New general prepares HP for combat

HP recently ended its search for a successor to Joseph Hanania by appointing John Hoonhout as its new managing director for the Middle East. Hoonhout - who is well versed in HP's regional activities having acted as the boss of its Middle East Technology Solutions Group (TSG) since February and formerly managed its services business - discusses the challenges that await him.

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By  Andrew Seymour Published  September 2, 2007

HP recently ended its search for a successor to Joseph Hanania by appointing John Hoonhout as its new managing director for the Middle East. Hoonhout - who is well versed in HP's regional activities having acted as the boss of its Middle East Technology Solutions Group (TSG) since February and formerly managed its services business - discusses the challenges that await him.

Channel Middle East: As the boss of HP Middle East, what will your main duties entail?

John Hoonhout: From an external perspective the primary role is to front the company and that really means all aspects of the company. We have got PSG, imaging and printing, technology solutions - so for me this is now encompassing all three of the major business groups, HP's image of the market and so on. As the managing director it is really about pulling all those things together and also working with the different managers to focus on those subjects that are common to us, which is our people, the resources that we have, our marketing programmes and our growth strategy for the future. So to some extent it's a facilitation role to bring those business groups together in harmony.

CME: Will it be a customer-facing role in addition to those internal organisational aspects?

JH: Definitely. There needs to be a balance between customer-facing and internal activity, particularly in the enterprise space where the business is very much dependent on relationships as well as things like capability, price competitiveness and track record. But customer relationship is a critical aspect and I intend to be fully engaged on that.

CME: How will your management style differ to that of your predecessor Joseph Hanania's?

JH: Well, without commenting on my interpretation of Joseph's style, let me bring it back to my philosophy which is that the Middle East is a rapidly growing market and the opportunities for HP to generate profitable growth are less constrained by the market than they are by how we organise ourselves internally and operate as a team. So my style is really going to be about how do I foster this unrivalled level of teamwork inside our own company. At the same time we always need to be extremely results-driven, passionate about customers and obviously we need to balance short-term actions versus long-term actions.

CME: What do you see as the main challenges facing HP in the Middle East at the moment?

JH: As the market matures and IT buyers become more sophisticated I think our challenge is to stay ahead, or at least keep up with, the growing level of expectations that our customers have of HP and also of our partners. That's in terms of service capability, geographical footprint, and portfolio of products and services. The brand equity of HP is extremely high in the Middle East and people do have high expectations, which sometimes are challenging to deliver on given that this is still effectively an emerging market for us; we don't have a presence in every single country in the region. And obviously our network of partners continues to be expanded and evolved over time.

CME: HP's CEO Mark Hurd has said before that the company is willing to sell directly to accounts where it is appropriate. What is your stance in terms of the whole direct-indirect debate when it comes to the Middle East region?

JH: I think the key think you mentioned is ‘where appropriate' and right now in the Middle East cluster there are no specific plans or desire on our behalf to make any dramatic shift to doing product business directly with customers.

CME: As well as managing director, you remain head of HP's Technology Solutions Group. Is the plan to eventually pass that role onto somebody else?

JH: No, it is not. It is basically the standard HP operating model where the TSG business unit head is effectively also the managing director. This is the way it was when Joseph Hanania was in the role so it's business as usual for us.

CME: News of Joseph Hanania's decision to leave HP first emerged back in January. Why has your appointment taken so long?

JH: Joseph left the business at the end of our first quarter, which is now Q1 effectively. We are now at the start of Q4 so basically the company's policy on senior roles like this is that by default a search is executed both internally and externally by the company. That took a little bit longer than originally anticipated, but nevertheless it was a thorough and transparent process that we went through. Having been selected I'm looking forward to the challenges of leading this company in a fast growing market and we are squarely focused on closing out the financial year and looking forward to a spectacular 2008 as well.

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