Business management and the art of sales are the twin passions that drive Digitalblue New Zealand general manager John Buxton in his work.
Born and bred in Sydney, Buxton went straight into sales 20 years ago after leaving high school.
“My first job was with [laptop bag manufacturer] Targus Australia in 1989. I was with them for about five years, when the business was very small and most of the sales were done with original equipment manufacturers like Toshiba, NEC and IBM.”
Buxton says he is something of a self-made man as he “bombed out” of high school and never went to university. “I had a lucky break with Targus and found sales was my niche.”
At that time, he says the company had little in the way of reseller or retail business. Buxton set about changing this.
“This was back when Harvey Norman had very small computer departments in their stores. I ended up being responsible for Australia, New Zealand and Indonesia in the retail/reseller side of the business.”
Buxton established a close relationship with Harvey Norman staff, something he continues to do both locally and in Australia.
In 1994, Buxton appointed Renaissance Brands as a Targus distributor in New Zealand. It was a relationship that would pay dividends, because Renaissance headhunted him in December 1996 to cross the Tasman as its national sales manager.
“I’ve been [in New Zealand] for 12 years. It was a bit of a shock at first and it took me a while to adjust my selling techniques. I treated the place like another state [of Australia] and that was a mistake.”
Buxton believes New Zealanders are more sedate in their approach to business. “I find Australians a little bit more aggressive. I had to tone down my aggressiveness and ‘rah rah’ approach. My philosophy is if I can’t get in the front door with a customer and I can’t get back in the back door then I will force a window open. If that doesn’t work I’ll try and break in.”
He describes his first year in New Zealand as a baptism by fire. After 10 months he and his wife were homesick and considered returning to Sydney. However, Buxton decided to stick it out and shifted to distributor Electronic Resources at the end of 1997. Ingram Micro acquired the company in 1999.
Buxton says Electronic Resources’ brand range was expanding and he stayed for four years. “I loved it and that was why we stayed in the country. There was lots going on, we moved premises [after the acquisition] and expanded.”
A highlight was working with Ingram Micro managing directors Des Dass and John Dunbar. “Out of everybody I have worked for in New Zealand, they are the two blokes that I have thoroughly enjoyed working for. They taught me a lot about the distribution business.”
However, Buxton was again headhunted in 2001. This time it was by Murray Jones from Dove Electronics. “We both have the same view on life. He asked me if I was interested in coming to work in the Auckland office.”
Buxton says Dove’s plan was to send him back to Australia to establish an office there, but that didn’t eventuate due to costs and other factors.
Remaining in New Zealand, his role expanded. “I fixed up the Auckland office and started to look after the Wellington office. I grew the retail business [with Harvey Norman] and brought on new products for them.”
He jokes that the role at Digitalblue came “out of the blue” when he met Jamie Cox, who started the company in New Zealand, at a Harvey Norman conference in Fiji.
“That was about five years ago. He said `do you want to come and work for me’? I said no at first. But he came back again a year later [at the next Harvey Norman conference] and said `How about general manager’? I said `now you’re talking’.”
In 2007, Singapore distributor Ban Leong Technologies bought Digitalblue and its sister company in Australia. Former director Jamie Cox, who left the company in October 2008, than moved back to Australia, with Buxton fully taking the helm.
Buxton has been general manager for nearly two years and says he has learnt an enormous amount. “All my roles prior to this have been as national sales manager, but this role covers the whole business. I’ve had to learn about other aspects of the business such as logistics, administration and finance.”
He says the company is now in a strong position to take on new brands such as Razer gaming peripherals. “Ban Leong is huge and they have a US$200 to 300 million turnover.”
He adds that the company is looking at other brands to bring here in the months ahead.
“The Akai brand has been rebirthed in A/NZ and we received our first shipment of [Akai] LCD TVs just before Christmas. We’re also looking at [other Akai] products like DVDs and turntables.”
Digitalblue has a long-term agreement with Akai and other companies such as Edifier. “We’re trying to make sure we can go into different channels and add value where we can.”