Once again, Channelwise’s Three Wise Men – who between them have more than a century in the IT industry and channel – have put their heads together to come up with who they think are the country’s most influential and top distribution executives for 2017.

The selection panel is totally subjective and , as usual, there is haggling and debate among the trio as to who should finally appear on the list of the Top 10. In general, there are certain criteria that the three always consider, among them: the size of the organisation and its impact on the local channel; the influence the executives themselves have on the company, its strategy, its direction and its performance; the affect decisions they make can have on the channel, whether it is on pricing, stock-holding, acquisition strategies, even on the addition or dropping of specific product lines; as well as their experience and the wisdom they can pass on to future distributors.

These are just some of the factors taken into consideration and it is with this in mind that we present this year’s Top 10 distributor executives – in no particular order and with an additional individual worth watching into the future. And to garner some of the aforementioned wisdom, this year we decided to pose 10 specific questions to each of them.

 

Pierre Spies

CEO of Alviva

25 years in the industry

What’s the most dramatic change you’ve seen in the industry and the channel: The erratic “go to market strategies” of certain vendors and the lack of understanding among some of them about what the channel actually contributes.

What’s your most memorable achievement: Well, other than being happily married for 27 years and having two great boys, I would say that would have to be heading up one of South Africa’s largest IT groups.

One thing you wish you had done differently: To be a lot more assertive and confident from a much younger age and maybe even taken a few bigger risks earlier on in my career.

How do you see the future of distribution in South Africa: There will be radical changes, along with further consolidation in the market and digital transformation. Cloud computing is starting to have tremendous impact and this will continue to influence the market exponentially.

How are you transforming your business and people for this: We are investing in automation, cloud services and various other value-added services including consulting, designing, IOT etc.

Who are your role models: My Dad has always been my mentor and confidant.

Corruption is a buzzword in today’s South Africa. What is your policy in combatting this: Ongoing ethical training throughout the group and to lead by example.

What is the best book you have read this year: I am not really an avid reader of novels.

What do you do to de-stress: Spend time with the family, play golf or watch TV … at times just switch off and relax.

How would you most like to be remembered: That I was tough but fair, and that hopefully I made a positive  difference to many lives.

 

David Kan

CEO of Mustek

30 years in the industry

What’s the most dramatic change you’ve seen in the industry and the channel: That would be during the period from 1997 to 2000 when so many IT companies flocked to list on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.

One thing you wish you had done differently: In retrospect, I should have kept the company private.

How do you see the future of distribution in South Africa: The industry is going to experience further consolidation.

How are you transforming your business and people for this: We need to add more value and, at the same time, still generate income out of just “boxes”.

Who are your role models: My dad.

Corruption is a buzzword in today’s South Africa. What is your policy in combatting this: Walk away from any deals if they don’t smell right.

What do you do to de-stress: By doing more exercise.

 

Neil Rex

MD of Drive Control Corporation

29 years in the industry

What’s the most dramatic change you’ve seen in the industry and the channel: The commoditisation of all aspects, thereby removing the soul of the industry that existed.

What’s your most memorable achievement: At my age you have a few, but I am still waiting to breed that 50” buffalo bull.

One thing you wish you had done differently: Maybe been more serious when I was younger … but then, what the heck.

How do you see the future of distribution in South Africa: If the current economic climate persists then distribution needs to consolidate and services will be the key to the future.

How are you transforming your business and people for this: Looking for opportunities and skilling up in the services space.

Who are your role models: No specific role model, but am driven by my own competitive nature.

Corruption is a buzzword in today’s South Africa. What is your policy in combatting this: Not tolerated at all.

What is the best book you have read this year: I’m not a reader of novels, but have just finished reading a biography on the life of the 1820 settlers at arrival.

What do you do to de-stress: Go farming.

How would you most like to be remembered: Somebody who lived by his word.

