Full speed ahead for GBM

With 850 staff to its name and still growing, Gulf Business Machines (GBM) is among the largest integrators in the Gulf, as well as one of the most seasoned. CEO Cesare Cardone runs the rule over the challenges facing the company's expansion prospects and reveals the importance of its IBM heritage.

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By  Andrew Seymour Published  May 7, 2008

With 850 staff to its name and still growing, Gulf Business Machines (GBM) is among the largest integrators in the Gulf, as well as one of the most seasoned. CEO Cesare Cardone runs the rule over the challenges facing the company's expansion prospects and reveals the importance of its IBM heritage.

How would you describe the company and its core focus areas these days?

We are basically an infrastructure solutions provider. Only 1% or 2% of our business is PC-related; the rest is hardware, storage, server, networking, security and all of the related services to those.

We have selected areas that we focus on in terms of solutions, as well as providing consultancy and project management.

GBM obviously has a special relationship with IBM and you are also an established Cisco Gold partner. Are you planning any serious engagements with other vendors or is the intention to continue focusing on those two?

IBM is our major partner because we are a spin-off of IBM, but the relevance of Cisco has increased in the last few years and today it is one of the two pillars of our strategy.

The offering of IBM and Cisco is so immense that it is difficult for us to think about alternatives because the complexity of that is already challenging to cope with.

As you can imagine, you then have the challenge of getting people with the right skills and right motivation. That is an enormous task, so it is unthinkable for us to broaden our offering.

What frustrates you most when it comes to trying to build a healthy business in this market?

It is the story of resources. I lived for many years in Europe where we had too many people and not enough business - here it is the other way round.

Today we sometimes have shortcomings and this is really frustrating because you can see the business and you can see that customers believe you can help them.

The challenge the management face is to be honest enough to say if the job can or can't be done. There is reputation and credibility to think about.

What plans have you got to overcome the resources issue?

I think it is a challenge for everybody, not just us. At the end of the day, we are all competing for skills, and I think the name of the game is to become the best employer - which is impossible of course, but we are trying our best to be a company that respects people and provides a lot of training.

We want people to understand that there is a career here in terms of skills, growth and extension of that growth.

It is common to see employees from the channel gaining expertise in a vendor's solutions and then leaving to work for that vendor. Do you face that scenario when it comes to IBM?

No, we have a gentlemen's agreement with IBM in this part of the world not to hire from each other to avoid this migration of people. Nevertheless, that is restricted to this region so as a matter of fact I think 70% to 80% of the people we hire come from IBM in different parts of the world and that is fundamental because we have a similar business model in GBM.

When we hire people from IBM it is very important for us to make sure that they come into a familiar environment. Having a business model that is extremely similar is an asset and that is why hiring a person from IBM is always a big advantage for us.

GBM remains an authorised distributor of Lenovo PCs and certain IBM products, such as Intel-based servers. How significant is the distribution business?

Distribution is 9% or 10% of our business so it is marginal. On the one hand we are taking care of the higher side of the business with our clients - the four-way servers, the blades and things like that.

In contrast, with the distribution side, we try to support the lower side of the Intel business; the one-way, two-way and three-way business.

How important is the distribution contract to your position as an infrastructure solutions provider?

It has nothing to do with it. It is basically a lateral business that is separated by design. In distribution you are selling to resellers that are potentially in competition with us sometimes so it has to be very separate.

What I think is important is that when GBM started, the big question was how anybody could be convinced that they should buy from distribution while GBM was selling Intel-based products too.

But I think we have proved to be fair, and today we have a very strong and loyal set of resellers.

I have been here for eight years and have never had any resellers coming to me and saying, ‘well this is not fair, somebody is playing a game.' It is very segregated.

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