The native of St. Iles, Que. travels every week for business. Just this year he has visited 18 countries. And as the CEO of the largest distributor in the world he is responsible for more than $35 billion of revenue for the Santa Ana, Calif.-based company.
His job and career has afforded him the opportunity to see the world where he has seen many places and met many interesting people. But it was his first significant trip, just before he was to start his career at Bell Canada, where Spierkel came across one of those change of lifetime meetings.
It was in Cannes during the film festival where Spierkel met and had a coffee with the King of Reggae music Bob Marley. The experience was surreal, according to Spierkel. Marley, who has created memorable songs such as One Love, Get Up Stand Up, We’re Jammin’, Exodus, and Redemption Song, was wearing a purple spandex jumpsuit and holding a large video camera. Marley was surprised that anyone recognized him as he was at Cannes doing the same thing Spierkel was: spotting celebrities.
Spierkel added that this chance meeting led to absolute zero impact in his business career. While the Marley meeting delivered no long lasting impact to him, Spierkel would over his time as Ingram boss make significant impact on the VentureTech Network (VTN) members. I sat down with Spierkel yesterday to discuss his new VTN initiatives and more.
CDN: I would like to get your take on a couple of personnel moves recently. Your new COO replacing long time Ingram employee Kevin Murai. What does Alain Monie bring to the COO role?
Greg Spierkel: Bringing in Alain, a seasoned global executive like myself who has lived all over the world, gives us great global perspective with six sigma and process disciplines. He has spent 22 years living in different countries. He is originally from France, but has lived in Japan for nine years, Mexico for three years, California with Allied Signal for two years, and he also worked in France as well and for Ingram Micro running the Asian operation. He is also on the Commercial Real Estate board. Asia is the fastest growing region in the last two years and the profits we are having have had a significantly positive effect for the company. He knows the company well enough and I went through the same in Asia and Europe, and given the growth it is a good thing to have this kind of broad experience within North America.
CDN: Also, the Canadian subsidiary is under new management. I know Keith Bradley made this move but I would like to get your thoughts and reaction to the tandem GMs of Mark Snider and Charlie Spano?
G.S.: We can call them tandem GMs, but frankly they represent their expertise. Charlie has financial, back room, IT and admin functions to support the operations. Mark is the figure head from sales and a vendor perspective. Mark already had the sales rep role and it is not a big push for him to take on the vendor interface. It is a natural step for the two. I think it will work well because you play off the strengths of both and you have the North American structure. Charlie has for five years reported into the U.S. and Mark has done that in the last two to three years for North American sales. What I like is we keep the Canadian entity, and customers appreciate that. Mark is a well known entity; less so Charlie, but that does not mean they will not work well together. Martin (Kalsbeek) is going back to the west coast or he would still be running things. It is a Toronto-based job, not a Vancouver job. I would have Kevin Murai in Toronto. It is a big office and he could do the same job as COO there.
CDN: NexInnovations’ problems look like a great opportunity for Ingram Micro. Do you see it that way?
G.S.: In some form, but I am not close to it. I heard about it last week. I knew that there was a chance of it happening. I think Softchoice is a good customer of ours. It is a great starting point and we’ll have to see how it turns up. Anytime a company goes through what NexInnovations has gone through you lose a lot of people and capabilities. That is the challenge for that person who picks up what is left. It does put us in a decent position since we already work with them. You got to believe it will take weeks or months until the dust settles.
CDN: There problem from what we found out was margin pressure. Are NexInnovations’ troubles a sign of things around the world?
G.S.: Not an issue brewing at all. This is a one off and there are some companies around the world that are struggling. Some close and life goes on. Others take advantage of the NexInnovations situation. Those that understand cash flows and cash management (can take advantage of this kind of situation). They were good at selling as an organization. It has been six or seven months since I had a discussion on NexInnovations and they were struggling with control and did not manage back end rebates and cut deals and people were not aware of what those implications of those deals were. Some companies have great controls and do well and this is an example, an unfortunate one, of a company with issues and the lack of visibility cost them. This was not a one quarter thing. They were on the ropes for two years and looking for someone to team up with or develop a strategic relationship with to save the company. Unfortunately, it did not happen. There is no pattern in my mind around the world. For every one of those there are hundred doing well.
