After two years of conscription in the South African army serving on the Angola border, 19-year-old Mark Wallendorf faced the challenge of choosing a career.
Telecom South Africa stepped forward and offered him a diploma course, and he was on his way into the telephony industry.
“It’s pretty hard when you’re 19 years old to know where life is going to take you, but I think it has taken me on the right path,” he says.
Then a resident of Cape Town, he started at Telecom South Africa in 1982 as a trainee engineering technician on what was a six-year course.
“Once I did my engineering technician training, I qualified as a project manager as well. It’s steps in your career all the way through.”
But Wallendorf decided that working in the government sector didn’t suit him. “I left Telecom South Africa a year earlier than normal. I bought myself out of the contract because I didn’t find it stimulating.”
Seeking a faster-paced way of doing business, he went into the private sector and joined project management company TR Services.
The company purchased some PABX telephony products in 1989 and he volunteered to start working with them. “I started working on these switches, whereas before it was all hybrid two-switching stuff.”
He spent 11 years with TR Services before deciding to leave Cape Town with his family in 1999, and emigrated to New Zealand.
“I like a different challenge and it had got to the stage in South Africa where everything was comfortable and tracking along nicely. My wife and I decided to try somewhere else and New Zealand popped up.”
When Wallendorf arrived, he expected he would have to step down a level from the work he had been doing in South Africa.
“When you move countries you have to be prepared to start at the bottom again. I always knew I was going to stay in the telephony field because that’s where my skill is.”
His first local job was with Astute Networks as a project manager.
When Wallendorf first arrived in the country, he joked that he wondered where “all the people were”.
However, he believes New Zealand had an edge in technical skill when it comes to telephony and IT.
“As far as culture goes, I think that’s why there is a great [sporting] rivalry between South Africa, New Zealand and Australia. It’s a comfortable place to come to, so there wasn’t a culture shock.”
Wallendorf then joined Avaya distributor Agile Networks and stayed with the company until March this year, when he was head hunted by NSC Group to become country manager. His last role at Agile was design and build manager.
“Agile is a very good company. They started off small and that’s what drew me to them in the first place, the challenge of growing a company. I got to the stage within Agile where I felt we had grown it enough and I wanted another challenge.”
The biggest change he saw in his time at Agile was the arrival of voice over IP (VoIP).
“When VoIP first got discussed seven years ago, everyone was well versed in PABX. VoIP brought in that new challenge where everyone turned around and said `it will never take off’. It was a challenge of ours to turn around and go ‘this will take off’ and learn as much about it [VoIP] as possible.”
He says learning about VoIP has greatly advanced his career.
“In the voice market everything has gone mad. You have unified communications and integration. VoIP brought that integration together.”
Wallendorf joined NSC Group because of the opportunity to grow the company.
“We’ve taken the first six months to get a feel of what the market is like and where we want to specialise. What we’re doing in Australia is what we want to do here. We’re looking at moving the company forward now.”
These growth plans have come to fruition with the establishment of branches in Auckland and Wellington and 10 staff hired, including former Sun country manager John Mazenier.
NSC Group still plans to have 15 local staff by the end of the 2009 financial year, he says.
“We’ve picked up a high calibre of Sun people and we also have the advantage that we are Sun-centric. We are concentrating on the Sun market,” he says.
Away from work, Wallendorf enjoys nothing more than getting out, or in, the water. He is an active member of the Mairangi Bay Lifesaving Club.
“There are a group of masters there and we’ve tried to stimulate the older lifesaving members in New Zealand. We’ve formed our own group to compete with the youngsters, but we also compete amongst ourselves. When you go to Australia there are hundreds of guys doing this every weekend.”
He also enjoys going out on the boat with his family, whenever the weather permits and he swims everyday. When lunchtime comes around, Wallendorf heads off to the Millennium Centre on the North Shore for a swim.
Surprisingly, for a telephony veteran, Wallendorf says he doesn’t take an interest in gadgets.
“I don’t have to have the latest cellphone. Like any application, you’re only going to use the stuff you want.”