Although Mike Pollok has been in his job for the past 15 years, his career has certainly not been monotonous or mono-chrome.
In his time as Ricoh managing director, Pollok has steered the company into the full colour, fully connected world of today’s technology industry.
Ricoh’s evolution from a photocopier company to a supplier of network-connected, multifunction devices has provided a colourful backdrop to Pollok’s career.
Originally from Edinburgh, Scotland, Pollok came to New Zealand in 1983 and two years later joined Ricoh photocopier distributor Nashua as a salesman.
Back then photocopiers were stand-alone devices that produced black and white copies only, but by the 1990s Ricoh’s products started connecting to companies’ networks and doubled as printers.
This sent Ricoh crashing into the world of IT and on a collision course with traditional printer vendors, such as HP, Epson and Brother.
“That was a pretty significant shift in our industry,” says Pollok
With the advent of connectivity in the 1990s, Ricoh decided it needed to become more directly involved with its customers and began buying its distributors around the world, says Pollok.
“Ricoh recognised that the relationship between manufacturers and users was going to become more critical. You’re actually plugging into the brains of an organisation – that required a different level of expertise and investment.”
At the time, Ricoh was represented by three distributors locally – Nashua, Gestetner and Inchcape. Though Nashua and Gestetner merged in the early 1990s with Pollok as general manager.
By 1999 Ricoh had acquired all three companies and established a fully-owned local subsidiary, led by Pollok.
Merging all three local distributors allowed Ricoh to go to market under a single brand. “The New Zealand market was being flooded by new entrants – the likes of Panasonic, Toshiba and Sharp – so it was the perfect time to drop all the peripheral brands and just run with Ricoh.”
But changing a brand takes a long time, says Pollok. “It is like a big ship trying to turn – you can’t do it on a six pence.”
To help launch the Ricoh name locally, it securing a lead sponsorship of Auckland rugby, which saw the brand emblazoned on players’ jerseys. “It didn’t take me long to figure out that rugby was pretty important in New Zealand. I think that really propelled us into the position where we are in now,” says Pollok.
These days Ricoh is one of three dominant players in the office equipment and multifunction space, he says.
What really got the ball rolling for Ricoh, however, was the launch of its first network-connected product, the Aficio 200, in 1996.
“It dominated the market in terms of being no more expensive than our competitors’ 20 page per minute, black and white copiers, but it was a printer as well. It wasn’t a very difficult sell. I don’t think we ever caught up with back orders – it was just a phenomenal machine.”
After connectivity, the next major change for Ricoh has been the migration to colour. Today, most of the company’s efforts are focussed on selling colour-capable machines, says Pollok.
“In New Zealand, Ricoh has migrated from black to colour possibly faster than any country in the world, to the extent that we are often asked to present on why we have been so successful in this transition.”
One reason for this rapid shift is because New Zealanders tend to adopt technology faster, says Pollok.
“I guess it is to do with the geographical location of New Zealand where we are used to working remotely and being resourceful. Technology gives us the opportunity to communicate and be part of the global community.”
But, Pollok adds, Ricoh has also driven colour locally – almost at the expense of other products. “For about three years now we have been focusing a significant amount of our sales and service efforts on colour. As a result I think we have dragged the rest of the market with us.”
Pollok reckons that more than half of all multifunction products sold locally are now colour capable, while on average one in every four prints is in colour. “Everything is moving to colour and it becomes commonplace very quickly.”
While they offer similar products today, the battle between traditional copier and traditional printer vendors is far from over, says Pollok.
With its heritage as a direct supplier, Ricoh has a very different approach. “We view the space differently because we’re still very much from the service focus – supplying the product across the country and offering a service proposition that is managed at a centralised point.”
Although printers are among the most service-intensive products, traditional printer vendors, selling through resellers, have “not yet got their heads around the service offering”, says Pollok. “I think they fall down when it comes to offering national service. When operating exclusively through resellers you lose control over the actual point where the service person turns up at the customer’s office.”
The traditional copier industry comes from a model of providing physical service on site and around the clock when needed, says Pollok.
“This requires setting up a national infrastructure geared towards that. Until the traditional printer supplier moves away from the reseller model, there is always going to be a challenge with that.”
Ricoh services the country through offices in Dunedin, Christchurch, Wellington, Palmerston North, Hamilton and Auckland, and a network of 13 exclusive regional dealers.
Although it does supply some of its printers through distributors Cellnet and Morning Star, 80 percent of its business is direct, says Pollok.
Meanwhile, Pollok conceded it has been harder for traditional copier vendors to move into offering document management software. “It has been a big challenge for our industry to move into that space, whereas for the traditional computer/printer vendors – it’s second nature to them.”
However, document management is an area Ricoh plans to challenge seriously. “Assessing their total document requirements is really the space we like to engage with a customer. If we can offer a solution that better helps them manage the information in their business, by default we will end up with the printing device.”
But ultimately Ricoh could become a complete IT provider that manages networks for small to medium businesses, says Pollok. “In some countries Ricoh is already well-advanced in offering those services. Then truly we control ultimately where the prints are made.”
Environmental responsibility is a major issue for Ricoh, says Pollok, who was recently invited to join the Business Council for Sustainable Development. “We like to think that we currently lead our industry in terms of our environmental position. We’ve had the [ISO 14001] environmental tick for a number of years. It is something we have become quite passionate about.”
While in the past a lot of lip-service has been paid to being environmentally conscious, the corporate world is starting to take the issue seriously, says Pollok. “We all have a responsibility to be conscious of our environment, particularly business leaders.”
To raise environmental awareness among its staff and customers, Ricoh hosts regular tree planting and cleanup days on Motuihe Island in Auckland and Mana Island in Wellington. “We look at reenergising a piece of landscape by clearing up rubbish and planting trees. On Motuihe there are several thousand trees that are a direct result of Ricoh and its customers.”
In Christchurch, it offers a programme where students can sell seedlings instead of the traditional bar of chocolate to raise funds for their school.
Ricoh also supports several charities, mainly KidsCan and the Stuttering Treatment and Research Trust.
Another passion Pollok is keen to share with his staff is cycling, with a team of Ricoh employees regularly going on cycling tours to places such as Queenstown. “It breaks down a lot of barriers with your staff if you can get out and do stuff like that. We get quite competitive – being a sales organisation.”
Married with three children, Pollok also enjoys spending time at the beach, kayaking and playing golf. “Anything that get’s you out and about – that’s what New Zealand is all about.”