CDN: In hindsight, do you think that by going exclusive with Tech Data or if any other top solution provider goes exclusive in this day and business climate is a mistake?
G.S.: No, it is not because of Tech Data. That did not hurt them, they got better prices by going exclusive. It was more about fundamental issues within the company.
CDN: What do you make of the Canadian reseller landscape these days with NexInnovations leaving the market and Dimension Data entering it?
G.S.: Most of the larger SIs that we worked with are looking at, whether it is the U.S. or Canada, cross border opportunities every day. Several in VTN are going down to the U.S. and Dimension Data is in my mind no different. They are just another great SI that is expanding into other geography and you can make a story for more going the other way with the dollar going strong. Look at LongView Systems; they are expanding into Dallas, Denver and Houston. With trans-border clients they want their stuff done down south of the border. And, they can make it work. Markets are relatively similar on both sides of the border. Dimension Data is South African company. They are a customer of ours and in Asia, North America and in a couple of countries in Europe. Dimension Data has decided to make North America a bigger part of the business and this is a normal process.
CDN: I want to ask you about the Australian market. How come there are 80 distributors there and what kind of challenges does that pose for you and your business?G.S.: In Australia there are a large number, but many are smaller players. If I went around Europe there are 800 spread out all over, but only a dozen to two dozen that can challenge us on specializations or capabilities or through a territory. In Australia, we are by far the largest player. We have done a fantastic job and have market share position. It is one of the highest we have in the world. We are closing in on US$2 billion plus revenue mark. It’s a similar nation to Canada. Still, there are challenges with local competitors. We have three offices: Brisbane, Sydney and Perth. We have great coverage.
CDN: Unified Communications is a greenfield opportunity in Canada and we have seen a lot of headlines being made by Cisco and Microsoft recently. How can you help further develop this market for your reseller customers?
G.S.: A lot like we have done with other initiatives. Once we understand the vendors we will support them with programs to develop the market. Ingram has already jumped on board and we have a number of people working with Microsoft and Cisco because they come at it in two different ways. We will work with each on some piece and we are excited about it. We have people working in product development and we are also working to get resellers some competencies in unified communications. We will work with leading edge resellers who have broader capabilities with communications so it will not be a big broad jump for them. The volumes and the revenues are doing well from a small base because it is new. This will be strong for the resellers. VoIP was not mainstream and now it is replacing PBX. Unified communications is similar. As it moves along the same will happen with unified communications to improve productivity and serve the customers. We are committed to the space.
CDN: Last year you said that the CE/IT crossover opportunity was high on your priority list. Is it the same after a year and what strides have you made in this area?
G.S.: Yes it is and we continued to work with, I’d say, half a dozen vendors who have both IT and CE products. Our Avad division grows nicely with more IT-related products going into it. We bought DBL Distribution out of Phoenix and thus far DBL is focused on CE accessories, TVs, headsets and cables. They’ve got a decent size business with a broad base of customers. With Ingram Micro we’ll bring more IT products into that channel. They will now get access to IT and other CE product from IT vendors. So, it is a conscious effort to cross-pollinate with one set of suppliers to new customers. The Avad model is starting-up in Canada this quarter and we are committed to bringing it to many countries. Still, it is a learning process. Will customers buy the same way? You don’t always get the franchise or rights to products even thought we are Ingram Micro. It could take a year or two and we are already served well in Canada.
CDN: What is your plan for the VTN community and pushing them to the next level?
G.S.: Constantly evolving it. One of the great things I credit Justin Crotty and Kirk Robinson with is that our VTN council both the U.S. and Canada is constantly providing new ideas. We bring new things to them. We announced three things here such as the Zones community sharing tool. We’ve got the new Cisco solution Smart Net in place sitting on our portal. We’ve also have helped SIs and VAR to start thinking about exit strategies with the M&A forum. What is kind of neat is we talked about MSP last year and it’s been a nice start to the year. We made eight or nine major announcements since then. We built a platform and VTN gets ever thing. The Ingram Micro services network on Best Buy enables them to get access to new business leads. Ingram Micro with VTN is getting access to business we would not see. We are evolving into with new things every year. I am encouraged.