Partner participation on menu for Fletcher

Partner participation on menu for Fletcher

n a parallel universe, Nick Fletcher may have been in charge of catering at this week’s Microsoft Connectionz partner conference instead of organising the event.

Invercargill-born Fletcher’s initial career ambition was to be a chef, but the thrill of the kitchen was not enough to keep him enthralled and he soon found himself spending more time concocting marketing plans than dishes.

And while he now cooks only for glory, according to his wife, Fletcher serves up recipes for business success as Microsoft partner group manager.

Topping the menu of his most recent initiatives was Connectionz, Microsoft’s first local partner conference, held on Wednesday and Thursday, attracting around 400 attendees from across the country.

Fletcher is responsible for the company’s partner strategy and marketing in New Zealand and for building the vendor’s broad local partner ecosystem, which includes software resellers, systems integrators, services consultants, ISVs and training partners.

“Within that I have responsibility for making sure it is capable of delivering what customers want now and that is it ready to deliver what customers would want tomorrow.”

A big focus of Fletcher’s team and for Microsoft, over the next year, will be skills capabilities in the channel, he says. “Last year we saw a whole range of products coming to market and this year we will have as many if not more new products. We need to help our partners understand what this means to their business and to their customers, and make sure they have the skill level to deliver on them.”

This was one of the drivers for hosting a New Zealand-only partner conference this year.

Previously the company used to hold a trans-Tasman partner conference, but bringing the event to New Zealand enabled more local partners to participate, says Fletcher. “Unfortunately there are only a few partners who were able to go to the Australian conference, even though we labelled it as an Australia/New Zealand conference.”

Connectionz gave local partners a sense of Microsoft’s direction globally and with its technology, and what that means for customers here, says Fletcher.

“We wanted to help partners understand what we are going to do locally to help them be successful. It is about business direction and how we can work together to better satisfy customer needs.”

Fletcher returned to New Zealand from Australia to take up his current role around six months ago. He held a similar role at the Australian subsidiary for about three years, looking after the broader partner ecosystem.

Although the two markets are similar, Fletcher says Microsoft has had more resources for partner support across the Tasman.

“The biggest difference is probably the stage of maturity of Microsoft supporting the channel. In Australia we were able to do more things as a large country with more resources and people. We had larger budgets and invested earlier in building the capability of the channel through specific training.”

However, Microsoft has invested significantly in partners locally in the current financial year, says Fletcher.

“We have more people, more headcount and more dollars, which is great. We are looking at how we can improve the way we engage broadly with the channel, particularly our Gold and certified partners.

“More importantly we are making sure we invest heavily in the skills of the partners to make sure they understand our latest technologies and have the ability to both position them appropriately with customers and deliver those solutions so customers can extract the value.”

Fletcher aims to help the company be more consistent and predictable in its dealings with partners, to make sure they are clear about where they stand with Microsoft and what the company can deliver.

“The key lesson is that we have to be really clear about it and just keep communicating that to our partners. Over time partners will be able to leverage the partner programme and their Microsoft relationship more deeply than today. That will have an impact on their business and will improve their ability to sell, help reduce costs and improve overall profitability.”

Fetcher joined Microsoft in a channel management role in 2001, after initially accepting a role with Great Plains just before it was acquired by Microsoft.

He first became involved with technology while working for the Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust as marketing manager in 1995, when he wanted to develop a database to support the organisation’s fundraising activities.

“At the time we had a series of old machines. I had to update the whole infrastructure as I needed new hardware and software to run my marketing database for our fundraising. I became interested in technology, in how it can make a difference to people and an organisation.”

But before embarking on his marketing career, Fletcher was a chef after “falling into cooking” while travelling overseas after leaving school.

“I decided I wanted to be a chef and came back to New Zealand and became qualified. I was cooking at the White Herring Hotel, probably Auckland’s first international hotel.”

However, after a stint working in Japan, Fletcher decided he could make a bigger impact in marketing and enrolled for a marketing qualification at Auckland University’s graduate school of business.

Fletcher and his wife returned to New Zealand from Australia this year to raise their two children, aged two and four, here.

As for the cooking, Fletcher says it something he does infrequently.

“My wife tells me I cook only when there is glory – when there are people coming over and there is kudos to be had.”

Q + A

Favourite gadget

The iRiver Clix MP3 player – I got it before the Zune came out – the Zune will probably be the upgrade at some point.

Favourite website – it is something we constantly update to make sure we keep it relevant for our partners.

Favourite cocktail

Scotch Frog – the O’Connell Street Bistro in Takapuna used to have these and they were just wickedly addictive. It is my favourite because of nostalgia related to a period of time with a group of friends.

Favourite sports

I enjoy watching V8 Supercars on TV.

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

Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington. He was reputed to be the greatest strategist of his time. It would an interesting conversation talking to him about the logistics of supplying an army like he had that was growing in size [while travelling] through some pretty harsh terrain.

What’s been the most important technological advance in IT?

The internet when it first came into mainstream use and now Web 2.0. The consumer experience with Web 2.0 is great and so is the opportunity for Microsoft and its partners in using it as a better business platform.

What book is on your bedside table?

What Were They Thinking – Unconventional Wisdom About Management by Jeffrey Pfeffer.

Who is/was your mentor?

Ralph Norris [currently managing director and CEO of Commonwealth Bank] was a member of the board of trustees for Surf Life Saving Northern Region when I was working there. While he was never a mentor as such, just getting a sense of who he was, his style and the way he came across left a big impression. He was genuine, very smart and calm. My last three managers including my current one [John Bessey], are people I have learned a lot from.

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