 

Craig Brunsden

MD of Axiz

23 years in the industry

What’s the most dramatic change you’ve seen in the industry and the channel: We may just be going through it at this present moment. But I’d say that the collapse of the channel-assembled PC was massive at the time. The change from component distribution and PC and server assembly by the channel to fully-built hardware from global brands put pressure on many companies, including our own.

What’s your most memorable achievement: Personally, it must be the birth of my two kids. Professionally, leading the company I joined as a junior sales guy has been exciting!

One thing you wish you had done differently: I sometimes regret not taking a gap year and travelling after university. But if I’d done that, I wouldn’t have joined Axiz, so I don’t dwell on it too much.

How do you see the future of distribution in South Africa: Scarily positive. there is a real sense in our business that the vendors are turning more to distribution than they have in over a decade. Vendors are cutting heads locally and in central management, and are asking distributors to do more for their channel, including cloud. Distributors who can adapt and respond to the changing needs of both vendors and partners have a very exciting time ahead.

How are you transforming your business and people for this: We’ve invested in a fully-digital cloud aggregation platform and on-boarding all our vendors who are ready to it. I believe in the digital transformation trends as the future. We’re investing in many internal and external programmes and discussions to understand the change better. We’re updating all our internal systems to cope with a fully-digital go to market model.

Who are your role models: I’ve been fortunate to work with some of the smartest distribution executives in the industry as my boss or as colleagues. Each one, past and present, has given me something to build myself on and most continue to be a source of counsel and inspiration for me.

Corruption is a buzzword in today’s South Africa. What is your policy in combatting this: We have a zero tolerance approach to every aspect of the topic. We also spend time and money on training, internal audit and whistle-blowing structures in compliance with our own and various global contractual obligations.

What is the best book you have read this year: The State of Africa by Martin Meredith.

What do you do to de-stress: I try not to stress in the first place! But if I do, running and mountain biking are the solution.

How would you most like to be remembered: Humble, engaged leadership and that I made a difference to the success and improvement of others who didn’t ask for it.

 

Tim Humphreys-Davies

CEO of Pinnacle

24 years in the industry

What’s the most dramatic change you’ve seen in the industry and the channel: Cloud computing.

What’s your most memorable achievement: FY2017 for Pinnacle and the size of some of the big wins we had last year. The order of 30 000 units we secured is probably the most memorable (and daunting!).

One thing you wish you had done differently: Taken more time to think through some of the more immediate responses I had to crises. I have learnt that you often have more time than initially appears.

How do you see the future of distribution in South Africa: The continuation of hybrid go-to-market from vendors through different mediums such as the cloud, and the fractionation of pure channel.

How are you transforming your business and people for this: Embracing the cloud, engaging with vendors and building white glove/value  offerings that get us closer to our channel customers.

Who are your role models: Arnold Fourie for his determination to succeed against all odds; Craig Nowitz for intelligence personified; and Pierre Spies for his calm and valued leadership.

Corruption is a buzzword in today’s South Africa. What is your policy in combatting this: Zero tolerance. There is only downside to this as we have seen with KPMG and our board fully supports that we may lose some business by not engaging in this practice.

What is the best book you have read this year: Fever by Deon Meyer (this is a must read for all South Africans right now).

What do you do to de-stress: Ride up and down mountains over many days with my best mate, Gavin. Run with my dog on the mountain. Walk with my wife and the dog on the mountain. Stand by a large fire and make very bad potjies and feel the grass between my toes.

How would you most like to be remembered: In the workplace – inspiring leader for the team. At home – good dad and husband, for my friends – loyal and fun mate.

 

Gary Pickford

CEO of Tarsus Distribution

17 years in the industry

What’s the most dramatic change you’ve seen in the industry and the channel: The industry has shifted from a vendor push to a customer demand supply chain. This has led to corporate customers demanding service levels traditionally only enjoyed by consumers in the B2C environment such as immediate stock availability, just in time delivery, supply chain integration etc.

