Winning on the golf course as well as the workplace is no easy task, but Microsoft partner director Brent Colbert has managed to achieve highly in both.
Wellington born and bred, Colbert has competed in three New Zealand Golf Opens and has a handicap of two.
“Mum and Dad had the foresight to buy a house next to a golf course [in Lower Hutt]. So from the age of 10 until I was 35 I played golf every day. I grew up playing golf with Michael Campbell and a lot of the younger pros who are on the tour now like Craig Perks.
However, Colbert says when many of his friends turned to professional golf, this prompted him to take a role as a bank officer with the National Bank in 1984.
He says unemployment was at 11 percent at the time, so choosing the right career was vital.
“I went through the Evening Post and looked at what was paying the best, and chose accounting.”
After roles at the NZ Apple and Pear Marketing Board and Kirk Barclay Charted Accountants, he started an accounting degree at Wellington Polytechnic in 1987. However, he only completed half of the qualification, deciding instead to join the Electricity Corporation in 1988 as an assistant management accountant.
“Within that I moved into IT and spent nine months on the road installing payroll systems at all the hydro stations. I did six months at Huntly Power Station putting in the maintenance management system and staying at the salubrious ‘Huntly Hilton’, as we called it, which was full of cockroaches.”
The next year he became an information systems consultant and stayed with the corporation until 1993.
“I’ve explored all the hydro stations on the Waikato and Waitaki rivers. I got to see a lot of the country that some people don’t see. It was a pretty exciting time for me in terms of developing certain IT skills and since then I have built on that.”
He then worked for Frontier Software as a senior consultant until 1994 and the next year worked at Corporate Technologies.
“I not only supported applications, but also helped customers develop and implement them. That was a good experience from a pure software perspective, being with a vendor selling software solutions into accounts.”
After consulting, Colbert went and did what he calls his “government service” with Internal Affairs for three years from 1995.
“Internal Affairs is the mother of all government departments because it does lottery grants, passports, births, deaths and marriages etc. There were 26 different entities within Internal Affairs when I was there and I looked after some as a client engagement manager.”
Colbert was also a manager of some projects including upgrading the department’s IT systems.
“We rolled out Lotus Notes across the country for 1200 users. I’m pleased to say [that at Microsoft] we’ve now reversed that and they are using Exchange.”
Colbert said goodbye to Internal Affairs and Wellington in 1998 to join the growing internet industry — with Xtra in Auckland.
“Xtra had just been formed and I thought I would see what this internet thing was all about. When I went to Xtra I found the pace of change at Internal Affairs was faster, which sounds ironic.”
He held a number of roles at Xtra, including service delivery manager, programme manager and complex hosting product manager before going to Ebustech, an internet start up, in 2000. However, he was not there long before Advantage Computers took over the company.
He then joined Vignette Software as channel manager for 18 months.
“I helped set up the channel in New Zealand, but also signed up customers like Telecom and Stuff with deployments. We picked up around 10 wins quickly in that first year.”
But despite his good work, Colbert was caught in a second round of layoffs at Vignette as a result of the dot com bust in 2001. He started his own company called Presenz and did contracting with the Counties Manukau District Health Board and Microsoft.
“After the dot com bust it was a case of going back to my network and looking for work. One thing I was really pleased about that was although I came from Wellington, I surprised myself in terms of how good my network was in Auckland in a down economy.”
Colbert found work at Xtra again in 2002 and stayed for two and a half years, running XtraMSN and the online delivery team. “Xtra was going through some changes and got bought back into the Telecom fold. It was a good time to jump ship [in 2004] and Microsoft had a role which was interesting.”
His first Microsoft role was as business planning manager. “Given my accounting and IT background, doing a business planning type role was quite a natural fit. I have probably seen more spreadsheets at Microsoft than I did as an accountant, because we are quite numbers based.”
Colbert was also attracted to Microsoft because he knew it was a company where people could move around in roles. “Getting here wasn’t really about the role, but the development opportunities.”
Microsoft promoted him to marketing and operations director before he was shoulder tapped to become partner director in June this year.
“My job is a lot closer to the front line in terms of making sure we are investing with our partners in the right way because we don’t sell direct. If partners are growing, then Microsoft is growing.”
After experiencing this year’s Worldwide Partner Conference in New Orleans, his focus now is to get around to as many partners as he can.
“The good thing about the role is that we have our global relationship survey which goes out every six months and we get quite a bit of feedback on what is working and what is not. Based on those results, we put in a customer partner plan in terms of improving those relationships.”
Colbert says the conference was an eye opener for him.
“While I expected some fist pumping from the partners, they really thought about what the products and services mean for them. We may think it is great, but for the partner there may be some cost involved.”
Next year’s conference is in Washington DC and Colbert would like to see 50 local partners attend, an increase of about 20 on the number this year.
When asked about Microsoft’s planned retail stores in the US, Colbert says he would love to see the stores reach New Zealand.
“I’m sure we can do some equivalent concepts with partners like Dick Smith and Harvey Norman, in terms of improving the retail experience anyway before we see the advent of a store.”