Friends tried to talk Fujitsu’s new service delivery director Brent White out of moving into the high-pressure environment of vendor-land seven years ago, but he had learned to make decisions without looking back.
Decisiveness was essential for White during the 10 years he ran a small family construction business and the skill has remained central to his love of winning business deals.
“My first look at a role with a vendor was in 2000, which was for Computerland. I thought I’d give it three months and if it didn’t work out I would do something else. I really loved it and the thing I loved the most was winning business.
“That stems from running your own business where winning is what puts food on the table, so you become passionate about it. I love winning and hate losing.”
White says this ability has stood him in good stead throughout his career in IT.
“You become a very decisive person when you’re running your own business. I never look back and wonder, I just move on. You’re not going to win everything – if you don’t, review it and move on. You can’t let your confidence be knocked.”
His interest in IT never waned while he was self-employed, during which he completed some Microsoft certifications. He says his first ‘real’ IT role was working in New Zealand as a solutions architect.
From there, he progressed to overseeing New Zealand IT operations for manufacturing and distribution firm Allfex, but when his wife got a work transfer to Wellington, White figured he had better go along.
Employment with Computerland was to bring him the biggest challenge of his career – its buyout in late 2005 by Telecom and the subsequent integration of Gen-i, Computerland and Telecom’s services businesses.
“Principally we were looking at how we moulded together things like the service desk, the pointy bits that everyday customers are faced with,” says White. “We had the responsibility of making all that gel.”The most difficult aspect, apart from bringing business processes together, was a clash of cultures among the firms, he says. According to White, each had about 500 staff, although Gen-i also had approximately 150 people in its software development business.
“The culture between Computerland and the Gen-i business was one of fierce competitors and all of a sudden everyone’s in a room and someone’s saying we’re all going to be friends. But it didn’t take me long to realise Gen-i had some really talented people and the business was in good shape.”
However, the dominance of the telco side of the merged company’s business was one of the reasons behind White’s search for a new employer. Telecom’s work on splitting the company into three had begun in earnest, and he also had a high level of knowledge about Fujitsu.
“We’d competed against Fujitsu quite a lot. My perception was they were a big player in the government space and I’d had a reasonable amount to do with government accounts and I knew how that worked.”
Putting customers and service first have also been constants for White prior to entering IT.
“I feel I understand what needs to be done and I look at it from the customer point of view. A lot of companies say they’ve got this whizz bang thing, but what does the customer really want?”
One of White’s priorities after a month in the new role is getting the business on both sides of the Tasman working more closely together. “We want to get to the point where services and operations are really seamless. We really need that scale in New Zealand, so we’re looking at ways to do that. That will enable us to put more redundancy in our business. We rely on Australia enormously.”
White is striving to achieve more of a work-life balance, a change from earlier years where he would work 18-hour days. He describes Wellington as the “biggest small town in the world”, and likes that “everyone knows everyone else”. Although he enjoys surfing, he says he’s not among the hardy youths who can be seen at Wellington’s Lyall Bay in winter.
He and his wife of 20 years are currently taking pride in their 19-year-old daughter’s acceptance into Price Waterhouse Coopers’ graduate programme in her second year of university.
He says he’s not a “role jumper”, and plans to stay at Fujitsu for quite a few years. “Even though I went through Computerland and Gen-i, to me they were the same company. Change can take a long time and it takes a long time to understand how an organisation works.”
Q + A
Probably my iPod Nano, it epitomises superior customer experience.
I generally don’t have time to read newspapers as often as I’d like, so I often use stuff.co.nz. It’s great.
One day cricket, and of course any All Blacks game. Although I’m told I’m one of those people who jinx a game by watching.
Favourite cocktail recipe
Capriosca or caipirihna, it must have something to do with my dream to live in Brazil one day. I recommend moderation as it’s not something anyone could drink too much of!
If you could have a cup of coffee with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be?
[The late] Fred Hollows – the world famous, New Zealand-born eye surgeon.
What’s been the most important technological advance in IT?
The web browser, we used to use the term “let’s just webalise it”, because everyone seems comfortable using a browser.
If you weren’t in IT what would you be doing?
Surfing, but for some reason no-one wanted to pay me to do it.
What book is on your bedside table?
I’ve just finished reading The Time Traveller’s Wife, because I enjoy reading about the human condition. My constant reference however is Good to Great by Jim Collins.
Who is/was your mentor?
In recent years Peter Revell. He completely changed my thinking around leadership.