Traveller makes SAS his home

Traveller makes SAS his home

Geoff Beynon, country manager for business intelligence software provider SAS, has been described as an accidental tourist in his career.

Born in Northern Ireland and with an early technology career in the UK, he says an OE was opportune rather than being on the agenda, and making New Zealand his home definitely wasn’t planned.

“I had my ‘first retirement’ at 25, when I took a year off to go travelling around the world, went through Europe and the Middle East, and ended up in New Zealand,” he says.

“I wouldn’t like to say [the OE] was planned, but it was opportune. It has been a bit of an approach in my career, things have just presented themselves. I came thinking I’d be here a couple of weeks, a couple of months or a couple of years, but ended up staying.”

Beynon started in service engineering for Nixdorf Computers in the UK (which became Siemens), fixing ATMs, mini computers and peripherals, but soon realised people-focused roles were more his forte.

“I wasn’t very good at [service engineering] but I was quite good at the customer service side of things. A couple of promotions later, I had a senior support role [helpdesk] for the service arm of Apricot Computers.”

When he arrived in New Zealand in the 1990s Beynon did some work in Auckland and Christchurch, but got his “big break” at Unisys. He spent three years there until 1999 as a service-level manager, another customer service-centred role.

From there Beynon moved to Unix provider Sequent, which was subsequently bought by IBM.

The variety offered by the global software giant was enough to keep him there for eight years.

“At IBM I had a number of different ‘careers’ and many roles. There was enough variety there to keep me interested.”

Beynon also feels lucky to have worked for IBM during the tenure of former managing director Nick Lambert, saying he was part of a team that changed the company’s fortunes.

“We went back to a level of basics. It was about getting people motivated and we started putting the customer at the front of our thinking and started believing in what we were doing.”

During his time at IBM, Beynon spent three years as its operations manager and two as southern region manager.

Although he hadn’t dealt with SAS before, and knew only a little about them, the country management role offered many opportunities when he took it on late last year.

“SAS was an entry for me into country management, with responsibility across sales, pre-sales and technical.

“It’s a global company so it allows me to act as the local owner. In some of those previous organisations there was a lot of structure, and a lot of processes and rules. At SAS there’s a little bit of ‘this is the outcome we want, go deliver it’.”

Beynon points to recent consolidation in the business intelligence space – the most recent examples being IBM’s purchase of Cognos and SAP’s buyout of Business Objects, and acknowledges these competitors will need to be watched. He’s also keeping an eye on niche players and Microsoft’s entry into the BI and analytics space.

However, he believes SAS has “a march on the market” in advanced analytics, and says it will take IBM and SAP time to integrate their products with those they have bought.

In his few months in the role, Beynon has met with the 16-strong team (11 in Wellington and five in Auckland), to assess where skills strengths and gaps lie and to identify areas where SAS can lead in the market.

However, he says he’s fortunate to have an experienced team of salespeople.

“The team are senior professionals and you don’t really need to manage that sort of person. I just guide and counsel. There are no entry-level salespeople, although we’re looking at maybe growing that side of our business.”

While travelling between the two cities for team and client meetings, Beynon says SAS is very conscious of work/life balance. He likes to spend his weekends on “mostly sporty stuff” – playing squash and tennis and bike riding.

He also gets back to see family in the UK each year, often combined with a work trip to the US.

True to form, travel could be on the horizon as his career develops too.

“One of the benefits of joining SAS is it’s a global company so there are opportunities all around the globe. If you’re flexible and have the interest then there’s no reason you can’t travel with this outfit.

“Other than that, country manager for a smaller company gives you potential to be country manager for a slightly bigger company. This role is a way for me to round out my skills and test whether I’m a leader.”

Q + A

What is your favourite websites?, and YouTube

What is your favourite gadget?

My iPod

What is your favourite sport?

I play a lot of squash at the moment, but I watch a bit of English premier league soccer and tennis.

What is your favourite cocktail recipe?

I’d struggle to go past a classic martini.

If you could have coffee with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be?

Either John F Kennedy or Marilyn Monroe, they’re kind of linked.

What is the most important advance in IT?

Communication and collaboration over the internet.

Who is/was your mentor?

I try to find mentors within and outside the business. At IBM I did work with Dave Winsborough from Winsborough Ltd, who are industrial psychologists. They had quite an active role in some of the think tanks we did and getting people to believe in what they were doing. Inside SAS I’m still searching for that person.

What would you be doing if you weren’t in IT?

I’d be some sort of coach, either in sports or in business, to help people reach their potential. Either that or a successful sportsperson.

What book is on your coffee table?

I’m reading For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway and Blind Faith by Ben Elton.

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