Pacific market as his boss was in Singapore and the rest of his team was in Sydney.
“I spent a lot of time travelling throughout Asia and gained a lot of experience outside the ANZ market. That’s what got me interested in the international side of IT and understanding those markets.”
This led to Arnold being transferred to Taiwan in 2005 as marketing executive after IBM acquired Lenovo.
“We were on a press trip in Tokyo when I heard the first rumours from Taiwanese journalists about the IBM buyout of Lenovo. It was about four months later that occurred and I was asked to go to Taiwan to help with the transition.”
Arnold had a two-year stint in Taiwan, which he regards as the most outstanding part of his career so far.
“The experiences gained in a country where less than 10 percent of the population speaks English were significant. It really drops you out of your comfort zone.”
As his family was missing New Zealand, he came back to take up an account executive role which gave him a chance to try sales.
“For the previous 11 years, I had been a product manager so it was a good chance to get into that side of things.”
He admits going from products to sales was nerve wracking. “It changed my views on sales and gave me a better understanding of what they do. I struggled for the first six months, but had a good team and customers.”
After eight years with Lenovo, Arnold says he came back to Dell because of its expansion into the channel.
The expanded product portfolio of the vendor was also attractive.
“Lenovo is limited to desktop and notebooks, whereas Dell has an incredibly broad product portfolio that competes head to head with HP.”
Arnold adds he is looking to gain more partners in specific verticals.
“We are looking to ensure we have good regional coverage. We have a strong server and storage product portfolio and we’are now looking for our top partners in that segment. The channel for Dell is without question our biggest growth opportunity.”