Joshua Smith is different to most IT country managers – he didn’t set out to enter the industry and hasn’t spent decades treading the tech path to the top.
He started his working life as a baker’s assistant and went on to run a bakery, repair jewellery and clocks, and be an SPCA volunteer and animal welfare inspector.
“At school I couldn’t have sat down and said what I wanted to do. There were those kids who knew what they wanted to do and had their hearts set on it,” Smith says.
However, he now sees IT as something he can stick with and is enjoying the challenge of running the New Zealand arm of the Australian-based peripherals distributor.
“[Anyware has said] they’d like me to consider this as working on my own company – so that’s fantastic.
“New Zealand stands on its own two feet, they realise we’re a different market and they’re not putting on me that I follow [the Australian] trend. That means I can not just listen to my customers, but action it.”
Smith has been in most of his fields of work for six to eight years, and says his diverse experience has given him insights he can apply in his current position.
“Rather than having tunnel vision, I can look outside the square. It gives me a bit of an edge, because I can look at similar circumstances now and say ‘we could try this or try that’, as long as the employer is prepared to give you that bit of rope.”
Although IT wasn’t a set career path, Smith has dabbled in technology over the years by building PCs and fixing friends’ machines.
He grew up on Auckland’s North Shore and after moving to Thames in the early 1990s he acted on his love of animals and volunteered for the SPCA.
Subsequently he shifted to animal welfare inspection, with other paid jobs during the day. Customer service and hospitality were the common thread between his work at a bakery, a jewellery store and the SPCA. In Thames, he also had a lifestyle block complete with emus and ostriches.
On moving back to Auckland in 1999, he weighed IT against joining the police and IT won out.
“In my experience in the SPCA you generally see the bad side of people, you don’t normally see the re-homing and things like that, which is a bit disheartening.”
Smith completed two certifications – a CompTIA A+ and a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) in Auckland. He then landed his first IT role with TL Systems, an Auckland-based system builder.
TL Systems was established in 1987 as the computer division of 36-year-old parent company Theatrelight, which provides lighting and control systems for theatre and television.
TL Systems had core markets in gaming and custom PCs, along with retail and AV machines. Smith’s role straddled customer service and technical, and was a chance to do PC building on a grander scale than he had done when he was dabbling in IT at an interest level.
“I used to make the most of something older to make it perform as best I could, so I guess when you’re given the tools and finances to make it out of the latest and greatest, it pays off.”
Smith progressed to the country manager role at TL Systems, spending eight years there. He says the system building space underwent big changes in that time, with increased competition and consolidation.
“Our competition was more the little corner shop, operating on one-mark margin. Now a lot of those corner shops are realising they have to make a bit more margin to stay in business, so now they’re coming up [in price] or they’re disappearing.”
TL Systems stopped trading this year, after Smith had moved to Anyware in January. According to its website, parent company Theatrelight has been in litigation against a former joint venture partner in China after it was discovered in 2002 that the partner had forged signatures of Theatrelight employees and company seals.
The site also states the partner co-founded another company that manufactured and sold Theatrelight designs without authority.
Smith says Anyware’s former country manager Peter de Wever and sales and marketing manager Nicole de Wever had sought him out to work for the distributor as much as a year ago.
The de Wevers’ handover wasn’t as long as expected and Smith says he has felt his way into the role.
The biggest change on shifting from the system builder space to distribution was greater stock volumes. “It was a very big learning curve,” he says. “It’s only in the last month I’ve really started to feel comfortable in the role.”
Not long after he started, Anyware New Zealand began ordering stock direct from suppliers, most of whom are in China, rather than from Anyware Australia.
This has meant shipping delays and stock shortages due to a string of events in China, including its New Year, the Sichuan earthquake in May and now the Beijing Olympics.
“Everything has been tightened down like you wouldn’t believe, every parcel is checked,” Smith says.
His priority has been visiting Anyware customers nationwide to gauge their brand preferences and get feedback, a process he has enjoyed. He also aims to build on the 40 to 50 percent growth rate of Anyware New Zealand over the past two years.
Part of this will involve hiring a business development manager, while Smith also wants to have a branch in the South Island.
“The South Island is like another country, it’s almost like the rivalry between Australia and New Zealand. Having a branch in the South Island would be advantageous for us and we’ve got some strong adopters for Anyware there.”
He also wants to strengthen its key brands Thermal Take, TP Link, Aten, Welland, Mediagate and Compro, while also growing the cables business.
This doesn’t leave Smith much leisure time, but he does enjoy the outdoors, fishing and walking his dogs, and is renovating his house.
He is also a volunteer for a US-based website – archaeologychannel.org providing local content.