What’s your most memorable achievement: Being part of the team that simultaneously merged four standalone distribution businesses into the Tarsus Technology Group of today, and successfully implemented a new warehouse management system to manage the combined warehouses.

One thing you wish you had done differently: Never would’ve merged four distribution businesses simultaneously!

How do you see the future of distribution in South Africa: Digital transformation is changing the traditional technology distribution landscape rapidly and we see this as both an opportunity and a threat. There is a bright future for distribution if you have used digital automation and improved business processes to drive efficiency and reduce costs. This will provide the foundation for the ongoing profitable distribution of traditional technology products, as well as the opportunity to distribute new IOT devices going forward. The threat is that these new digital solutions don’t sort out the problems themselves. They need to be introduced across the organisation and accepted by all the employees, even though the traditional business processes will be disrupted.

How are you transforming your business and people for this: The technology products landscape is in the midst of a significant digital shake-up. Success of these new ideas and approaches depends on the abilities, skills, and mindset of our workforce. We have identified five clear practices and investments that will drive our success in organising a workforce around the expectations and needs of the connected customer:

  • We have driven this from the top down. Our management team is totally committed to the digital transformation of our business.
  • We have digital marketing initiatives that give us direct access to the thoughts and opinions of our targeted customers.
  • We encourage our employees to be “curious” about digital transformation and to embrace agility.
  • We invest in the skills of our employees and encourage them to be part of the new product design process.
  • We help our employees invest in the idea that they will be constantly learning and constantly changing and innovating.

Corruption is a buzzword in today’s South Africa. What is your policy in combatting this: We have implemented a zero tolerance anti-corruption initiative called “Blow The Whistle” in conjunction with Deloitte South Africa. It is accessible to all our employees and empowers them to report on any corrupt activities that they might encounter.

What is the best book you have read this year: I am enjoying the Linked In social media platform. I can’t get enough of their digital transformation blogs and articles presented by industry-leading experts. They open my mind.

What do you do to de-stress: Walk on the beach. Listen to loud music. Get hugs from my little granddaughter.

How would you most like to be remembered: I want to challenge the technology industry to get together with all key stakeholders and to solve the education challenge in our country. I am keen to play a role in this.

 

Spencer Chen

MD of Rectron

20 years in the industry

What’s the most dramatic change you’ve seen in the industry and the channel: The flattening of the channel is the most fundamental shift that I’ve seen in my career. Before, we saw a pretty clear distinction of vendor, distributor and reseller, but now we are seeing that the lines are becoming increasingly blurred. In this world, it’s now ever more important that each party in the supply chain directly adds value to it. Without this additional value, and with the quick rise in ecommerce in South Africa, those in the channel that don’t add real, tangible business value will see their doors shut.

Your most memorable achievement: It’s a real honour to have been appointed to my current post of MD of Rectron, especially to lead an extremely passionate and dedicated team.

One thing you wish you had done differently: Rectron started digital transformation more than three years ago, but I believe we could have started it earlier, and done it faster and better to transform our services and assist our customers.

How do you see the future of distribution in South Africa: Distribution is moving away from the old way of shifting boxes. Yes, this is something that we still do. But, as our products become commoditised, and with margins being squeezed year in and year out, it’s really important that we start to offer a full end-to-end solution stack. In our day-to-day business, we talk to our customers about making sure that IT delivers hard-hitting value to businesses. As distribution, we need to ensure that we have the right solution set to achieve this objective. What this means, practically, is that partnerships (with vendors and customers) become a key part of our conversation in order to achieve success in this.

How are you transforming your business and people for this: I really believe that the success for Rectron lies in our people – I have surrounded myself with a smart leadership team that has been driving this transformation for the last few years. We’ve worked really hard on changing people’s mindsets. Education is key to this transformation and, through the last few years, Rectron has embarked on extensive professional skills training programmes to uplift our staff, as well as investing in internships and learnerships to grow South Africa’s talent pool.

