Jeff Lau has an exciting but mammoth task ahead of him – launching a new entrant into one and potentially two fiercely contested markets.
As national sales manager for Korean electronics maker Samsung’s IT division, Lau is charged with developing market share locally for the company’s recently introduced laser printer range.
He could also soon take on the task of introducing the company’s laptop range, which Samsung is looking at launching here.
But the prospect of steering Samsung’s entry intro these established markets excites Lau, who says the combination of his existing industry relationships and increasing awareness of the brand locally will help him succeed. “Samsung is a big company and it is a growing brand. They are going to invest a lot in the New Zealand market.”
Lau joined Samsung last October from distributor Ingram Micro, where he was brand manager and previously product manager for the vendor.
As Samsung set up its local office just under two years ago, Lau’s is a newly created role, which he says presents exciting opportunities. “There is only one way [Samsung] will go and that is to grow. Being part of this success is going to be a privilege.”
Lau’s job encompasses looking after three categories of Samsung products – monitors, covering digital photo frames and business projectors; laser printers, including mono, colour and multi-function devices; and storage, comprising optical and hard disk drives.
While maintaining and growing the monitor business is one of Lau’s aims, his big focus this year is on winning market share for Samsung printers, which he acknowledges will be a big challenge.
“Of course there is a huge challenge. We had less than one percent printer share last year and this year we have to grow it ten-fold. But I have a pragmatic approach – as opposed to making a big noise out in the market, I like to have a low profile and hopefully keep under our competitors’ radar.”
Although Samsung is a new entrant in the local printer market, it has a long history of making printers, says Lau. “We have the technology and the knowledge to make good printers. Worldwide we are number two in laser printers and are in that leading position in a lot of markets.”
Manufacturing its own printers gives Samsung control over product quality and design, adds Lau. “With printers the key thing is reliability. We make our own printers and are in full control of our product.”
Meanwhile the company is exploring the viability of launching its laptops locally. These have never been available through official channels here, says Lau. “There have been patches of parallel imports. I do look forward to bringing in the notebooks – we are quite strong in some Asian markets like China and Hong Kong. There are new efforts going into bringing that business to life in our part of the market.”
Having a local presence will pave Samsung’s path to success in highly competitive sectors such as laptops and printers, says Lau. “With this presence, Samsung can guide the direction of our business more intimately.”
Previously the direction of the IT products was managed by distributor Ingram Micro, and while this model worked well for the company, Lau says Samsung now has a more direct influence on strategy. “Having a good distribution partner and having a positive influence on where we want to take our business with our partner is important.”
In addition, Lau is drawing on his extensive network of contacts – gleaned during his eight-year career at Tech Pacific and Ingram Micro – to build the Samsung brand in the local IT channel. “Existing relationships help because the industry is quite small, so a lot of people know me already. Previously there was a perception that Samsung wasn’t very serious about the market. Having the local office and having someone that represents Samsung adds substance to how seriously we treat the New Zealand market.”
Awareness of the Samsung brand has increased steadily over the past few years, adds Lau. “It has changed a lot. Ever since the New Zealand office has been established a great deal of effort has gone into marketing. I do a lot of marketing within the channel. My goal is to make sure I am in touch with the market by having direct contact with top dealers in every channel – retail, corporate, SMEs and system builders.”
Support from the channel so far is very promising, says Lau. “I think that shows the Samsung brand has a lot of pulling power. After customers see our product, [they realise] it is worth their while to partner with us.”
Lau is particularly encouraged by the number of local resellers who have taken on the company’s printer range. “I appreciate having those partners on board early, because we don’t have a track record and the printer business is quite conservative.”
Originally from Hong Kong, Lau completed a degree in marketing and management at Massey University in Palmerston North, where he was one of the founders of the first Hong Kong student association at the university.
“I was involved in student politics and sport clubs to keep myself occupied. It is a student town and there is very little you can do apart from getting yourself into mischief outside studying.”
After this, he returned to Hong Kong where he started his career with electronics manufacturer General Electronics.
Lau then worked for sound and graphics card maker Pine Technology and completed an MBA.
His last job in Hong Kong was at the New Zealand Dairy Board. ”I was marketing dairy products into the wider China market.”
But the friends and lifestyle Lau enjoyed in New Zealand as a student attracted him back to the country about nine years ago. His first job here was as a product manager at Tech Pacific.
Lau says he loves the local lifestyle. “There aren’t many people on earth who live the way you live here. Where I live you wake up in the morning and see the Hauraki Gulf and the sunrise. That is amazing”.
The amount of personal space compared to a city like Hong Kong makes daily life more enjoyable, adds Lau. “After a hard day’s work you can get home and feel like you have a place where you can relax. Where I come from you can’t – you live in small apartments and can never even invite friends over to have a meal, because your kitchen is too small to cook in!”
Cooking is one of Lau’s favourite pastimes – a talent he developed as a student more from necessity than design. “Cooking was survival when I was studying. Studying away from home and your country, you learn to do things you never thought of before.”
Lau appreciates the freshness of New Zealand produce. “I enjoy food and eat a lot. Over the weekend I get a few friends around and do some cooking and eat heaps.”
He burns off excess calories by playing social volleyball. “I am in a couple of teams that play a couple of times a week.”
With the number of close friends he has in the local industry, Lau expects to be part of this community for the foreseeable future. “It is part of my life – I have developed a personal relationship with so many people over the years.”
Q + A
What is your favourite gadget?
My MP3 player, but I will definitely need to get a GPS device.
What is your favourite website?
No favourite, but my most used is nzherald.co.nz.
What is your favourite sport?
Playing volleyball, watching rugby (All Blacks).
What is your favourite cocktail?
More of a wine person – current favourite Pinot Noir from Central Otago.
If you could have a cup of coffee with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be?
Sir Edmund Hillary.
What has been the most important technological advance in IT?
Internet and fast broadband.
What book is on your bedside table?
A travel book on my next destination.
If you were not in technology, what would you be doing?
Who is/was your mentor?