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Black works magic at SAP

New challenges are the hallmark of UK-born Ian Black’s 20 year career with applications vendors, which has taken him across Asia Pacific and Australasia.

When he became New Zealand country manager for SAP over three years ago, it was a new market for the vendor, but starting a venture from the ground up was not new for Black.

“What I’ve enjoyed most in my career at SAP and previously in Oracle is having opportunities to start things up or change things.

“I was Oracle’s first employee in Indonesia when they were breaking in there in the late 1980s. When I came to New Zealand it was a new market. I went to the Philippines and Indochina to really revitalise that business. I like having that challenge of a start up or a refresh so that you can go in and make changes or take your ideas to the market.”

Black says his experience building SAP's New Zealand operation involved re-focusing in the eyes of customers.

“When I got back to New Zealand a lot of people had stopped focusing on ERP [enterprise resource planning] and were looking at internet solutions and dot com stuff. We really had to re-engage with our customers and go back to basics. We had to rebuild their romance with our company.”

Black began his working life as an accountant in London, and joined a software company to learn more about IT. From there, he spent seven years with Oracle before joining SAP, initially overseeing Australia and New Zealand.

“My whole background has been in applications so it was natural for me to want to work for the largest applications vendor. In the early '90s when I joined SAP, it was just in the ascendant and Oracle was pretty dominant.”

SAP’s ascendancy has continued under Black’s leadership in New Zealand. He says local staff numbers have risen about 70 percent and revenue has grown about 70 to 80 percent in his three and half year term.

He says his long association with SAP is also not unusual, as most consultants are very experienced or go on to work in its partner ecosystem.

“I’m certainly not an old face. We’ve grown a lot so we’ve added a lot of people but also retained a lot of people. It’s a good stable company.”

This consistency has set SAP apart, Black says. “We don’t see that in our competition, we see a lot of churn. That’s hard for customers as well. Many of our customers I’ve had a relationship with for 13 years, that’s valuable because it’s continuity and trust that builds up in that time.”

Black may well extend his career with SAP to provide stability for his family. Black and his Kiwi wife have children of school age, which he want to give consistency.

In his time with SAP in New Zealand, the new projects have continued, including a push into small and medium enterprises, more pre-packaged technology and volume business. He says new technology is constantly being released and partners change and get added, so his work always has a sense of starting afresh.

The business planning Black and his executive team do now has a longer term focus, he says.

“I’m spending a lot of time on the business planning aspects and that’s the biggest change across our executive team. Our horizons in business planning used to be very quarterly and annually focused while the market was expanding. Our horizons are now five to six years and where we look at the market going.”

However, he says he still gets to be hands-on in meeting the needs of businesses.

“I’m still close enough to being involved in customer situations and the pieces of business they have. I enjoy that because the New Zealand market is not too big and you can stay in touch with reality.”

Favourite gadget

I’ve just bought an alarm clock which shines the times onto the ceiling, you don’t have to work out where the clock is because it’s right in front of your eyes.

Favourite website

Travel websites in general, I don’t spend a lot of time on the internet unless I’m planning holidays.

Favourite sports

Right now it’s cricket

Favourite cocktail recipe

It’s got to be a marguerita

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

Napoleon Bonaparte

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

The ability to diagnose and treat patients in the medical field. We get very caught up with what we do but it’s really about automating business processes – it doesn’t save many lives. The biotechnology field is where the really important technology is.

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

I’d probably be an engineer designing buildings.

What book is on your bedside table?

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, by Paul Torday.

Who is/was your mentor?

I’ve had a range of mentors but one that stands out the most is a salesman when I first started at Oracle who taught me a lot of what I know about selling. I also get to meet a lot of CEOs and find out how they run their companies.