Who are your role models: David Kan – he has been a mentor to me for my entire career with the Mustek group and I have been privileged to have been able to shadow him in how he runs his business. David is an extremely astute businessman with a great eye for trends. As a mentor, he’s also been incredibly supportive over the span of my career.

Corruption is a buzzword in today’s South Africa. What is your policy in combatting this: While Rectron has implemented all the usual corporate governance policies and procedures, what really drives us is our culture of accountability. By holding people accountable for each of their actions, this leaves little room for corruption, either up or downstream.

What is the best book you have read this year: I haven’t had chance to read a book yet this year, but I think the best book is how I’ve seen the channel move to cloud this year.

What do you do to de-stress: The role of any executive in distribution is hectic, so what balances that for me is my family life.

How would you most like to be remembered? I hope to be remembered as a leader who has helped to shape our business, centred around our customers’ needs and priorities.

 

Graham Duxbury

CEO of Duxbury Networking

33 years in the industry

What’s the most dramatic change you’ve seen in the industry and the channel: Lower margins.

What’s your most memorable achievement: The success of our locally-designed and manufactured modems.

One thing you wish you had done differently: Nothing really stands out that I would do, or would have done, differently.

How do you see the future of distribution in South Africa: Very similar to what we have today – the more things change the more they stay the same.

How are you transforming your business and people for this: Making sure our technical and service levels are constantly monitored.

Who are your role models: People like Roger Federer, super successful but humble.

Corruption is a buzzword in today’s South Africa. What is your policy in combatting this: It is a huge NO-NO.

What is the best book you have read this year: Formula One and Beyond by Max Mosley.

What do you do to de-stress: Only commit to what I can do.

How would you most like to be remembered: As an honest, fair person.

 

Jacques Malherbe

CTO of Axiz Advanced Technologies

30 years in the industry

What’s the most dramatic change you’ve seen in the industry and the channel: In the vendor world, it is their seemingly indiscriminate employment practices. People are hired and fired and re-hired. More and more responsibilities are being shifted to distribution to build and enable the channel and all vendors seem to be constrained by lack of resources.

What’s your most memorable achievement: If we talk about work it has been building Advanced Technologies in Axiz. Right time, right place and overwhelmingly positive response from our vendors and channel. Talking privately, it is getting my wife to marry me!

One thing you wish you had done differently: Spent more time with my kids when they were growing up. Career building is over-rated.

How do you see the future of distribution in South Africa: Very positive. Distis are the trusted intermediaries and will be for years to come. Our value is morphing as it becomes more digital.

How are you transforming your business and people for this: We are re-shaping our business for the platform world that is emerging. A huge investment in re-crafting our enterprise architecture and a huge investment in the latest digital software technology to enable this. Our people are enthusiastically participating in the challenge.

Who are your role models: Again, privately – my Mom – she was such a good soul. Business: Jeff Bezos – he defined this digital world we are living in by his thinking and tenacity in the early days.

Corruption is a buzzword in today’s South Africa. What is your policy in combatting this: Zero tolerance for the act and the people committing it. It’s the scourge of our democracy and such a shame!

What is the best book you have read this year: The Inevitable by Kevin Kelly.

What do you do to de-stress: Nothing like an early tee-off with your buddies.

How would you most like to be remembered: I don’t …

 

Mark Lu

CEO of Corex

23 years in the industry

What’s the most dramatic change you’ve seen in the industry and the channel: The smartphone,  e-commerce and social media.

What’s your most memorable achievement: Listed my first-found company on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange main board within a period of three years.

One thing you wish you had done differently: Finished my masters degree before I started working.

How do you see the future of distribution in South Africa: Go big or be different.

How are you transforming your business and people for this: Hiring the right people. I don’t believe I can teach old dogs new tricks.

Who are your role models: Morris Chang, chairman of TSMC.

