Dell country manager Mike Hill has notched up two decades in IT, not a bad achievement considering he “wandered into it by accident”.
When he started at IBM in 1989 in finance and administration a technology career seemed less than inspiring, but that was soon to change.
“I spent some time at the back end of IBM, working on mainframes and then got involved with the PC and channels part of IBM. I didn’t sit down and think `that’s an industry I want to be in’ but it turned out to be quite exciting.”
IBM’s channel business was in its infancy at that time and Hill got an early taste of what are now some of the industry’s big names.
“Most of the channel partners were in start-up mode or they wanted to align some product with it. Those were the early days of Computerland, now Gen-i, and Southmark, which became Fujitsu. That taught me how to span the platforms from PCs to mid-range computers that were growing in capacity.”
Hill says PCs were “ridiculously expensive” in those days, yet the vendor couldn’t keep up with demand.
“We had a constant stream of supply challenges and trying to meet reseller and customer expectations around the platform. It stayed like that for 10 years because demand outstripped supply.”
Hill moved from IBM to Compaq in 1992.
“Compaq was the big, up-and-coming business and IBM was the behemoth at that time. IBM had the strong brand presence and Compaq built this model based on price competitiveness. They were exciting days.”
Hill was sent to Wellington in 1994, as national sales manager, to build Compaq’s presence among the reseller network and to establish a direct sales force.
He spent a number of years in this role and in 1998 went to Singapore as director of global accounts for Asia Pacific, managing sales teams in China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand. There, he had responsibility for sales into some global top 50 companies such as Nike and General Motors.
Hill says the number of New Zealanders working for Compaq in Singapore at the time was a big help.
“Compaq in New Zealand was a mature business compared to some of the Asian countries. You could take a lot of local skills and expertise to Asia where they were undeveloped in terms of the sales strategy and account planning.”
Compaq acquired Digital Equipment Corporation in 1999 and Hill says the move came as a surprise. “No one knew the company was on the acquisition path. It made sense when you looked at the offerings Digital had around its Unix platform and services capability.”
He says it was also a difficult time because the acquisition was poorly executed.
“By that stage I’d come back to New Zealand into a role as enterprise business group director. Trying to build the organisation from two dysfunctional operations was full of challenges. You learnt about how to set a structure to align with the strategy, how to develop new routes to market and lead teams through periods of changes.
“Digital was a much larger company than Compaq and that was seen as a challenge. Compaq staff came through and took senior positions, which was unheard of.”
Despite the difficulties, Hill set about building up the enterprise business between 2000 and 2002.
“The client server area was gathering much more momentum, so we had Compaq which was a desktop and notebook company moving into enterprise platform and services. It was about changing and growing the sales resources to be able to go and have good conversations with customers around services and disaster recovery.”
Part of the reason Hill returned to New Zealand was to take a role in the local management team after the acquisition.
“Compaq had also bought mainframe switch company Tandem. There was the challenge of a PC company buying a large mainframe company with different selling structures.”
Compaq was itself acquired by HP in 2002.
“I was part of the integration team that ran the acquisition programme for HP, although I’d been in the Compaq business. That acquisition programme was streets ahead of what happened with Tandem and Digital.”
Hill says the Compaq organisation seemed fast and nimble, while HP was “more about command and control”. “To go through those acquisitions you need strong governance and controls.”
Hill left HP at the end of 2005, as a result of a company restructure, and took six months off. Following this, he contracted at Virtuoso Group as an executive strategist, working in the Netherlands for one of Virtuoso’s customers for most of 2008.
“I was commuting up there for six to eight weeks at a time. That was enjoyable because I went up there to restructure the sales organisation of the distributor they’d bought, only to find the management team wasn’t as strong as we thought.”
Hill worked as acting general manager before coming back to New Zealand in September 2008 to continue with Virtuoso Group.
“I’ve never minded travel in terms of meeting different people and embracing new cultures. That’s helped competencies and how to build business models.”
Hill joined Dell in August this year and says he enjoys the “first class” processes and methodologies. “I guess that comes from the fact it has been a direct organisation so it has all the data and BI tools that enable you to drill down and look at buying patterns.”
Hill says the move to a channel model was ignited internationally by CEO Michael Dell.
“The direct model was no longer the only route to market. Over time, Dell has built a partnering model globally. In New Zealand, it has been selling through a number of arrangements with some business partners for the past year.”
He says it is only now that Dell is engaging with tier one and tier two partners around the enterprise platform.
“We’ve got two models. One is a partner network that will help us with our enterprise strategy and the second part is to build a partner network that can deliver services under the Dell banner around our core offerings of virtualisation, storage and end-user computing.”