Riding the learning curve drives career

Riding the learning curve drives career

Sander Dales, Juniper’s Auckland-based director for strategic alliances across Australia and New Zealand, left high school at the end of sixth form to pursue a career in engineering. He did a certificate in engineering with a ticket in microprocessors and software, hinting at a later career in IT.

“Quite a few of my papers at the time were focused around control technology; plant and processing control, which is where I first started working. I did a lot of work around pulp and paper, the food industry and such. It was a fantastic industry and a lot of fun to work in. One observation was, however, that you almost had to wait for your boss to pass on before you got promoted. I felt I could take things further and, through a contact, got a job in the IT industry for AST.”

Dales entered the IT industry in 1994 during the early boom times. He enjoyed working with IT and saw first-hand how the business was affected by the economic crisis in Asia.

“At the time AST was the first vendor with a PC-based multiprocessor platform. I did anything and everything – it was a mix of tech support, installation and engineering. Working in a channel-based organisation was a lot of fun. After about two and a half years I moved into IT operations. AST got bought out by Samsung, and not long after that the Asian economic crisis hit. Samsung started looking at what they were going to keep and were not keeping, and AST was in the ‘not keeping’ basket.”

Dales lost his job and while it seemed like a disaster at the time, he says it put him on track to where he is today as he could find what he really wanted to do.

“It was probably one of the best things that ever happened to me. It gave me an opportunity to take a long hard look around. I wanted to get into an organisation that had a high dependency on IT but that was commercially savvy at the same time. I ended up taking a job at Minter Ellison Rudd Watts. I started as IT support, and ended up heading the team that looked after network and desktop platforms. It was a fantastic work environment, I had a ball. I learned a lot about transferring IT to business. How IT results in money, really has to be the focus if you’re in IT management.”

Dales left the law firm just before Y2K, after setting the company up for the millennium change, and joined telco giant Ericsson as it was looking at entering the IT sector.

“At the end of 1999 I got tapped on the shoulder by Ericsson. I was looking at how Ericsson could enter the IT space. It was great working for an integrator and finding the right opportunities in the market. We ended up landing Telstra Saturn, and I worked as the account manager. I didn’t intentionally move into sales, it just happened like that. Some of the relationships I forged back then I still have today. I worked there for about four years, and through those times I took a lot of learning on board. Watching Telstra merge with Clear gave me an appreciation for how people are affected by something like that.”

During his time at Ericsson, Dales developed good relationships with Juniper, and ended up being the company’s local employee number 17. It now has more than 70 employees, and Dales says it makes more money in a quarter than it did in a year when he first started.

Dales sees his future with the company he currently works for.

“It’s been a fantastic ride working with Juniper. My longer term plan is more about my personal goals, what I want to complete for myself and my family. My outlook is with Juniper; there is so much growth here at the moment. We have a strong framework and very strong values. Clearly at the moment our key growth is in the enterprise market. We enjoy very strong support and market share in the service provider space, we’re still known for our legacy and heritage in that area. We align ourselves with customers that see a lot of value in their information, and need to extract value from that information. They look for infrastructure that can be equally dependable.”

Working in the right environment is key, says Dales. Being part of a large organisation in a small country like New Zealand can have its challenges, but he says the company provides the framework and gives individual countries freedom.

“We have a fantastic group of people. I’ve always had the pleasure of working with people whom I not only agree with on the business side of things, but whom I get along with personally. There is a very professional culture here; work hard, play hard and deliver the right outcome for customers. There is no undercurrent of significant politics. While we operate Australia and New Zealand as a single business unit, we’re able to make local market decisions. Corporate does not look to dictate, but to provide a framework.”

According to Dales, the channel has been the key to Juniper’s success in New Zealand. He says the ability of Juniper to work through the channel is perhaps its most valued asset.

“We’re just part of a broader solution to our customers, and our channel partners are absolutely crucial in delivering that solution. We understand what we’re good at, and the decision to go through the channel to market comes top down; it’s completely crucial to our success. Our ability to go through the channel is perhaps one of the most important things our shareholders value in us.”

Favourite gadget

I have a love/hate relationship with my Blackberry. That and my webcam to stay in touch with my family when I’m overseas.

Favourite website

A toss up between and Google. Google for toys and the Herald to stay in touch.

Favourite sports

Anything with an octane rating higher than 98.

Favourite cocktail recipe

My boss makes one of the meanest Cosmopolitans around. I’m also quite fond of Frozen Margarita.

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

Mikhail Gorbachev. Boris Yeltsin got a lot of praise for his breakup of the USSR. I think Gorbachev laid down a lot of the groundwork around that.

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

It would have to be the internet.

If you weren’t in IT what would you be doing?

I’d probably be in instrumentation and control. Either that or something to do with


What book is on your bedside table?

Matthew Flinders’ Cat by Australian writer Bryce Courtenay

Who is/was your mentor?

Professionally, it has been the guys I’ve worked for, who are absolute experts in their field. My personal mentor is my wife. She has an amazing ability to deal with situations and people of all sorts; she’s also a great judge of character.

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