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Technology proves true career call

Technology proves true career call

John Dunbar has already had what many men (and some women) think is the dream job – working at a brewery. But after many years in IT, including a year and a half as general manager of Cellnet, Dunbar says he does not regret turning to technology.

Dunbar did not plan a career in IT, in fact he holds a doctorate in industrial chemistry.

“I completed the doctorate and went overseas to Germany to work in the wine industry for three years. It was a lot of fun but my wife got homesick so we came back. Then I began work with the DSIR [Department of Scientific and Industrial Research].”

He worked on food processing and wine making at DSIR (now broken into nine government-owned research and consultancy companies), but says he found it quite boring.

“I’m that kind of person who needs to be pushed and at DSIR you could just cruise along. I didn’t fancy turning into a civil servant and staying there for 20 years. So I left and started working for DB [Dominion Breweries] in the late 1980s.”

Dunbar says he ran the research and development division and loved it.

“I was also in charge of project brewing and the taste panel. We were very much involved with the development of new projects and market research on them and the making of beer. I also saw the advent of low alcohol beer and unpasteurised beer. We used to travel around the breweries, including the Tui one at Mangatanoika.” This brewery has been made famous by recent Tui adverts featuring “gorgeous women”, but Dunbar pops the fantasy advertising bubble: “There are no women and they don’t swim in a river after work. They are great ads though.”

But after eight years with DB, Dunbar decided to move on.

“I made that move because some friends had got into IT and they seemed to be having a lot of fun. It was something I was really interested in, but it was a big decision because I very much enjoyed the brewery.”

His first foray into IT was spending two years at a reseller that he part-owned.

“That was a good experience because it was a way to learn what was important for a reseller and what their expectations were, before I moved into distribution.”

Dunbar then joined distributor Electronic Resources, where he worked for nine years before it was acquired by Ingram Micro in 1999. He was managing director of Ingram Micro until it acquired Tech Pacific’s operations in New Zealand, Australia, India, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand in late 2004. Dunbar became director of OEM and retail sales of the combined company when Ingram Micro and Tech Pacific merged early in 2005. He left for Cellnet (then IT Wholesale) a year later.

Asked about what he likes about IT, Dunbar immediately says the people and products are what makes things special.

“The whole technical side is great too, I just wish there was a bit more margin. It would make life a bit easier as it’s a shockingly competitive industry. It’s always trying to manage with the ever decreasing margins to run a business. It’s about keeping costs under control, which is hard at times, as I have to be the bad guy which I don’t like doing.”

He sees good opportunities in telecommunications for Cellnet.

“We’re into convergence because we have strong business in the telco channel and growing business in IT. We’re also seeing people in telco getting more interested in convergence products such as VoIP, routers and data. I have a phone on my desk which gets me directly to our Australian office - it’s like an extension of their phone book which is great and there are no toll charges.

“Now that we’re seeing the break up of Telecom into different units, we’re starting to see providers offering Cellnet plans.”

A keen interest in what Cellnet stocks is important. Dunbar knows most of the products in the warehouse, how they work and who wants them. He says it’s a matter of balancing that and buying the right levels of stock and selling them at the right price.

His most successful business plan was when the early Ingram Micro went through a rough patch.

“I took over and it was in a serious financial state. Working with good people like Richard Harri [now with Synnex] and Desmond Ling [currently at Ingram Micro] to get the company back on track was fantastic. They are very talented guys and helped me a lot.”

Dunbar says if he hadn’t gone into IT, he would have stayed in the brewing business. Though the breweries have become more streamlined and reporting to overseas he says and he doesn’t know how much research and development they still do here.

He says the breakup of Telecom is a good thing.

“TelstraClear is now buying services off Telecom so we’ll probably start to see others doing this. TelstraClear previously sold Vodafone plans and now with the new relationship they can sell totally customised plans. The breaking apart of the wholesale and retail side of the business will both work like separate companies and allow third party companies to come into the country and be able to wholesale.

“It’s a smart way to go because New Zealand is a small country and you don’t want many players coming in and duplicating the infrastructure. When we go to naked DSL where you don’t need a landline, that’s when there is going to be radical changes as you will just need VoIP.”

Outside of work Dunbar enjoys hitting the slopes on skis.

“I belong to a lodge on Whakapapa. I haven’t got skiing down properly yet. I’ve been doing it for 20 years and I still think I can improve.”

A liking for TV’s Boston Legal is driven by the show’s off-beat scripts.

“It’s so unrealistic but in some ways believable. It’s just quirky and seeing Captain Kirk [William Shatner] who used to be so serious and is now taking the piss out of himself is funny. I think this is Shatner’s true character coming through.”

Q + A

Favourite gadget

My Freeview decoder with USB hard drive. I love the electronic programme guide; especially for easily recording programmes. Also the quality of the picture is superb.

Favourite website

Google – because it is so damn smart at knowing what I want to find. Apart from that The New Zealand Herald on-line is great for keeping up with the news.

Favourite sports

Skiing, skiing and skiing. But I also enjoy hiking when I can get the family motivated.

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

I know that this is weird but I think Kim Jong Il, the glorious leader of North Korea. I want to know if he really believes that he is doing the right thing for his country or is he just in it for the personal wealth and power? Maybe after a few drinks together he would tell me.

What has been the most important technological advance in IT?

The increase in speed of the internet. Look at how much more we use and depend upon the internet since we moved from dial-up to broadband. I could not live without it and nor could my kids.

What book is on your bedside table?

Eve’s Bite by Ian Wishart. I have only just started it and Ian Wishart is starting to sound a bit paranoid but the topic on extreme ideologies influencing our culture and thinking looks interesting.

Who is/was your mentor?

I learnt a lot from Des Dass the MD of Electronic Resources and subsequently Ingram Micro, and then from Hans Koppen, the Asia Pacific president of Ingram Micro. Now I have some interesting business conversions with Gary McDiarmid the CEO of Russell-McVeagh


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