All the good things about being a generalist

All the good things about being a generalist

The new country manager of IDC Research in New Zealand, Ullrich Loeffler, grew up and was educated in Hamburg, Germany, where adolescence ends at a quite different destination than it does for most Kiwi kids. “You have to do compulsory military service. I did one year in the army as a paratrooper in around 1995, which I didn’t really enjoy that much. It’s down to 10 months now, so it’s not so bad.”

Loeffler subsequently went to Hamburg University, where he graduated with the equivalent of a masters degree in business and economics, with majors in industrial economics, industrial management and marketing.

He financed his university education through working in a field most would consider to be a leisure pastime. “I organised bungee events all across Europe. I travelled around working on different kinds of events and festivals. It wasn’t a Kiwi company, though; it was one of AJ Hackett’s European competitors. I met a lot of people, while knowing it was probably not something that I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”

Loeffler then went to work for German telecommunications company T-Mobile, in a sales role. He stayed for two years and then changed industries again when he went to work for British-American Tobacco. “That was in brand marketing, and I did that for almost two years before deciding to come over to New Zealand.”

At the time, Loeffler had no commitments and a job that didn’t excite him. He had been to New Zealand on holiday in 1999 and liked it. “I fell in love with the place. I’d always thought I’d come back at some stage, and 2003 seemed the right time. I packed my bags and came over here. I did a bit of holidaying and jobbed around and then got an offer to work in marketing for the New Zealand Blood Service (NZBS). So after working for British-American Tobacco, where I was maybe harming people over a couple of years, I then went over to the other side and started helping people.”

Loeffler was unsure how long he would stay in New Zealand. He started at NZBS on a three-month contract and ended up staying for a year and a half; by which time he made the decision to stay and also to start thinking about a long-term career here.

“Then this opportunity with IDC came up at the beginning of 2006, as market analyst for software.” The tacit link to his previous role with T-Mobile made this appealing, as it would help him stay current with technology. “There was a great vision for the company locally as well as globally, and I was really excited about the concept.”

Prior to his promotion to country manager late last year, he worked as senior analyst for IDC’s software research unit in the Pacific region. There he was responsible for management, coordination and further development of the software research programmes across Australia and New Zealand.

Loeffler says his enduring interest in technology comes from it being a fast-moving industry, and it still holds this appeal because of its ongoing opportunities for thought leaders and creative companies. “Emerging business models can become incredibly successful within a very short space of time – I mean, look at Google.”

Technologies that hold great promise for New Zealand businesses, to Loeffler’s mind, include cloud computing, and he predicts it will significantly change the local ITC landscape. However, he cautions the market here is not yet as mature in its understanding of the cloud and its potential.

“We had software as a service (SaaS), which I would describe as a stepping stone towards cloud computing, and companies are still struggling to understand the concept, benefits and challenges of SaaS, and to evaluate whether it’s the right framework for their company. The step forward to cloud computing complicates things even more.”

He would probably still gravitate towards IT if he was starting his career again today – although he might end up combining technology with his other interests. “Sports are my main hobby and I’d definitely like to be involved in something like Hawk-Eye [computer simulation used to track the path of the ball in tennis and cricket] or the Virtual Spectator graphics for the America’s Cup sailing.”

Most people who have worked in more than one country are bound to compare and contrast them, and Loeffler has noticed that Germans tend to specialise in one specific task or skill, whereas New Zealanders are more likely to become business generalists. “I don’t mean that in any bad way – they have a broader understanding of the full process, they can multi-task and get involved in different aspects of the business. I think I probably fit more into the Kiwi model because I’ve done several different jobs in sales, marketing and now a research job, in different industries, so I think I’m more of a generalist person, as well.

Any breaks in a German’s résumé are more likely to be viewed with suspicion, he says. “A lot of Kiwis do their OE at a later stage in their career, once they’ve got three to five years work experience and they job around a bit. But if you have a one or two-year gap in your CV in Germany, it would be likely to be interpreted as losing focus. It may have changed now,” he concedes. “I’ve been away for six years and with the recession and the global economic situation that may have changed.”

Dress-down Fridays have never really taken off back home. “You’d always wear a suit and tie,” he says. And even the more rudimentary aspects of business still tend to be conducted more formally in Germany, he says.

“There’s a formal way of addressing people. Even within an organisation you’d never address someone by their first name unless you have a long history, and you wouldn’t do that in front of other people within the organisation, out of respect for the hierarchy.”

Q + A

What is your favourite gadget?

“That would be my iPod, but I’m not really a gadget person. My mobile phone is three years old. I bought my iPod because I used to get bored while I was running, but I accidentally put it in the washing machine and dryer and since then the battery drained and only lasts for a few hours.”

What is your favourite website?

“That’s, just to keep up to date with sports because there’s no coverage in New Zealand of winter sports and German soccer.”

What is your favourite sport?

“Soccer. I got interested in cricket and rugby, but never managed to fully understand the concept of netball. My sister came over at Christmas and although we didn’t spend a lot of time watching TV because we were travelling around, every bar we went to had a TV screen with cricket on it. I had a quick attempt at explaining the rules to her, but I didn’t get very far.”

What’s your favourite tipple?

“Weizenbier, wheat beer, would be my favourite. In my younger days I would have said Sex on the Beach to impress the girls.”

What has been the most important advance in technology?

“Overall, it would have to be the internet. It makes it a lot easier for me to live abroad. You don’t really feel that far away from home. But also, it has changed the dynamics of business and the visibility of information for customers, providing lots more knowledge for customers when they go out to buy products and services. The integration between business partners and supply chain has impacted the way business is done.”

What book is on your bedside table?

“At the moment, it’s Success [The Ultimate Guide to Success at Work] by Andrea Molloy, I read the

Economist on a weekly basis, which I keep next to my books, which is why it takes me so long to finish reading anything!”

If you were not in technology, what would you be doing?

“Sports marketing, sports management, or a TV commentator.”

Who is/was your mentor?

“No one particular person. The really exciting part of my job is that we have daily access to very intelligent people across the industry and to have that accessibility and to learn from them is more like having a mentor community. What I like is people who are committed to becoming the best and passionate about what they’re doing: like Tiger Woods or Michael Schumacher or Roger Federer. I think that’s something to aim for in your personal and professional life.”

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