Alexander's ambition to make business great
- 22 September, 2008 22:00
Joining VAD after serving large corporates, and offering investment and advice to entrepreneurs, was the result of a nine-month break from work, a bold move that paid big dividends.
In September 2006, not long after he’d returned to New Zealand after a stint with Gen-i in Australia, Alexander decided to trade corporate life for the family’s Waihi beach house.
“It was almost the ultimate part of my career really, to do nothing for nine months. It’s a bit scary because people think about not getting paid for nine months and how it’s just going to cost money.
“It does cost you money, but the upside is so much more. Deciding what you’re going to do next is a very difficult process. I was lucky we had the financial independence to take that time.”
The break resulted in a fresh direction, with a desire to have an increased stake in which ever business he was working for.
“It’s different to be part of an organisation that you actually take ownership of versus working in a corporate. You can get caught up in large corporates and hierarchy and titles, and there’s a place for all of those but sometimes you want to do something different.
“They’re both valid career paths and if I chose to I could get another job in the corporate world, but I’m sure when I got to 60 I’d be kicking myself if I didn’t have a crack at doing something else.”
Late in his nine-month break, Alexander began consulting work with business incubator The Icehouse, which recognises the importance of small businesses to the local economy. Through this work, he gave advice to web marketplace business Unimarket, which he has subsequently invested in and become a director of.
He also had the chance to help set VAD’s future direction after consulting for the company in May 2007.
VAD’s managing director and long-term friend Terry Dunn, whom Alexander first met while working for Data General in Wellington in the early 1990s, approached him to be part of outlining VAD’s growth strategy.
“We set targets to bring on best-of-breed partners and that has played out. The really nice thing is the strategy we put together has been employed and the result has been what we targeted.”
Alexander was in a very different role when he and Dunn were at Data General, however. Alexander began working at a Wellington bank on leaving school, moving through data processing and eventually managing its network.
Coupled with contract work for finance companies, he landed a technical role at Data General and subsequently made the move into sales.
His move onto the corporate ladder came when he shifted to Auckland in 1996 and began selling for Wang, which later became Gen-i.
“I looked after Air New Zealand, which was a strong account for them, but not the biggest,” Alexander says. “Over the next four years it developed into their marquee account.”
The transition from Wang to Gen-i was the first of three major organisational changes he would experience. In 2000 he joined Compaq and in his two years there he went through the acquisition by HP.
When former Gen-i CEO Garth Biggs approached him to return to the integrator in 2002, his management aspirations meant he accepted the position of procurement business manager. Staying with the integrator until 2005, he was part of the Telecom buyout in 2004.
Each member of Gen-i’s management team was involved in presenting the company’s case to potential acquirers, Alexander says.
“There were a number of them and it went down to Telecom and Telstra, who had a bit of a shoot out. It was a great experience from a management perspective, to understand how it happened and what role we played in how [potential acquirers] made their decision.”
Alexander then went to work with Gen-i, spending a year in Australia running the sales team under former Australian general manager Rhoda Holmes.
Since joining VAD full-time and becoming co-owner late last year, he, Dunn and the rest of the staff have enjoyed a period of growth thanks to the addition of three agencies.
Although the distributor is enough to keep him busy, he continues to work for The Icehouse, and might make more investments similar to Unimarket as he seeks to support entrepreneurship.
“I’ve always wanted to have a stake in a number of things — at the moment it’s two but I’d like to have more.
“The things you learn when you’re in a senior role in a large corporate, you don’t recognise the value of at the time. However, when you leave that business and talk to people like The Icehouse, there’s a myriad of other people trying to make themselves successful that have a lack of capability around strategy and sales, which you’ve done as an innate part of your job.”
His role at VAD and networking with small business owners doesn’t leave Alexander a lot of leisure time, but he has found working for a smaller firm like VAD gives more time for his young family.
He’s about to start a home renovation project and enjoys overseas travel, but it’s golf which has had to drop down the list of priorities.
“I keep suggesting more corporate golf as a way of networking,” he says.