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Hi-tech journey leaves the chalk board behind

Hi-tech journey leaves the chalk board behind

Swapping teaching maths, biology and science to secondary students for a career in technology is a move Vivienne Larsen has never regretted.

Larsen has been in the industry since the mid-1980s and in this time played a role in the mammoth growth of the country’s largest IT distributor.

After 15 years at Tech Pacific, which later became Ingram Micro, Larsen left the industry for a brief hiatus last year. Six months later she returned, taking up her current role as channel account manager at storage vendor EMC.

Ironically, this is almost a return to where Larsen started in technology.

Her journey in the industry started as a trainee engineer at Financial Systems where she was upgrading storage. “I had the exciting opportunity to upgrade 2 MB hard drives to 40 MB and delving into expanded memory.”

Larsen decided to quit teaching after a brief two-year career when she relocated to Auckland from Rotorua in 1986. “Coming to live in Auckland I decided I’d take an opportunity to change and see what else I can do.”

Armed with a BSc from the University of Canterbury, the transition from teaching to technology was not hard for Larsen, as she had also learned some programming while studying.

This was a fascinating time to join the industry, says Larsen. “It was the beginning of the industry. We had desktops and luggables coming out – it was an empowering time in business when people could find tools to get their work done more efficiently. It was a time of great growth.”

After Financial Systems, Larsen was the PC manager at a major bank, in an IT department which had a strong leaning toward mainframes and terminals. “The PC was not necessarily the [most] welcomed tool in the department, but certainly many of the business users were very interested.”

Following this, Larsen joined Brimaur, the exclusive Microsoft distributor at the time, where she held several roles from sales to product management and marketing.

In 1992 Larsen joined Tech Pacific as a Microsoft product manager, after it became the vendor’s second local distributor. “That was the start of a long journey and career with Tech Pacific and then Ingram Micro.”

The Microsoft relationship that Larsen was managing was pivotal for Tech Pacific at the time, as it was in the throes of establishing broad-based distribution in New Zealand, she says.

However, with only about 20 staff, but growing fast, it was all hands on deck at Tech Pacific in those early days, which made for an exciting and dynamic environment, says Larsen. “It was very much an environment where everybody did everything. On the last day of the month everybody was in the warehouse packing and shipping.”

Larsen says her time at Tech Pacific was one of fantastic personal growth, as her career developed in tandem with the company, which enabled her to become involved with all aspects of the business. “Very few people at the age I was would have proximity to the sorts of business processes, decision making and accountability that you would have in a business, which was initially doing $16 million an annum moving up eventually to hundreds of millions. I was very lucky to have that journey.”

By the time Larsen left Ingram Micro last August, she was marketing director, as well as general manager of the company’s volume business unit.

Highlights for Larsen during her 15 years at the company include working with many talented business leaders, meeting interesting business people from around the world and being involved with the development and evolution of the business.

She also enjoyed working with a very large group of people that eventually totalled more than 200. “[That was] over 200 employees that you are accountable to every day. It was a big change from the 20 people when I started, but hugely rewarding.”

Today, Larsen finds the pace of business is faster, while the larger variety of technology available now increases complexity. “More choice means more complexity that we all have to deal with, particularly in business where there is a lot to focus on.”

Despite the increased complexity, Larsen still enjoys the industry, especially in the connectedness of today’s world. “There is a lot of innovation going on. We’re now in a global market and that’s very exciting.”

One of the motivations for Larsen to join EMC was the chance to join a new leadership team and help grow the organisation locally. “It is about being in a very dynamic environment, working with a lot of relevant business solutions and a diverse range of people.”

In her role, Larsen’s focus is on delivering EMC’s channel strategy.

One of her objectives is to boost EMC’s profile beyond storage hardware, she says, adding the company has diverse offerings that help businesses and individuals deal with increasing volumes of information, adds Larsen. “Our technology spans from very high-end enterprise to consumer needs. Our products are about how people cope with the challenges of all the information they have.”

Her goal for the channel is to work with a few key partners to “help them deliver some of their capabilities and help them build a stronger business in some specialised areas,” says Larsen. “For us it’s about helping partners build skills and capabilities in the right areas.”

She also plans to highlight services opportunities for partners around EMC’s software and potentially software-as-a-service offerings.

EMC has five Premier partners and Larsen says she is satisfied with that number at this stage. “I wouldn’t want us to stretch ourselves too thin by bringing on any more at this point in time, but we are not closed to that, we just want to do a good job.”

While she is pleased to be back in the industry, Larsen enjoyed her six-month break, during which she worked on the family’s recently bought lifestyle block in Kumeu, west of Auckland. “It was fabulous – it was a lot calmer in the household. And it was definitely a change getting into gumboots every day instead of high heels.”

The move also enabled Larsen to better balance work and family life. “We needed to have more relaxed time away for the hustle and bustle of a busy life.”

And when not mucking about in gumboots, Larsen enjoys outdoor activities like fishing and mountain biking, and is learning to ride a dirt bike. While with her husband they make sure to schedule regular fun activities with their daughters, aged 10 and eight. “We try and make sure we bring out the child in ourselves when we are with the kids.”

Although Larsen grew up in Canterbury, her family hails from the Chatham Islands, which has a population of around 800 people. “I am of Maori (Ngai Tahu) and Moriori descent. So I am accustomed to being in a minority in many ways.”

Q + A

What is your favourite gadget?

My iPod

What is your favourite website?

I’m too busy to have time to spend on websites – so I don’t really have a favourite.

What is your favourite sport?

I enjoy watching and participating in most sports. My favourite sport at the moment would be netball which I play on a regular basis.

What is your favourite cocktail?

Dacquiri

What has been the most important advance in technology?

The internet

What book is on your bedside table?

Duma Key by Stephen King and The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman

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

Most likely in business of some kind.

Who is/was your mentor?

I’ve been very fortunate to have worked with many business leaders and talented people within the industry as well as in my personal life, and gain from them along the way.


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