Corruption is a buzzword in today’s South Africa. What is your policy in combatting this: We are too small to combat corruption and end the scourge, but we completely stay away from any dealings in that regard.

What is the best book you have read this year: An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith.

What do you do to de-stress: Meditation.

How would you most like to be remembered: A business guru.

 

And One to Watch …

 

Rakesh Parbhoo

CEO of Westcon-Comstor

24 years in the industry

What’s the most dramatic change you’ve seen in the industry and the channel: In this industry it seems that the one constant is change and there have been many major shifts. Certainly in the 2000’s it was the shift from product to services and how IT companies made their money. The shift from on-premise to cloud is not new, but the world is still on that journey and will be for some time. In parallel to this, the world of mobility, software-defined everything and emerging Internet of Things (IoT) solutions are currently having a profound impact on how customers can better extract value from IT.

What’s your most memorable achievement: Turning around a failing business and making it successful, not just once off, but leaving it after five years of growth and seeing it continue to grow year-on-year for another five years is what I consider one of my best work achievements. It meant I didn’t just create a one-hit wonder, but something sustainable. The reward wasn’t merely the financial performance, but seeing people’s careers grow and the impact on their lives over that time.

One thing you wish you had done differently: Made certain decisions sooner. Tough decisions are always hard to make but in one business in particular, I procrastinated and over-analysed the situation, only to end up at the same decision, but at a later date and the impact was worse. I have learnt to trust my gut a lot more.

How do you see the future of distribution in South Africa: I was told that distribution is a dying business when I took on this role a few months back. I couldn’t disagree more. There is no doubt the landscape has changed, but there is still a massive requirement to deliver products and solutions to the market. Our vendor partners and customers need distribution to achieve their goals. The challenge for distribution is to align to the new world of both tangible and intangible products and services, and continue to add value around these. That means achieving scale and being able to deliver in a far more efficient way than ever before, and making it simpler to get the solutions needed.

How are you transforming your business and people for this: Over the last few months I have spent a lot of time with our customers and partners to get to understand their challenges and what they expect from us. I always believe that is the best place to start, as transforming a business in isolation of those you need to deliver for is pointless. From this it is clear that transformation requires a number of focus areas. Investment in our tools and processes has been vital. This started some time back in order for us to be leaner and more agile and to help us achieve new levels in the business. But this is costly from an investment perspective and has certainly caused us some pain as expected, but we have emerged from it with a solid foundation. To truly execute we are putting a lot of investment into our people to take them on this journey, both in terms of understanding our new systems and processes, as well as helping them to position new solutions and value to our customers.

Who are your role models: I have been very fortunate to have worked with great people over my career who have guided me and helped me get to the level I am at. Those people have certainly been role models. If I look at the industry in general, I am a big fan of Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft. He is an incredible human being firstly and, secondly, has done an amazing job in transforming Microsoft into the company it is today. I also admire Elon Musk for his visionary approach to everything. He really is changing the world.

Corruption is a buzzword in today’s South Africa. What is your policy in combatting this: I take a zero tolerance approach when it comes to doing business. As a global corporate we take this very seriously. Personally, I have a hatred for it and it is one of the few things that really irritates me to my core. The impact on so many people in our country to enrich a few is disgraceful.

What is the best book you have read this year: There are two great books that I have read that really stand out for me this year. The one has been around for a while and titled The Phoenix Project. It’s all about DevOps and reads like a novel, but has some really great learnings about how to be agile in IT. The second was Shoedog, the story of Phil Knight and the building of the Nike empire. It is a great read about entrepreneurship and following your passion.

What do you do to de-stress: I like to run, although slowly and not very far! Besides that, I spend time with my family and friends … and I braai as much as I can. Nothing more relaxing after a long day to be able to still get home and cook outdoors.

How would you most like to be remembered: I would like to know that I have had a positive impact on people and helped them grow, in the same way that I have been helped by others over the years. From a business perspective, it’s rewarding to turn things around and create businesses that last even after I am gone.

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