It isn’t every day that a senior IT industry figure says their line of work is creative - but salesforce.com country manager Aden Forrest’s background as a musician gives him a difference perspective.
Southland-born Forrest has played either the drums or guitar in various bands from when he was at high school, and he still has an array of drum kits and guitars at his house.
“To me, the creativeness that you have with music is similar to the creativeness in marketing and technology. I see the three as similar, because nine times out of 10 you start with an end goal in mind.”
In fact, Forrest says a career in music is certainly an option for his young boys - a four year old and a seven year old - if they choose to pursue it.
Forrest studied marketing and finance at Otago University and on finishing his marketing degree began as one of New Zealand Post’s marketing managers in 1989.
It was a varied introduction to marketing. “The department had been ripped apart because Telecom had split off at that point. I looked after six different products including fastpost, boxlink and rural mail.”
He was charged with building customer databases and ended up working with the IT department. “We had to record what our customers were doing and how they were using our services. It was a precursor to database marketing and what New Zealand Post does now.”
Forrest says New Zealand Post gave him a fantastic opportunity to cover many spheres of marketing. At the time, he became one of the youngest board members of the New Zealand Direct Marketing Association (DMA). “It impressed upon me the importance of technology to drive value with data management. I learnt that you have to substantiate what you’re doing and the best way to do that is record what you’ve done to ensure that your service levels are going to be maintained.”
Subsequently Forrest and a fellow DMA colleague Andrew Segar decided to establish their own company, Marketing Technology, in 1992.
Forrest helped create a marketing database product called Brains. “For the next two and a half years we developed the product to lead the first wave of CRM [customer relationship management]. We did incredibly well in New Zealand and pushed out into Australia and Asia. At 24, it was a fantastic experience going from nothing to building a business.”
In its first year the company brought on 44 clients, ranging from banks to government departments. “That opened my eyes to technology and how it can transform business outcomes and add business values,” he says.
After selling the business in early 1995 Forrest made his next career move from being self-employed to becoming an alliance manager at Oracle.
“Moving into that role allowed me to see an even broader cross-section of technology companies and what they could achieve when well aligned to a market and supported by a vendor like Oracle.”
However, after three years Forrest and his wife opted for a lifestyle change. He resigned from his job and decided to try his luck at Oracle’s UK business. “I knocked on the Oracle door and I was able to walk into a role that was indirectly focused on the partner market and supporting dot net start ups.”
He was then approached to become UK sales director for US start-up Epiphany in 2000, a Salesforce provider. “I had the opportunity to set up their operation in Europe, so myself and a couple of colleagues from Oracle went back to a start-up.”
Working for start-up businesses is one of Forrest’s passions. “Taking an idea and turning that into a reality, along with all the challenges that go with that have been phenomenal.”
Following Epiphany, Forrest joined the Eden Brook consultancy that has been set up by some former Oracle colleagues. “I moved into there and for the last year and a bit I helped to grow the business.”
In 2005 when Forrest’s wife became pregnant for the second time the couple returned to New Zealand to be closer to family.
After living in the Hawkes Bay for a few months, Forrest and his family moved to Auckland and he joined Siebel as country manager. “We brought on the Inland Revenue department and a number of good wins. Six months after I joined they announced they were going to be acquired by Oracle.”
So Forrest returned to his roots at Oracle, looking after its CRM operations. “It was great, but Oracle’s a very established business. A lot of what I signed up for with Siebel was to take a Siebel on-demand offering that wasn’t market leading and set it up in New Zealand. But Oracle didn’t have the same focus on that as Siebel did.”
Because of this, he decided to join Salesforce.com three years ago.
“It has been phenomenal bringing an enterprise-class CRM system to all and sundry in New Zealand,” he says. “We not only have a direct team, but we’ve also got a partner network that we’ve built out to cover the hundreds of customers that we have in New Zealand.”
Forrest draws similarity between Salesforce.com and the start-ups he has worked for. “It’s like another start-up within the organisation so there is still immense reward building out from the platform [and securing] additional customers that we wouldn’t have got through our CRM offering.”
Forrest has observed increasing popularity in cloud-based offerings due to market contraction and focus on cost reduction.
Forrest’s focus for the next six to 12 months is to ensure partners like Fujitsu and Fronde are well supported.
“That’s so we get the breadth and depth in New Zealand. We sell with partners, not through, so it’s important for us to stand alongside our partners to ensure that not only do they have the confidence to deliver on our promise, but they can also innovate quickly.”