Murai’s move to Synnex makes IT distribution headlines

When Kevin Murai left Ingram Micro as president and COO of the broadline distributor in January, the question many had was how long would his retirement last. The answer turned out to be not very long at all.

Just three months after his departure from Ingram, Murai landed at rival distributor Synnex as co-CEO, and with the retirement of founder Bob Huang this month, Murai will now lead Synnex through a very challenging period for the technology industry.

A long-time veteran of the distribution business who spent 20 years with Ingram Micro, upon his retirement, Murai said the burden of travel and the commute between Ingram’s California offices and his Toronto home had taken its toll on his family life. The position with Synnex also involves a California/Toronto commute, but much less international travel. And frankly, says Murai, after a few months off, the family probably wanted him out of the house.

“I enjoyed my time with the family, but I was a little surprised at how quickly I became bored with not working. Maybe it’s a Type A Personality-type thing,” says Murai. “I think I was also driving my wife crazy being at home.”Certainly before joining Synnex Murai was no stranger to the distribution business. At its core, he says the business is pretty much the same as Ingram: the distribution of IT and consumer electronics products. When you get down a couple of layers into the company though, says Murai, there’s going to be different ways of doing things, and the last eight months have been invaluable in learning more about Synnex and how it does business.

Synnex is a very diversified business, he adds, including manufacturing, process outsourcing, call centre technical support, lead generation and print management services in addition to distribution. Murai added that he believes the strategy put in place by Huang is the right strategy, and he’ll be looking to build on it going forward.

“Our focus is to be the channel services company of choice for the IT and consumer technology market, and a lot of the capabilities I’ve talked about are already incorporated into that,” said Murai. “We’re focused on enhancing our own services within distribution with better go-to-market services around solution selling, enhanced lead generation and business process optimization (BPO).”

Having to deal with a challenging economic climate as well, Murai says Synnex is working with its solution provider partners to help them go as deep as they can into a manageable number of key verticals, such as manufacturing, health care and retail.

“You’ve got to understand your customer and the market needs in order to really deliver a competitive solution,” says Murai. “We’ve gained a deep understanding in these key markets, and have assembled solutions we believe will lead to productivity improvements, service level improvements, and good ROI. We’re going to train our VARs and take these solutions into the market together.”

There have been challenges for Synnex. In October, IBM de-authorized the distributor from selling System x products, a decision that came as a shock to Synnex and its partners. Adding to the surprise, Synnex was believed to be IBM’s top distributor of System x products.

The decision only impacted Synnex in the US, as Canada never sold the line, and Synnex continues to sell IBM software. System x is still being sold by Avnet, Arrow, Ingram Micro and Tech Data, and IBM said it was looking to streamline its supply chain. In the current market many vendors are examining their distribution models but Murai says the IBM situation was a unique one.“IBM was admittedly losing share in the market, and I think part of that they believed was they were losing relevance in the market. By streamlining their distribution partners they believed they could gain relevance,” said Murai. “We were surprised, as we’re their largest broadline partner in the US.”Synnex is focused on other market opportunities however, says Murai, and parting ways with IBM allows it to go deeper with other partners in the space.

“We believe the x86 server market is a very good market for us,” said Murai. “We’ve got good partners in HP and Lenovo, and we plan to introduce them to our traditional IBM partners.”

Murai adds he doesn’t see IBM’s move as the beginning of a trend of vendors looking to streamline or cut back on their distribution partners.“Actually, I see the opposite happening. Typically, in a soft market manufacturers are looking for breadth of coverage,” says Murai. “Dealing with a distributor such as Synnex, with good captive resellers, is a good opportunity for manufacturers, particularly if they want to target the SMB space.”

Indeed, Murai says we should be looking for more vendors to be joining the Synnex line card in the coming months, as the distributor looks to add breadth in key areas. In particular, he says he sees opportunity in areas such as consumer technology and home products.

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Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras
A veteran technology and business journalist, Jeff Jedras began his career in technology journalism in the late 1990s, covering the booming (and later busting) Ottawa technology sector for Silicon Valley North and the Ottawa Business Journal, as well as everything from municipal politics to real estate. He later covered the technology scene in Vancouver before joining IT World Canada in Toronto in 2005, covering enterprise IT for ComputerWorld Canada. He would go on to cover the channel as an assistant editor with CDN. His writing has appeared in the Vancouver Sun, the Ottawa Citizen and a wide range of industry trade publications.

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