He constantly seeks new challenges and says this was a key reason for taking on the establishment of the Australian distributor’s local office.
“I get very bored if there’s not something new happening. I’ve got to be at a company where the job’s changing and me with it. This [Digicor], I see changing month on month and year on year, so I think I can stay here for a long time without getting stale.”
The fast pace of change in IT is one of the reasons he was initially drawn to the industry and why he has stayed for more than a decade.
“Digicor has been open three months and there has been big change in that time, even in our own vendors who do server-based products. Some of the boards have completely changed in that time, driven by Intel and AMD, and that’s exciting. It never stays still.”
Willis’ career is dotted with roles at companies undergoing big growth phases or change.
On leaving school he studied marketing at AUT, then moved into the stationery industry.
After starting with Blue Star Group the firm went through a major acquisition phase, while at the same time stationery companies were getting into technology.
The exposure to technology products and the need for change combined to take Willis down a new path.
“The [stationery] industry didn’t really excite me all that much. It was a really good learning experience, but I got to the stage I’d had enough of that industry. The cross-over into technology was happening with copiers, faxes, reprographics and that sort of thing.”
Willis went to Sharp as a dealer manager, looking after business resellers and introducing fax machines to the retail market. He then joined Xerox in a similar role.
A year later, he’d grown tired of the copier industry and another change in direction resulted from his increasing experience with products that were becoming networked – photocopiers, scanners and multi-functions.
Sealcorp recruited Willis in 1999, a couple of years prior to its demise but at a time when it was growing.
“Once again I’d landed in a company that was going through a growth phase. I looked after their networking products such as Intel, Digi and Nokia’s ADSL jetstream product, which we took to the market just before Sealcorp died.”
“It was all in networking and connectivity, which led me into T Data.”
T Data needed local staff to support its channel and was evolving into more of a value added distributor, Willis says. He was employed as the business development manager and tasked initially with establishing T Data’s Digi agency (in networking and connectivity), which he had previously developed with distributor Brocker Technology Group.
“Digi was the first product [for T Data] that dealt with more of a mainstream channel. I had relationships there and got that up and running and I stayed with T Data for more than six years. That’s the longest I stayed with any company. They changed along the way and got into storage in the New Zealand market.”
He admits he hadn’t heard of Digicor before working for the company, although he’d heard of its brands.
“T Data was a very mature business – even though they did not have a presence here, they had customers they were selling to. Digicor was starting from ground zero here, we had a handful of customers but they hadn’t really been into the true reseller channel.”
Willis has spent a busy three months in the job getting out to customers, while also establishing systems and getting the warehouse stocked. The Albany office has a staff of three and is recruiting more.
He says Digicor wants to be an alternative to the server storage market big guns like HP, IBM and Dell.
“That’s the challenge I like – where there’s a product or a service offering to take to the channel and show people what the point of difference is and hopefully get some really fast growth.
“There are aggressive growth targets and they’re not sitting back. Digicor are doing everything properly and what excited me was their passion for what they want to do in the New Zealand market.”
Willis has also been dealing with some previous contacts in his new role. “It’s funny how the old faces keep cropping up,” he says, adding that some channel members in Australia are also past acquaintances.
He enjoys the fact that the small IT industry here means he gets to know a lot of channel members.
“Whether you’re dealing with a CIO or a one man band, I find people to be very approachable.”
Digicor has been in Australia for more than 10 years, but Willis says it recognises the New Zealand market is different and is not just expecting a smaller version of its business at home.
“We offer the same products, services and agencies, but they’ve [directors Richard and Cathy Huang] spent a lot of time over here listening to what the market here’s looking for.”
The hectic schedule in recent months hasn’t left much time for a social life, although Willis enjoyed the last of the rugby league season and is following the All Blacks’ World Cup games.
He’s also looking forward to lounging in the sun with a good book in the coming months, if time allows.
Q + A
Rugby League – I’m a keen Warriors fan and hoping for that long awaited premiership in 2008. They bring out the optimist in me.
Rugby – again I’m ever optimistic the All Blacks can finally bring the Cup back home.
If you could have a cup of coffee with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be?
Many contenders here but would have to say Steve Price from the Warriors. It has been very refreshing to see the openness and leadership he has brought to the team.
What has been the most important technological advance in IT?
What book is on your bedside table?
John Le Carre – The Mission Song
Who is/was your mentor?
Craig Joynt – One of the original directors at Blue Star. Probably doesn’t realise but he was a real inspiration and gave me great guidance when I first started out in a management role