Chris Cornelius, Sun Microsystems

Customers come first in corporate IT markets.

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By  Administrator Published  September 4, 2007

Understanding customer needs and managing commitment to them is key to success for Sun Microsystems.

How does the region compare to the rest of the global market?

The Middle East region is in the fortunate position of benefiting from high oil revenues and phenomenal foreign investment at the moment and is therefore in particularly good economic health. This is affecting growth across all industries; IT, telecommunications, finance and government sectors are seeing the greater benefits of this. Compare this to the US and Europe and I think it is fair to say that the growth here far exceeds global growth.

Is the trend for 25% annual regional growth sustainable or will the market become saturated?

The ingredients for sustained growth at this rate certainly exist in this region; visionary leaders, capital, education and people investment, internationally adopted standards and practices. So, yes, the trend of high annual regional growth is very much sustainable, at a very minimum in the short term, ie, 3-5 years.

How long has the business been running and how long have you been in the region?

Sun has been committed to the Middle East since way back in 1991 when we opened our first office in Dubai. I have personally been on board since 1999. Since then I have seen our region evolve from a MEA operation, which at one point included South Africa, to the more Middle East focused MENA operation, which it is today.

Personally, despite taking on a broader SEE (Southern and Eastern EMEA) role for several years, I have always been based in Dubai which has given me an enormous advantage in managing this region.

What is your strategy to increase market share and spread brand awareness?

Sun is not in the FMCG business and its core customers are unlikely to be persuaded by mass advertising or branding campaigns. This is why you will see very little, if any, branding or advertising at a local level, only at a corporate level. We do not have a specific marketing strategy to gain share, rather our approach is to listen to the needs of our customers and make sure our products offer value-add, and that we continue to deliver value-add products, and initiatives, such as Opensource. It would seem this approach is paying off if we look at Sun's growth in the past two years.

Can you sustain last year's overall regional growth of 38%?

We changed the MENA organisation structure last year with the ultimate goal of infusing more customer focus into our teams in terms of both sales and services. It seems that paid off very quickly! Whilst I expect good growth going forward I expect it to stabilise at an average of 20% over this year and last which is around the growth of the region as a whole.

How do you divide your strategy between support services, which grew by 20% last year?

I have no Support Services strategy per se. My approach is quite simple; deliver on our commitments to our customers whether product or services related. What I can say is that we are investing heavily in our Support Services organisation in FY08 and our customers can expect a continually improving customer service experience with Sun.

Have your strategies changed markedly since appointment?

Rather than a strategy I would say it is a business philosophy that I ask all at Sun MENA to live by and that is, ‘Customers come first, always'. We might change the way in which we execute against this philosophy but ultimately this is the driver for everything we do. In my 35 years of work experience in the IT industry, it has never failed me yet!

Who are your main competitors and how do you plan on staying ahead of them?

There is little focus on competitors at Sun MENA. I come from an IBM background so of course I understand other large competitors, eg, HP, IBM, EMC, however, I do not go to market with a strategy that keeps them in mind or how they do things - Customer first! We should understand their needs and provide solutions for that.

How do you market Sun to differentiate yourselves from other vendors such as IBM and HP?

Again, we do not set out to do that in a contrived way. We simply know we have the best UNIX Operating System (Sun Solaris) and that in itself will differentiate Sun's offerings from those of our competitors. Our recent initiative, making Sun Solaris available through Open Source, resulted in excess of 7.5m downloads, 5m of which were on non-Sun X86 hardware platforms, so guess this speaks for itself. Indeed we are seeing more and more customers migrating to Sun Solaris and I believe that Sun along with the acquisition of STK, now have a complete range of products & solutions to satisfy Customer IT infrastructure needs.

Consumers often complain of slow roll out of new products compared to other regions; would you agree and why is this?

Perhaps this is a general comment for the industry. At Sun we have ongoing new product announcements and have been successfully fulfilling against orders.

How would you define your management style?

Very simply I believe the way to lead or manage a team is by example. I personally have a very strong work and business conduct ethic and strive to promote this in my team. On the other hand, whilst I expect everyone to deliver on both our business goals, I also understand that work must be balanced by time to play. So, along with Sun's iWork programme we operate a flexible office environment in Dubai which I believe has helped to strike that balance. Ultimately employee satisfaction is as important as Customer satisfaction to me as one, I believe, quite naturally results in the other.

What are the major differences when doing business here compared to other markets and how do you overcome them?

There are huge differences; here we must tackle a multitude of language and cultural differences by ensuring our workforces are similarly diverse; we have 27 different nationalities at Sun MENA! On the business side we work on localisation projects, eg, arabisation, to ensure that our products are tailored for the local markets.

Travel is also a key differentiator, my sales and services force are constantly traveling, securing visas and living out of suitcases. The situation would be much more difficult, however, without our extensive Partner network. Operating an indirect model in MENA really allows us to support our Customers daily, through our partners, despite the diversity and distances between us.

Where do you see yourself and/or the business in 5 and 10 years?

I made a personal commitment to my management to stay for a minimum of 3 years.... I am still here after 2 with no plans to renege on this commitment! Beyond that it is very difficult to make any predictions as life has a habit of laying waste to the best laid plans. In the longterm, however, I see myself fully engaged in running my own Harley Davidson bike rental shop, preferably somewhere warm.

Do you have any unfulfilled ambitions?

No, I guess I have been very lucky in that I have pretty much addressed all that I have wanted to do in my business life. My aim now is to continue my drive to keep MENA region as one of the top performing regions in SEE (Southern and Eastern EMEA - my head office) and make sure it continues to grow faster than the market.

What is the hardest part of the job?

Finding and retaining good people is one of the more challenging aspects of my job. The IT industry is incredibly competitive in this region and, understandably, workforces ebb and flow according to the packages on offer. We are putting an internship programme in place though and I am hoping we can address this issue, along with making Sun a better place to work generally.

Another difficulty for us is translating our ‘Go-to-Market' model to the whole of MENA. Our region is diverse and rolling any initiative, process or model across 19 countries is a challenge.

Our indirect model helps us address that, however, with Sun's network of partners is seen as an extension of our own workforce.

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