Paul Plester's love affair with ongoing change

Paul Plester's love affair with ongoing change

nyone who has dreamed of working with big noisy planes would be envious of Paul Plester’s first career. The Express Data general manager of sales and marketing joined the Royal New Zealand Air Force at 16 to train as an avionics technician.

“I stayed in the airforce for 10 years and had a ball. I travelled the world, played lots of sports and did lots of exciting things.”

It was in the air force that Plester first encountered computers on the Orion planes, when the first airborne computer system arrived from the US. He was trained up on this and says he received a good depth of training in all things electronic from the airforce.

During that time Plester studied part-time for a New Zealand Certificate in Engineering at the then Auckland Institute of Technology (today AUT). This study eventually led to his career in IT.

“After 10 years of being a ‘boy’ and having a young family it was either stay in the airforce and make a career out of it or move on to the real world.”

His first IT job was at Walker Datavision and says he had one job in the airforce for 10 years and then three jobs in three years.

“I was at Walker Datavision for a year, but then they lost the CAD Vision agency to Eagle so I was offered a job with either Eagle or Computer Logic. Computer Logic was an Apple Macintosh reseller that was doing a lot of networking. I gravitated to networking and got into 3Com networking.”

Unfortunately Computer Logic went into receivership after a year. From there he joined Imagineering as a 3Com networking engineer. Then Imagineering turned into Tech Pacific and by that stage he had progressed to 3Com product manager.

Plester stayed with Tech Pacific (now Ingram Micro) for six years.

“I did a number of roles there and ended up as the Northern regional sales manager. I decided it was a time for a change so joined Axon for a while and then ended up at Interconnect which is part of Datacom.”

After this Plester moved to Comtech, which later became Express Data, and has been there for nearly 10 years, saying it is the best company he has ever worked for.

“Nine years ago there were only 20 odd people and we had a lot of fun growing the business. We had the luxury of having great vendors and those vendors have contributed to our success.”

Throughout his career Plester says computer networking has been the underlying theme. He met Bob Metcalfe, the inventor of ethernet, a few times and was at the Interconnect conference when 100MB ethernet was introduced.

Asked what he enjoys about IT, ongoing change is Plester’s immediate answer.

“It’s never boring and there are always new things to learn. Your experience helps, because there is not much that you haven’t seen before and it allows you to interpret change slightly differently. The most exciting change has been vendors bringing out radical new technology. I’ve been there through Microsoft bringing out Windows 95 and its other rock-star-style launches.”

Plester believes complexity is the biggest challenge facing the IT industry. He says there is a whole wave of new complex operations coming in as systems have to integrate more fully, work with other vendors’ products and accept unified communications.

He says it’s much more difficult for the industry to learn and be able to cope with those changes, as in the old days the speed of change was slower so companies could afford to send an engineer onsite to learn with the customer.

“Nowadays with the expectations from the customers and the fast pace of new business you can’t do that any more. You have to be certified and the challenge for most local businesses is that while people are doing that certification, they’re not generating revenue for the business. A lot of tough calls have to be made by the reseller and distributor community, regarding what is the balance between maintaining the existing business and investing in future business.”

Asked about Ingram Micro’s move into value-added distribution, Plester responds: “The fact that our opposition wants to get into that area speaks well for our model, because that’s what we’ve been doing forever. We can do other things around distribution, but we’re really only scratching the surface in our solutions selling – the cross-selling, the bundling of solutions, the understanding of the opportunity are key parts of our business. Our whole mechanism and sales operation is geared to help our resellers ask the right questions when they are asked by a customer for a new server or product.”

Although Express Data is known for software distribution, it has begun moving into hardware with Sun servers and storage.

“Software is still 50 percent of our business, however what we tend to focus on in software are the more complex licensing products and programs. Express Data is one of the world’s leading licensing distributors across multiple software brands.

The skills that we can bring to bear for something like an IBM licensing issue, are superior in a lot of ways to the licensing experience that the vendors have,” he claims. “While we’re a software distributor, we would rather categorise ourselves as a licensing specialist.”

Plester says the distribution deal with Sun signed last June, has propelled Express Data into the infrastructure and data centre area.

“This is an area that in the past we’ve only played in through Cisco networking products and storage switches. It has been timely for Express Data, as we’ve steered away from this area in the past because we didn’t want to be aligned to a server vendor. But with Sun servers being able to run Windows, we now have a server platform that is a fantastic base for our software products.”

As well as working on planes, Plester used to play rugby at club level. His other hobbies include beach walking, bush tramping and working in the garden.

“I grow a lot of trees from saplings, in particularly pohutakawas. We’ve got about 10 pohutakawa trees planted around the garden, the biggest one is about three metres tall.”

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